IT is a decision which prompted an outcry by writers, musicians, poets and DJs and has caused thousands to sign a petition in protest.

Now drug and health experts have warned the move to effectively close Glasgow's much loved Arches venue - by suspending its late night licence and thereby closing its nightclub activities - risks taking the tackling of drugs "back to the 1980s", with venues now more likely to turn a blind eye to the issue in case they get shut down too.

The thinking is that if, like the Arches - one of the safest venues in the country - other clubs assist the police over drugs, then they will risk having their business ruined also. This in turn, it is warned, puts clubbers in more danger, and in turn thoroughly undermines what the police are trying to do.

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The decision by the licensing board of Glasgow City Council, following complaints from Police Scotland, prompted much outrage - not least because it threatens the future of the venue's arts activities, which are supported by the income from popular club nights.

More than 400 leading names from the Scottish arts world - including Makar Liz Lochead, the band Franz Ferdinand, actor Ashley Jensen, writer Irvine Welsh and Creation Records founder Alan McGee - signed an open letter warning of the "catastrophic effect" the closure of the arts venue would have on the cultural life of Scotland.

But many have also criticised the targeting of what is widely viewed as one of the most proactive clubs in tackling drug use. The venue has been under particular scrutiny since the death of 17-year-old Regan MacColl, who collapsed at the venue last year after taking a rogue ecstasy tablet.

Dean Zielinski is managing director of West Coast Event Medical Services, which has provided a team of 'nightclub medics' at the Arches club nights for the past two years.

He said: "The Arches is the venue where we pioneered our idea. There is no other venue using it as a full-time resource and at the moment, the majority of what we do (in other clubs) is ad-hoc work.

"We have been trying for other venues to incorporate us as part of their service, but a lot see cost as the bigger issue over customer care."

He added: "There is now going to be about 5,000 people every weekend who would otherwise be in the Arches.

"They are still going to be out clubbing, they are not going to stop - they are still going to take what they take. But now they will be in all of these other venues in the city centre that don't have the same resources in place."

Zielinski said police and councils focusing on clubs which were co-operating with the authorities risked making other venues reluctant to assist the authorities over drugs.

He said: "What we have been hearing from other venues...the thing they have got in their minds is Scotland's safest nightclub has just been shut down for close co-operation with police - so we are not going to phone in police when we find drugs on people.

"Some venues might even be scared to phone in an ambulance for people in case that gets them closed down - so it is a scary situation."

He added: "Drugs shouldn't be making their way through the doors in the first instance, they shouldn't be on the streets - but that it is a problem for society and for the police."

The evidence submitted by Police Scotland as part of their complaint included a list of 213 crime incidents and reports from March 2014 to April this year - most of which were drug incidents where staff had contacted police. The individual finds ranged from 0.1g of herbal cannabis and half an ecstasy tablet to more than 3g of cocaine and 27 ecstasy tablets.

A total of 21 incidents where an ambulance had to be called were also listed, for issues including drug overdoses, head injuries and drunkenness.

At the licensing board hearing, representatives for the club countered the record reflected the Arches policy of searching all patrons who go through the door - the only club in the country which does so - and reporting 100% of drugs finds to police.

It also argued that with more than 250,000 clubbers coming through the doors in the period covered by the report, just 0.14% were reported for incidents involving misuse of drugs.

Austin Smith, policy and practice officer at charity Scottish Drugs Forum, said: "There is always a danger that risks are increased rather than lowered as an unintended consequence of enforcement.

"We are unlikely to create drug-free nightclubs in Glasgow or anywhere else - however desirable that may be.

"If people insist that they will take substances, we need to adopt harm reduction approaches based on evidence of what works."

He added: "Our fear over a decision like that made recently to limit the licence at The Arches is that all those clubbers become customers somewhere else.

"There they want the same Saturday night experience and are just as likely to use drugs. However they may now be doing it in clubs that have got a loud and clear message (from the Arches decision)."

He said that zero tolerance form the police can quickly lead to clubs "turning a blind eye and denying there is a problem", adding: "So, for example if staff find drugs they don't hand them in to the police but flush them down the toilet; if someone is unconscious or there is an incident then people don't call an ambulance as readily as they might have in the past.

"There is a danger that it just pushes the whole situation back to the late 1980s which is unhelpful and potentially dangerous."

Smith suggested approaches such as offering testing of pills or more information to people about drug risks could work to reduce potential dangers to clubbers, together with taking a "zero tolerance" approach to dealing in or outside nightclubs.

Emma Crawshaw, chief executive of drugs information charity Crew 2000, also backed this approach.

She said: "We know from many pieces of evidence...that we can't legislate dangerous drugs out of existence, so new thinking is needed.

"There is good evidence to show that harsher penalties do not reduce drug harm or prevalence of use.

"Whatever anyone's stance on drug legislation, most of us would agree that reducing harm to individuals, families and communities caused by drugs is what we all need."

She added: "We are not privy to police intelligence but we commend the Arches for what we see as their good practice in and clear commitment to taking care of their customers: the 100% search door policy, the provision of skilled paramedics on site, staff taking water out to the crowds and the Arches bringing Crew in to provide welfare and harm reduction advice in addition to this."

Paul Crawford, creative director of Scottish social networking site Kiltr, who ran Glasgow's Sub Club for more than 20 years, said there was "no way" to keep drugs out of nightclubs.

"At the Sub Club we did have a zero tolerance policy in place - it still has a zero tolerance policy in place - but it is so hard to police," he said. "People can take drugs before they go into the club, they can take drugs in the queue."

He added: "There is always a hysteria surrounding clubs and drugs which I think is very unfair, because drugs are taken everywhere in society.

"Obviously nobody would deny people go to clubs and take drugs, it is common knowledge. But it is also common knowledge people will go to a bar and take drugs, or they will be in the house and taking drugs.

"It's the draconian measures that often result in a place being targeted by the authorities that are a problem. I think it is the wrong approach. Clubs are a very easy target."

Crawford said he believed exceptions to the law should not be made if particular premises were causing problems for authorities.

But he added: "I think this is part of a much bigger debate that needs to take place in terms of our drug laws and the way we tackle these things.

"For me, the crux of the matter is that it is part of a much bigger conversation that needs to take place.

"Unfortunately the Arches has found itself at the sharp end of the present system we have to operate in."

And no matter what the outcome for The Arches, it is clear the wider drugs issues is far from disappearing.

According to a recent report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, there has been a decline in the past five of years people using 'traditional' hard drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine

But the use of 'club drugs', such as mephedrone, ketamine and new psychoactive substances (NPS) - so-called 'legal highs' - has increased. On average a new form of NPS is being made available on the European market every week, which is usually sold online.

Report co-author Dr Owen Bowden-Jones, a consultant in addiction psychiatry at the NHS Club Drugs Clinic in London, said: "There will always be people who seek intoxication, either as a way to experience new feelings they can't otherwise reach or to numb unwanted emotions.

"With the huge number of new drugs and the increased availability, for example through the internet, this is not a problem that looks like going away."