KnowYourStuffNZ operates within the law but our services exist in a legal grey area. Clarifying the law would allow services like ours to operate more openly to keep people safe.
The Misuse of Drugs Act and KnowYourStuffNZ
KnowYourStuffNZ operates within the law – in this case the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. We do not, for instance, handle illegal substances. Our clients have to do all of the sample preparation and handling themselves. We simply test what they have put in front of us, interpret the results, and provide harm reduction information.
This does limit our service. Unlike testing services in the UK, we cannot take and hold a sample for analysis. We have to do all of our tests with our clients present. This means they get an immediate result and their involvement in the testing means they are likely to trust the results. However, it does limit the time we have to consider results. Similarly, if we cannot identify a substance, we cannot take that substance to a lab – we would be temporarily in possession and possession is a crime.
Within those constraints, there is nothing within the Act explicitly allowing or prohibiting our service. However, there is a problem…
The Problem – Section 12 and Festival Organisers
It is illegal to provide a venue for people to take drugs.
Section 12 of the Act makes it a crime to “knowingly permits any premises … to be used for” crimes against the Misuse of Drugs Act. What does this mean in practice? Does having a drug testing service at a event mean that the event organiser is permitting their event to be used for taking drugs? We don’t know and that’s the legal grey area.
No-one has yet been prosecuted for this in New Zealand but being found guilty under Section 12 could lead to ten years in prison for an event organiser. Understandably, many festival organisers are not willing to take this risk.
When we are at events, we will work with the event organisers to be as discreet as they request us to be. This means our signage is not explicit and our service is generally advertised by word of mouth. If, for instance, we find particularly harmful substances, we cannot publicise that widely amongst event-goers. This is frustrating and it limits our reach and impact. However, we do not want to put event organisers at any more legal risk than is necessary.
Despite Section 12, event organisers also have a duty of care and a legal responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to take all practicable steps to keep people safe at events. Harm reduction approaches including pill testing are a cost effective and proven step.
The Solution – The Change We Are Pushing For
KnowYourStuffNZ would like to see the law clarified to explicitly allow pill testing at events and venues where people may be using drugs.
Testing services should be allowed to advertise openly and to publicise dangerous results.
Allowing registered services to take and hold samples for later laboratory analysis would help us to identify the new and unknown substances that we discover.
We are exploring the pathway to improving the law so that we can openly continue to help keep people safe.