Health Minister Andrew Little on drug testing at festivals

Health Minister Andrew Little says young people taking drugs at festivals aren’t bad people and should have access to advice and testing to make it safer.

Health Minister Andrew Little revealed yesterday morning that the Government will pass an urgent law to provide legal breathing space for drug-checking in time for the summer festival season.

Little told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking said he didn’t agree with young people taking “mind-altering substances”, but he wanted people to do it safely.

“We know with the festival season upon us young people turn up to concerts and drugs get passed around and they don’t know what’s in them.

“We’re not encouraging it, but it’s happening anyway.

“Young people experiment with this stuff and it doesn’t make them bad people.”

It comes as a surprise after both Little and Police Minister Poto Williams recently told the Herald that such a law change was “unlikely” before the end of the year, given there were only two sitting weeks left in Parliament.

Judith Collins doesn’t support on site pill testing at festivals, even though she knows her opinion is unpopular.

A 2019 Colmar Brunton poll shows 75 per cent of people support some form of legal pill testing.

National’s youth wing also supports the move.

National Leader Judith Collins told Newstalk ZB’s Kate Hawkesby we need to look further than polls before bringing in new laws.

Drug-checking allows users to hand over a sample and be told whether it is what they think it is, or if it is laced with something more sinister. Some drugs at Rhythm and Vines in 2018 were found to have pesticides, industrial paint compounds and paracetamol, while there have been several health warnings overseas for fentanyl-laced cannabis.

Currently, section 12 of the Misuse of Drugs Act says that anyone who knowingly allows a premises to be used for a drug offence faces up to 10 years in prison, depending on the drug in question.

It created a grey area where drug-checkers or festival hosts could face charges, though drug-checking organisation KnowYourStuffNZ has said it has never been threatened with prosecution or harassed by police.

Last season, KnowYourStuffNZ tested 1368 samples between April 2019 and March this year, and 86 per cent of the time the drug was what users thought it was; when it wasn’t, 52 per cent of people said they wouldn’t take it.

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