Utrecht dance festival accused of promoting drug use in social media post
The Smeerboel festival in Utrecht was accused of “promoting” drug use on social media, AD reported on Tuesday. The festival organizers explained that the post was a joke and should not be seen as an encouragement for visitors to take drugs during the festival. However, experts and State Secretary Maarten van Ooijen (Public Health) argued that these jokes risk normalizing drug use and should be stopped.
The Smeerboel Festival is a techno, house, disco, 90s, and 00s festival held at the Grasweide Papendorp in Utrecht. For many, it marks the closing of the festival season. This year, the festival 2ill take place on Saturday, 9th September, from 12:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m.
The festival organization faced criticism on Tuesday due to an Instagram post. On Tuesday, the festival's Instagram account posted a fictitious “timetable,” predicting how the day might unfold for some visitors. The schedule starts with “a half,” referencing a half pill of ecstasy, followed by consuming a few beers and sharing “intense hugs with a vague acquaintance.”
By the end of the afternoon, the schedule says “catching up” – taking more drugs. At 21:00, the question arises, "This is for horses right?" – an allusion to ketamine, a recreational drug also used as an anaesthetic for horses. This is followed by the search for an after-party to conclude the night.
The post has since been removed from the social media.
The organizers announced this should be seen as a joke. “Our communication is over the top, and we like to explore the boundaries. We believe it's important to address taboo topics in our society with a light touch. Drug use is common at festivals and dance parties, yet it's barely discussed,” said a spokesperson for the festival. “We are aware it happens and think it's important to talk about it. Sometimes seriously and sometimes with a wink.”
Not everyone finds it amusing. "Promoting substance use in this manner is irresponsible communication," remarked Laila Zaghdoudi of the Trimbos Institute. "The organizers have an important role in guaranteeing a safe and healthy event."
Floor van Bakkum, head of prevention at the expert center Jellinek, considers it a matter of taste. “It's not my kind of humor. You might unintentionally contribute to the normalization of drug use,” she noted.
Smeerboel denies that the post on Instagram serves as an incentive to indulge excessively in drugs at the event. “Visitor health is our top priority,” the spokesperson said. They rely on professionals and volunteers from Celebrate Safe and Unity to disseminate information about safe nightlife, alcohol, other drugs, and the associated risks before and during the festival.
“We should not close our eyes to this. There really is a taboo on this subject,” said the spokesperson. “We want to maintain an open dialogue, instead of ignoring the issue and pretending it doesn't exist, which can be dangerous.”
Senior politicians have also reacted to the post. "Drug use is not normal and does not align with a healthy lifestyle," stated State Secretary Van Ooijen. “Posts like these reinforce the notion that drug use is normal, while the vast majority of people do not use drugs. We like to keep it that way.”
Drugsgebruik is niet normaal en past niet bij een gezonde leefstijl. Als festivals dit soort posts plaatsen, normaliseren ze gebruik, terwijl de meesten niet gebruiken. Ik ga er vanuit dat Smeerboel het zero tolerance beleid daadwerkelijk handhaaft #VWS https://t.co/aWimyZ3lXP— Maarten van Ooijen (@MaartenOoijen) September 6, 2023
Van Ooijen is calling festivals and municipalities to establish "clear agreements about communication concerning drug use" when issuing permits
Recent trends show festival-goers increasingly spending on tickets and consumption tokens, with ecstasy emerging as a cheaper alternative to alcohol. A survey in April revealed that more festival-goers intend to use drugs more frequently this festival season to save on drinks and food.
“For 20 euros, you have an ecstasy pill and a whole day of water at a festival. With beer and food, you spend three times as much,” one respondent said.