Govt to protect controversial pill testing services at festivals — 'no apology for prioritising safety'

The Government is pushing through new laws around drug testing at festivals, with long-term changes in the works for next year. 

Pills, file. Source: 1 NEWS

Health Minister Andrew Little said the changes to be made today would protect pill testing services, such as Know Your Stuff, "against prosecution for short-term possession of illegal drugs while they test them".

Currently, those types of organisations have been operating illegally. 

"This gives welcome reassurance to those operating the services and festival organisers who host them that they will not be criminalised for their efforts to keep young New Zealanders safe this summer," Little said. 

"I make no apology for prioritising young New Zealanders’ safety this summer with this law change."

"This is not about condoning young New Zealanders’ use of drugs, we would prefer they didn’t. But the evidence is that when allowed to operate, drug checking services can significantly reduce drug harm.

"By changing the law to allow drug checking services to operate legally, we are removing a significant disincentive for young New Zealanders to access this potentially life-saving service."

Next year will see the development and consultation of long-term changes to regulations.

ACT supported the move, with health spokesperson Brooke van Velden saying it "strikes a reasonable balance between a legislative regime making certain substances illegal and a public health objective of limiting the potential harm from those substances".

Green Party's Chlöe Swarbrick said that "by legalising drug checking services, festival goers will be able to check substances and dispose safely of them".

"It also means festival organisers and service providers like Know Your Stuff will no longer be putting themselves at legal risk for providing these lifesaving services.

"All drugs carry risk, but pushing people who use them into the shadows makes them riskier. Today is a win for sensible drug law reform, and marks an important step towards treating drugs as a health issue."

Legalising pill testing was blocked during the last Government by NZ First. Last summer, then Police Minister Stuart Nash launched the monitoring of pill testing through hiring researchers to see whether it saved lives

"Preliminary findings from a recent Victoria University of Wellington study suggest the law change we are making today is likely to increase uptake of drug checking by festival organisers and therefore festival goers," Little said. 

"The study found that most people who have their drugs checked change their behaviour, and come away with increased knowledge of how to keep themselves and their friends safe. This is in line with international research."

Officials with advocacy group The Drug Foundation said today they are "thrilled" with the announcement. Deputy director Ben Birks Ang said the change would give pill testers and festival organisers "certainty that they can provide this important service without running the risk of being prosecuted themselves".

"We look forward to the long-term solution, which we hope will expand beyond festivals and be properly resourced."