The policing and regulation of illegal drugs at music festivals in the UK

Research Institution / Organisation

Durham University

In Collaboration With

N8 Policing Research Partnership

Principal Researcher

Verity Smith

Level of Research


Project Start Date

October 2017

Research Context

Music festivals are an established summer leisure activity in the UK, and have an enduring association with drug use. In settings of elevated drug use, experimentation and initiation, the risk of drug-related harm may be amplified in the festival context.

As spacious, temporary, periodically recurring, licensed and bounded zones with strong commercial imperatives and liminal associations, festivals pose distinct challenges to what we know about regulating and policing drugs. There are high stakes and complex interests in ensuring their commercial success, while satisfying the legal and regulatory framework, and ensuring the safety of customers. The festival, licensed leisure and street-level drugs policing literature presents a piecemeal picture of some of the ways that drugs are policed in festivals, but very little is known about how these setting-specific interests and nuances affect festival drugs governance, in policy and practice.

Through an extensive behind the scenes inquiry, this research will examine the ways that festival partner agencies work together to negotiate and implement policy, and how the festival setting mediates drug policy, policing priorities and discretion. Overall, this research will seek to fill this gap and to make an important contribution to the knowledge base of how drugs policing operates within bounded licensed leisure spaces.

Research Methodology

‚ÄčThis research uses an ethnographic and inductive approach, at a diverse selection of festival case-studies. Where possible, it will trace the drugs policy negotiation process between stakeholders beforehand, its subsequent implementation on-site by festival agencies, and the post-festival reflections of stakeholders using in-depth interviews.

Interim reports and publications

‚ÄčNot available

Date due for completion

July 2021
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