The organisation had its genesis when the Government outlawed BZP, the main ingredient in legal "party pills", in 2008. She bought a reagent testing kit (in which you place a sample in a certain liquid, and the resulting colour change alerts you to the presence of a particular drug) and started testing among her community, finding lots of BZP, just as she had predicted. "For the first few years I did it, I didn't test a single thing that was what it was supposed to be."At one particular event, she says, there were some pills going around called "the black pills". Some people who took them were having an excellent time, and others had "some pretty horrible symptoms". The conclusion Allison reached was that somebody had mimicked a good press of pills with something dangerous. "The medics came to us and went, 'If nothing is done about this, people are going to die.'" Doing something about it is how KnowYourStuffNZ was born.
"For the first few years I did it, I didn't test a single thing that was what it was supposed to be."
Testing at festivals, Allison says, means operating "in this weird little grey area where what we do is not illegal, but everything around it is." The people who bring their drugs to be tested are in contravention of Section 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Act—an act more than 40 years old—because they are (although sometimes they just think they are) in possession of illegal substances.For festival organisers, Section 12 prohibits them from knowingly permitting people to take drugs at their events: allowing KnowYourStuffNZ on site contravenes this. No event, as far as Allison knows, has been busted under this section, but it remains a possibility. Other festivals rely on local authority, which often includes a clause about doing everything possible to ensure a drug-free event, something that obviously excludes KnowYourStuffNZ from operating on site.
"What we do is not illegal, but everything around it is."
Allison says KnowYourStuffNZ would love to work closely with the police to further their harm-reduction aims, but that it seems unlikely without a law change. This summer, the organisation has already been booked for a few festivals, while there are plenty of others that are interested but are still waiting to see if they'll be shut down for doing so. The Health and Safety Act requires professional organisers to take personal responsibility for the safety of festival participants. Allison says testing is a "practicable step that works a lot better than sticking your head in the sand and pretending it's not happening… There's these two laws which contradict each other and what I think is probably going to happen is that as harm reduction becomes more widely accepted, more and more events are going to use [testing] as their health and safety compliance."Allison points out that last summer 52 percent of those who found out that their drugs were not what they thought they were then decided not to take them at all. Something that has given KnowYourStuffNZ allies in unlikely places. "The Christian Women's Temperance Union apparently thought that was a good idea… When they heard that their ears pricked up and they were quite interested in what we were doing."KnowYourStuffNZ needs another spectrometer so they can cover more ground this summer. Donate to their PledgeMe campaign here.
Allison says testing is a "practicable step that works a lot better than sticking your head in the sand and pretending it's not happening."