Why is New Zealand doing this?
According to the most recent data from the Ministry of Health, around 9% of New Zealanders have used an illicit drug in the past year, with cannabis being the most popular. Synthetic cannabis is a common problem, with over 40 drug-related deaths reported in 2018 (the country narrowly voted against legalizing marijuana in a referendum last year).
While New Zealand has long battled methamphetamine abuse, party drugs are increasingly common. In 2019, New Zealand police seized more than two million ecstasy tablets and their equivalents, up 560% from 2018.
It is these party drugs in particular that have resulted in injury or death, sometimes as a result of people taking mislabeled or contaminated drugs. This year, KnowYourStuff received nearly 1,000 messages from festival-goers who reported atypical reactions to drugs sold to them in the form of MDMA, including paranoia, seizures, severe nausea and sleepless days. The drugs are believed to have been contaminated with synthetic cathinones.
Speaking in parliament last year, Andrew Little, the Minister of Health, stressed that the current New Zealand government sees drug policy as a health issue rather than a criminal one.
A prosecution-driven approach has not worked, he said, adding: “This is not changing. If we are to change behavior, we have to take a different approach. “
But it works?
The data is patchy, but promising.
A survey by Victoria University found that 68 percent of festival-goers polled who used the testing services changed their behavior, with some reducing the amount they used while others got rid of their drugs.
A similar study conducted at a festival in Canberra, Australia in 2019 found that “anyone who detected a very dangerous substance threw that drug into the amnesty bin.”