Greens back legal drug tests
Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick is calling for safety testing of drugs to be legalised ahead of the summer festival season.
The idea behind recreational drug testing is to reduce harm, by letting consumers of illicit pills know if the drugs they are taking have been mixed with other dangerous chemicals.
Drug testing has taken place at some Kiwi festivals but currently exists in something of a legal grey area, as the Misuse of Drugs Act makes it illegal to knowingly permit drug use in any premises.
This disincentivises festivals from allowing drug testing services like the NZ Drug Foundation’s Knowyourstuff into their venues. During the last season, Knowyourstuff found fentanyl, a potentially deadly opiate, had made it on to New Zealand’s shores, and that what was being sold as MDMA was often in fact bath salts.
Swarbrick said it was clear recreational drug use at festivals was not going to stop no matter how hardline the approach.
‘‘This has resulted in unnecessary tragedy, with unknown users ingesting unknown substances, at times costing emergency health sector resources, at worst costing lives,’’ Swarbrick said. ‘‘When a dangerous or deadly chemical comes up, Knowyourstuff is currently unable to notify the public because of [the current law].
‘‘They’re also unable to effectively let festival-goers know they are on site.’’
She said she was proud the coalition Government was treating drugs as a health issue.
‘‘That’s a commitment contained in the Green/labour confidence and supply agreement,’’ Swarbrick said.
‘‘Walking that talk looks like legalising safe drug testing.
‘‘We have every opportunity to do this ahead of the summer festival season, before the House rises for the year.’’
Swarbrick pointed to a recent case in Dunedin, where the Otago University Students’ Association had proposed bringing Knowyourstuff onboard for reorientation celebrations. The university rejected the proposal on legal grounds.
Either Health Minister David Clark or Justice Minister Andrew Little would need to draft and pass the amendment to the law ahead of December – a hefty task in a short amount of time.
Clark has been wary when asked about making drug testing legal in the past but seems to have changed his mind while in government. ‘‘There is a danger with such approaches that they encourage or are seen to encourage drug use. And the law as it stands must be respected,’’ Clark told TVNZ in 2017.
But Clark told the NZ Herald last month he had asked Little for advice on legalising pill testing.
Across the ditch,, pill testing is legal in the Australian Capital Territory, leading to the Australian Greens calling for festivals to be held there.