How drug policing works at Glastonbury festival
With last year marking the largest drugs seizure in the festival’s history, there have been talks on “cracking down” measures, including on-site testing and fewer attendees.
6am, Block9, Glastonbury festival. A rainbow stretches out across the site licking the clouds like a multicoloured grin. Two years of pandemic-induced stress evaporates like the morning mist as the DJ thrusts out the original mix of Cola Boy’s 7 Ways To Love. A woman to my left, wearing a white cowboy hat and fluffy boots, embraces a friend. A man to my right, wearing a colourful sweatband, stretches his arms into the sky.
A yellow flag bearing the iconic rave smiley hovers above, undulating in time to the piano breaks generating stroboscopic trails. The scene blends into one enormous, pulsating muddle of love – a hearty feast for the senses. I live for these moments, inhaling spangled atmospheres. But let’s not pretend that this isn’t largely fuelled by drugs – to suggest otherwise would just be naive.
Last week, Pete Collins, Drug Expert Lead at Avon and Somerset Constabulary, was asked about drugs at the festival during the licensing board meeting at Mendip District Council. In his opening gambit, he explained that “the drug seizures at this year’s festival were by far the largest amount we’ve seen”. He went on to clarify. “I’m not suggesting that there were a lot more drugs at the festival than there normally is,” he says. “A lot of people didn’t attend who had tickets so the numbers were greatly reduced. That allowed the security staff to be a bit more thorough in their searching. And they certainly were, a lot of drugs were recovered.”
He went on to explain a bit about how drugs are policed at the festival. It turns out that while the police take the lead in tackling drug dealing incidents, when it comes to people caught merely possessing drugs, they don’t really get involved. “We work on site at Glastonbury festival but we don’t get involved in the drug seizures side of things too much from the security staff,” Collins said. “Glastonbury enlists the services of a licensed private company to carry out what they call ‘back-of-house’ testing.” He added: “Believe it or not, the seizures of drugs is not something that is disclosed to us by the private company. The data is held [and] owned by Glastonbury Festival.”
Later on in the meeting, it was decided that these two key issues will be explored at a licence review next February: the question of whether there should be less attendees, which would mean that the security would be in a better position to catch people with drugs, and whether the festival should be made to disclose data relating to confiscated and surrendered drugs to the police.
Councillor Francis Hayden of the Green Party brought up front-of-house testing, where attendees can get their drugs tested before they use them: “I understand that The Loop offers a drug testing service,” he said. “A number of us in this committee have been pressing for such a service at Glastonbury, do you think that would be useful?” Collins agreed: “I think the service they offer is useful. The bottom line is that people attending festivals will take drugs. So from a law enforcement perspective, our role is to enforce the laws handed down by the government. And healthcare professionals and charities like The Loop are ideally placed to offer advice to those people on how to take their drugs. At the end of the day, all we want is for people to be safe.”
“I entirely endorse some of those things that you’ve said,” Councillor Hayden responded. “My children and their friends go to Glastonbury Festival and I wouldn’t wish anything more for them to be safe.”
So what happens to the personal drugs that people get busted with at Glastonbury? It’s pretty surprising. According to Collins, most are tested onsite by a private company and taken back to their lab in London. “They retain all the drugs,” he says. “It’s not even the case that we can go through whatever’s been seized. They keep all the drugs that are seized, but they do give us a large amount of cannabis, they recover kilos of the stuff, because it’s not of any use to them.”
What does he mean by that? “They retain the drugs so that they’re able to carry out additional analysis,” Collins explains. “In 10 years time, if the question ‘what was the quality of cocaine at Glastonbury Festival in 2021?’ is asked, they can go back to the seizures to run more tests. It’s the data they can achieve from holding those drugs which is valuable to that company.”
If this is right, you could get busted by a security guard with a pill and it would live forever incarcerated in the lab of a private company. They can then profit from it by selling data about it. And even the police are not allowed to see it. Unless that changes after the Mendip District Council reconvene to discuss Glastonbury’s licence in February.
We contacted Glastonbury Festival to ask about their drug policies. At the time of writing, they are yet to reply. Avon and Somerset Constabulary preferred not to comment.