The Drug and Substance Checking Legislation Bill passed last week, and I’m pretty sure you could hear KnowYourStuff volunteers cheering from outer space. The Bill amends the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013. It means we can go to events and give harm reduction advice openly and legally.
Out with the old
Section 12 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 made it an offence to “knowingly allow premises to be used for the commission of any offence against that Act.” This meant that party organisers couldn’t knowingly let people that were going to take drugs into their events.
If festival organisers were to officially acknowledge that KnowYourStuff was going to be giving harm reduction advice at their event, they would have been admitting that people were going to take drugs there. Festival organisers that let us come to their events faced being arrested or worse if they were open about our presence.
The legal risk put many of the larger commercial events off inviting us to do checking. Doing checking and harm reduction under the radar like this meant that we didn’t reach as many people as we wanted to. People went without harm reduction advice and put themselves in danger with potentially harmful or adulterated substances.
We also faced a problem if we found something particularly dangerous that we wanted to send to a lab for testing. If our team leaders were stopped between the testing tent and the approved lab by the Police they could have been charged with possession or supply of a controlled substance.
In with the new
The new Bill adds an entire section to the Misuse of Drugs Act. Sections 35DA through to 35DI explain who is and isn’t allowed to provide checking services, and how it’s allowed to be done. Also under which circumstances a test result isn’t admissible in criminal proceedings. The Bill makes amendments to 7 sections of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 relating to possession of “psychoactive substance that is not an approved product”.
We get appointed by Dr Ashley Himself
Under the new law, the Director-General of Health needs to appoint all drug-checking services. This includes us at KnowYourStuff. This should happen pretty quickly, and then we’ll have a notice that we’ll display when we’re doing testing.
What does this mean for you?
There’s a couple of changes that affect you directly if you’re coming to us for harm reduction advice:
- Organisers are allowed to tell you when we’re at their events (Section 12 1(A))
You can check ahead with an event to see if we’ll be there. Events can publicise whether or not KnowYourStuff will be offering harm reduction advice in their guides.
- We can be more public about where we’re going to be (Section 12 1(A))
We can have more publicity about when and where we’ll be offering harm reduction. We still need permission from an organiser to say that we’ll be at their event, but if we have their blessing, then we can tell you where to find us.
- You’re allowed to give us your stuff for testing (Section 35DD)
If you’re giving us a small sample that you know will a) get reagents poured all over it, and b) have infrared radiation shot through it with the FTIR spectrometer, it won’t count as supply of a controlled drug. But this is for samples to be tested ONLY. If you get stopped with a giant stash and claim you’re bringing it in for testing’ the cops will know you’re taking the piss. We only need about 10mg of a sample.
- Your tested stuff can’t be used as evidence against you in criminal proceedings (Section 35DI)
The results from our testing can’t be used as evidence in any court cases against you. Police don’t tend to target Know Your Stuff clients and have avoided all of our testing events for the last six years. There’s no reason for them to start now.
Police can, however, seize what you have on you and test it at their own lab separately. We don’t help them with that.
Overall, this is a major step forward for drug harm reduction. The Bill, now an Act, means that we can give you the information you need to make better decisions about what you do and don’t put into your bodies. This has been the culmination of six years of pushing for change and it feels good to change the world.
We’ve shown that treating people like grownups and giving them information and agency often leads to them making good choices. This is a big step forward for New Zealand’s stated intention of treating drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal one.
We may sit smugly in our victory now, but there is still more work to be done.
For now, we hope this new Bill will lead to better, more mature conversations in other drug harm reduction circles, a safer, more caring party scene for the people we love, and better outcomes for New Zealanders.
Despite the law change, KnowYourStuff is still run by volunteers and reliant on donations to stay afloat. If you support our service and want it to be available for all to use, you could really help us out by donating.