Drug tests at festivals become legal on New Year’s Eve


Crowd at Rhythm and Vines festival in Gisborne, December 2020. Photo / provided

A first change in the law in the world allowing drug control organizations to work legally at festivals is coming to fruition this new year.

Festival organizers no longer risk prosecution under section 12 of the Drug Abuse Act if they choose to have an organization like Know Your Stuff at their event.

Although the country’s two biggest New Years festivals – Rhythm and Vines and Northern Bass – are postponed this year due to Covid restrictions, drug testing organizations and police will work hard to keep festival-goers safe this summer. .

The Know Your Stuff Drug Control Service has already hosted a number of static services this year, touring across the country.

In the last month leading up to New Years, he has run around 10 clinics across the country, from Auckland to Dunedin. His services have been at full capacity every time.

Know Your Stuff is expected to continue touring throughout the summer, including stopping at Twisted Frequencies in Nelson over New Years.

For those preparing for these summer festivals, the advice is to test your drugs.
Police saw an increase in the consumption of synthetic cathinones last year.

Detective Inspector Blair Macdonald of the National Drug Intelligence Bureau said last year was “of huge concern to them because” dangerous cathinones were being sold under the pretext that they were MDMA. “

He said that this year the police noticed an increase in the use of MDMA and a decrease in cathinones.
However, cathinones are still emerging on the market.

“Cathinones pose significantly more risks, which is why drug control services are such an important harm prevention tool, showing people what substances they have.”

Yvonne Booysen, media and advocacy manager for Know Your Stuff, said the unpredictability of cathinones is concerning and with fewer desirable effects people are likely to take more in the hopes of having a pass. best moment.

“If you come across counterfeit MDMA, stay hydrated, try to eat and get some sleep.

“If you have heart palpitations or other worrying symptoms, go to the emergency room.”

She said people should check the Know Your Stuff website for more information on the effects of taking specific medications.

Macdonald said drug identification is only half the service of drug checkers.
He said, equally important, that drug controllers can have a conversation with people about drugs, what the risks are and what steps people can take to keep them safe.

“When someone is told their substance is not what they thought it was, they often choose not to take it, Macdonald said.

Police research last year found that 68% of people changed their behavior after using a drug control service. Eighty-seven percent of people said they had a better understanding of the harms of drug use.

“Police are always concerned about any harm that may happen to people and we want to do everything we can to prevent it,” Macdonald said.

Police continue to support the work of drug control organizations as revelers make the most of the live music this summer.

Police work at festivals to ensure a reassuring presence and actively respond to any incident that occurs.

“Police have the discretion to deal with people possessing and consuming personal amounts of drugs,” Macdonald said.

He said that when deciding whether to prosecute an individual, one should always consider whether a health-based approach is more beneficial. This can be seen in the small number of drugs seized that do not correspond to the reality of the quantity consumed.

Police data received following a request from the Herald under the Official Information Act revealed that the drug most often seized at festivals between January 1, 2018 and July 31, 2021 was MDMA with 81 seizures.

These consisted of 759 g of MDMA powder / crystal seized, as well as 493 tablets and 422 grams of MDMA tablets.

The second largest drug seizure was 1106g of cannabis in 44 seizures.
Specifically, during the festival period last year, the most frequently seized drug was MDMA (19 seizures), followed by cannabis (9 seizures).

However, police noted that this would be an under-representation of the total number of seizures. Additionally, most drugs will not have been tested by the police, so they may not correctly identify the merchandise. This is especially likely for MDMA, according to the OIA response.

For anyone who has attended a music festival, you will know that what was recorded does not reflect reality and it is because of the police approach to keep people safe instead of enforcing punitive measures.

Booysen said Know Your Stuffs’ interactions with police have always been positive.

Organizers of music festivals are also keen to protect their partygoers and obtain drug control services on site.

However, drug control organizations still lack capacity, a major barrier to their harm reduction services.

Booysen said Know Your Stuff is a mostly volunteer organization with no full-time staff, only five FTIR spectrometers, and no permanent test site.

“This year’s change in law is phenomenal, but resources remain a barrier to life-saving work,” said Auckland Central Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick.

Rhythm and Alps founder Alex Turnbull said there would be no drug testing on site, but would focus on Covid compliance. He said the festival had been in talks with major Canadian drug control companies earlier this year.

However, due to Covid, he was unable to get them in, so the on-site medication control has been parked for the time being. He said, “When we do it, we want to do it really, really well.”

Sub180 director Ashleigh Rangi said she contacted Know Your Stuff early on when she started planning Canterbury’s new New Years festival, Rolling Meadows.
She said by then they were already full.

“We are really disgusted that we are not able to offer drug testing services, but we will definitely see if that has changed for next year’s festival.”

Swarbrick said drug control services save lives, but more work needs to be done to reduce the damage.

“When people hear that the services are available but they are not satisfied with the resources, the need is not met.”

The Auckland Central Green Party MP continues to advocate for the “end” of the drug abuse law and increased funding for drug control services.

“It’s ridiculous that people claim that drug use only happens at music festivals when it also happens in bars, clubs and parties,” she said.

“This is why it is so important that there is widespread access to drug control services.”

Booysen said this year’s change in law is a step in the right direction … but Know Your Stuff hopes drug laws continue to shift towards a more health-focused approach.

“Know Your Stuff exists because they think they shouldn’t have had it too.”

Booysen said they believe drug laws should achieve a regulated market where substances don’t have to be tested because people already know what they are.

If people cannot access Know Your Stuff’s drug testing services, people can purchase home test kits from stores such as Cosmic.

High Alert is also a source of up-to-date information on new hazardous substances and people can register on their website to receive alerts on this matter.

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