A recent referendum at Leeds University Union (LUU) has passed the threshold of 1500 votes – or 4% of the student population – in order to be valid with 1541 votes.
The referendum was on whether LUU should provide drug testing kits for students who are taking drugs. The total number of votes for the new policy was 1468, over 95% of those who voted. 66 people voted against while there were 7 abstentions. The policy only required a simple majority in order to pass.
Those advocating for the new policy argue that it will reduce drug harm amongst some students as they will be able to test narcotics if they wish to take them.
Matt Port, a student and former Welfare Officer at LUU told The Gryphon:
“I’m so proud to hear the results from the referendum as it demonstrates once again that students want a more realistic, compassionate, and effective response to drug use.
For our new society, Students for Sensible Drug Policy Leeds that is just getting off the ground, it’s great to have such a win so early on. We will now be working on implementing this alongside the Union deciding on the most effective way for students to be able to retrieve kits and support.
This is just one step in a larger harm reduction approach, including a drug policy that was started last year and taken to the Board of Trustees this month, that should ensure students can make better, informed, choices.
89% of students at the University of Leeds who responded to a survey last year and already take drugs said that they would test them if they were provided by the students’ Union.
For students who are currently taking drugs without testing them, they will be unaware of the drug’s strength and whether it has been contaminated with any unknown substances and chemicals.
One in five 16-24-year-olds have taken a drug in the last year with the most popular drugs being cannabis, cocaine, and ecstasy. This is according to the 2017 Crime Survey in England and Wales.
Despite a no-tolerance policy operated by some Universities, that figure is 2 out of 5 amongst students in England and Wales according to an NUS study for drug users. The NUS study classified a drug user as someone whose drug-taking was “a common, although infrequent, behaviour”. More than half of students nationally said they had taken drugs at least once in the survey.
The study also showed cannabis was by far the most frequently used among these groups.
A University spokesperson said: “The University makes clear to its students that it does not tolerate illegal drug activities on its premises and, will, where necessary, take appropriate disciplinary action.”
There are many reasons suggested for why some students take drugs. The NUS report cited mental health as a significant reason with 31% of students who already take drugs saying they took them to alleviate stress.
In 2016-17, there were 2,067 recorded cases of student misconduct for possessing drugs across the UK – and 531 of these were reported to the police by Universities. 21 students were permanently excluded from University as a result of being caught with drugs
This summer, an 18-year old woman collapsed in the nightclub Warehouse in Leeds after a suspected drug overdose. She was later rushed to Leeds General Infirmary but was pronounced dead shortly after. It is thought she had taken MDMA according to The Metro.
Some students argued at a recent forum that the policy might encourage students to take more drugs but there is little evidence to support this and the approach has already been adopted by multiple students’ unions. Manchester, Newcastle and Sussex Student Unions have already brought in policies to provide drug testing kits.
It is now up to LUU, their Help and Support Team, and the current Welfare Officer Amy Wells to put the new Union policy into practice.