Why the Misuse of Drugs Act has been called ‘out of date’

Long Lunch 21/03/2018
Photo: Getty.

When a deadly drug was discovered at a New Zealand music festival for the first time, drug-testing agency KnowYourStuffNZ quickly pointed it out.

Fentanyl, the same drug that has killed people in the US, UK and Canada, was discovered when a festival-goer tested what they thought was heroin.

Despite identifying a potentially lethal drug, non-profit group KnowYourStuffNZ isn’t invited to all music festivals in the country.  

The Misuse of Drugs Act makes it illegal for festival organisers to knowingly allow recreational drugs on the event premises. If an event organiser invites a drug-testing group to its event, it could potentially be prosecuted for its knowledge of recreational substances on the premises.

“We believe that [prosecution] is a very small risk; however, it is a risk so it’s up to event organisers to decide for themselves whether they are willing to take on that risk,” said Wendy Allison, director of KnowYourStuffNZ.

But Ms Allison clarifies that the testing itself isn’t illegal.

[The law] does not fit its purpose. 

“There is nothing we do that is illegal,” she told Wendyl Nissen on The Long Lunch.

She said that prosecution has never happened to event organisers she’s worked with, but understands that the risk does exist with the law for event organisers.

“The police’s job is to enforce the law,” she said. “What needs to change is the law to allow harm-reduction to take place.”

“The law is out of date, it does not fit its purpose – and that’s what needs to be fixed.”

The New Zealand Drug Foundation has called for both the decriminalisation of drugs and the law to be updated to eliminate the chance of prosecution for using harm-reduction services.

Listen to the full interview with Wendy Allison above. 

The Long Lunch with Wendyl Nissen, 12pm - 3pm on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.