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ID: HR23-166
Presenting author: Machteld Busz

The XTC shop: using art to foster dialogue and investigate public acceptance of substance regulation

Rafaela Rigoni, Machteld Busz, Guido van Diepen, Stephen Snelders, Damian Zaitch
MDMA, generally known as ecstasy, has been widely available for recreational use since 1988 in the Netherlands, where it is categorised as an illegal hard drug. Recent political and expert debates in the country have created the space to discuss MDMA regulation. In this context, in 2022, Drugs Museum Poppi – together with Utrecht University -- set up a public experiment to help gauge public opinion and acceptance regarding policy reform and the regulation of drugs, more specifically, of MDMA.

Between July and September, the “XTC shop” was built in Utrecht, The Netherlands. In the exposition, visitors interacted with three different scenarios where they experienced the (imagined) legal purchase of MDMA: a pharmacy, a smart shop, and a party. Visitors followed a guided tour via a tablet, which contained short videos and questions. The questions investigated visitor’s perceptions about the regulation of the production and sale of MDMA, and which regulatory model(s) would be acceptable to them. 500 of these visitors consented to partake in research, and their answers were analysed.

More than two thirds of respondents believed the regulated sale of MDMA could occur in all sales settings. More than half would prefer a minimum purchase age of 18 and were willing to have their IDs checked when buying, if their ID was not copied. Most visitors favoured limits regarding strength and quantity of pills, as well as to receive health advice upon purchase.

The exposition allowed visitors to imagine various possibilities around MDMA regulation, and helped collecting community-based models for regulation. It also provided an effective tool for advocacy by attracting media attention and helping to shift the debate from “pro or con” regulation, to “how” regulation could work. Local and national politicians were invited to visit the shop and engage into debate; a popular publication is underway.