The Government has passed a new law legalising pill testing services ahead of the summer festival season under urgency.
The changes will expire in 12 months, when the Government aims to have a longer-term solution in place.
The law change came after a furious debate between National’s justice spokesman Simon Bridges and the Green Party’s drug reform spokeswoman Chlöe Swarbrick.
National were the only party to oppose the bill, with Bridges saying it would encourage higher use of illicit drugs based on use growing in the UK. He said Swarbrick was only offering “woke anger” instead of challenging this point.
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“We referred to studies, and, actually, haven’t, despite all the protestation and, frankly, anger–woke anger–from Chlöe Swarbrick been seriously challenged on any of those contentions or studies,” Bridges said.
Swarbrick pointed to a 2018 study from the International Journal of Drug Policy that showed legal drug testing had reduced hospital admissions from illicit substances by 95 per cent at one festival in the UK, and accused Bridges of “high-horse moralising.”
“Please outline how you want to reduce harm, because so far all I’ve heard is that you want to be an impediment to improvements in the law–to looking to the research, looking to the evidence, looking at what’s happening internationally,” Swarbrick said.
“I’m stoked to be delivering my last speech on this bill, because we are going to get it through and we are going to have to stop listening to the high-horse moralising from the National Party, who, by the sounds of the way that they are talking about substances, have never engaged in them.”
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Pill testing allows outfits such as Know Your Stuff NZ to test illicit drugs at festivals and tell users what is in them, as some drugs are sold as MDMA but actually contain other substances, for example bath salts, that increase the risk of psychosis.
The practice currently exists in a legal grey area, with festival hosts technically liable for prosecution if they knowingly provide a venue for illicit drug use. Efforts to legalise it last term were stopped by NZ First.
The bill passed 87-33, with Labour, the Greens, ACT, and the Māori Party supporting it and National opposing it.
It was introduced on Tuesday and passed less than 24 hours later.
Health Minister Andrew Little said the new law recognised the reality that young people were taking illicit drugs and tried to make that safer.
“People are going to turn up to these events with illicit substances. We know that some of those substances are at risk of a lack of safety and causing harm to the potential user of them. And we want to minimise that harm and we want to make the ingestion of those substances or the risk being taken with the ingestion of those substances as low as possible,” Little said.
”We can all be horrified that some people might actually want to engage in activities that are on the edge of or outside the law. But I think when it comes to the consumption of drugs and the health effects that go with that, I would rather that we focus on taking a health approach, not criminalising more and more people.”
National’s justice spokesman Simon Bridges said the bill would encourage drug use and make young people using dangerous substances feel safe.
”This bill is part of a wider agenda that is soft-headed and soft on drugs,” Bridges said.
National’s youth wing the Young Nats have been outspoken in their support for pill testing.
Green Party drug reform spokeswoman Chlöe Swarbrick said the change was similar to New Zealand’s legalisation of needle exchanges in the late 1980s, which cut down HIV infection rates.
ACT’s deputy leader Brooke van Velden said ACT supported the law and recognised that young people took risks.
“These are not bad kids. Young people just take risks–some with adverse consequences. No one wants to be the loved one of a tragic fatality that could have been avoided. This bill will reduce a lot of that risk. Passing this bill will reduce harm from drug use.”