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New Zealand Becomes The First Country To Permanently Legalise Drug Checking

Hannah Blackiston

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New Zealand Becomes The First Country To Permanently Legalise Drug Checking

Featured Image Credit: B Christopher / Alamy Stock Photo

New Zealand has become the first country to permanently legalise drug checking after a successful trial earlier this year.

The program, which launched in December 2020, puts drug-checking services at events and music festivals to help people know what's in the substances they intend to consume.

The program was sparked after several incidents where festival-goers developed serious symptoms, including seizures, after taking pills.

New Zealand is now the first country in the world to fully legalise and provide the service.

Other countries, including Switzerland and the Netherlands, have versions of the program in place, but none are completely government-supported and provided.

Volunteer drug checking organisation KnowYourStuffNZ, which was appointed by the New Zealand Ministry of Health to run the pilot, said the passing of the Drug and Substance Checking Legislation Bill is a significant step forward for the health and safety of consumers.

Manager director Wendy Allison said: "The Act will provide permanent legal standing for our service and will allow other organisations to provide drug checking services as well.

"This will help ensure this vital service is accessible to more communities, and ultimately prevent more drug-related harm."

The law change provides certainty for the future of drug checking at festivals and events in New Zealand and facilitates the development of a regulatory framework to ensure that the public can access high quality, reliable, and effective drug checking services on an ongoing basis.

"There's plenty of work still to do," said Allison. "But this feels like quite an achievement.

"We have been working towards this for seven years and so many people have worked so hard to get us to this point. Today we're celebrating our success."

Data from the pilot showed that 68 per cent of participants changed their behaviour as a result of accessing the drug checking service and 87 per cent said they better understood the harms of drug use after talking with the people performing it.

The bill does not legalise possession, buying or selling of drugs, but it installs broad legal protections for people offering the service and for people accessing it.

Drug checking had been operating in the country before the legalisation, but the new bill makes it easier for other companies to interact with the organisations providing the service.

KnowYourStuffNZ's technology can identify 95 per cent of the substances brought to it.

Upon receiving the results, the user can decide whether they wish to keep or dispose of the sample.

The checkers are forbidden from collecting personal information on people who have accessed the service and the user cannot be criminally charged with possession, nor can the results be used in later criminal proceedings.

KnowYourStuffNZ checked 2,744 samples at 27 events between April 2020 and March 2021 and found only 68 per cent of the samples were the substance people expected to be taking.

The organisation has said that while there are still risks involved with drug-taking, the availability and legalisation of drug checking will make the landscape significantly safer for users.

Topics: New Zealand, News, Festivals, Drugs

Hannah Blackiston
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