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Students in Wellington Just Want to Be Able to Legally Test Their Drugs

We went along to a speaker night at Victoria University to hear how Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) are pushing for legal pill testing at festivals.

Members of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) at Victoria University. All images by Laura Duffy

A group of students from Victoria University are joining the push for drug testing to protect them and their friends from taking potentially fatal chemicals in lieu of actual drugs. The Wellington arm of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) wants the New Zealand Government to allow drug testing at festivals. VICE went along to their speaker night at the university to find out the details.

During a drug deal you don't exactly get a rundown of what ingredients you're about to put up your nose. Chances are, it's not what you thought. Wendy Allison tested 48 drug samples at a New Zealand festival last year. Less than 20 percent were what people actually thought they were getting, says pill testing advocate Wendy Allison.


Once people had the information of what was in their drugs, about half ditched them. "The other 50 percent made the justification, 'I've taken it before and it hasn't killed me,'" says Wendy. One individual, for no discernable reason, decided to take it anyway.

Green MP Kevin Hague wants a harm reduction approach to drugs.

There is nothing illegal about testing your pills, and if you're going to be indulging in illicit drugs you probably aren't too concerned about breaking the law. Audrey Aitcheson, a student and active member of SSDP says that drug testing is a very pragmatic harm reduction method. "Drug checking gives power to consumers, it holds dealers accountable and ensures that people know what they're putting in their bodies."

So, if it's such a risk-reducing practice, what exactly is keeping pill testing from the consumer?

Section 12 of the Drug Misuse Act states, "Every person commits an offence against this Act who knowingly permits any premises or any vessel, aircraft, hovercraft [no seriously], motor vehicle, or other mode of conveyance to be used for the purpose of the commission of an offence against this Act."

So by permitting pill testing, the manager of the premises is acknowledging the use of these substances, and can therefore be held accountable. Changing this section to allow for leeway in terms of harm reduction efforts is exactly the sort of action that SSDP are pushing for.

The Wellington committee of Students for Sensible Drug Policy


Momentum is building in their direction. After years of sitting around and waiting for an assortment of political play dates and promises, campaigners are optimistic that the National Drug Policy 2015 indicates New Zealand's government may be adopting harm reduction as a serious target.

Green MP Kevin Hague backs the SSDP's call for reform, saying "it should not be a matter for criminal justice, it should be a matter for harm reduction." Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne, has also come out on the side of harm reduction. He's known for his subtle advocacy regarding drug law reform stating, "The more holistic approach in this policy will help the Government respond more appropriately to the problems they pose."

But not all politicians are as forthcoming with support for a shift in policy focus. Minister Paula Bennett has taken a firm stance against decriminalisation, stating, "I would absolutely be anti any loosening of our cannabis laws." Obviously this gives us little hope for other substances.

Another obvious player in the game, Prime Minister John Key, has voiced his conservative views surrounding drug use in New Zealand, "In the end, drugs of any sort are a road to nowhere in my view, and we want to encourage New Zealanders not to use them."

Although there has been no direct opposition towards the reforms SSDP are campaigning for, there has been no real traction either. Jack Rainbow, president of SSDP, hopes the group's stance will pressure the government into getting things rolling within the next 12 months and allow them to get pill testing kits out to their student population.


Victoria University students want to legally use drug testing kits like this one demonstrated by Wendy Allison.

So what will pill testing look like if these students manage to enact change?

The simple answer, is probably what it already looks like in other places around the world. Pill testing is not a new phenomenon, and the positive feedback globally has allowed kits to be sold and distributed in many places. These kits would be available via services such as student health and counselling, where an individual could confidentially buy their own testing kits, test their own drugs, at their own discretion. Eliminating the fear of harassment by a wall of uniforms.

"There were five deaths in Australia last year from people taking substances at festivals, and that is scary because that is going to be us, or our friends," said Cameron Price the co-founder of SSDP. This body of students is hoping to create a new culture when it comes to drug safety while they wait for the guys up the top to facilitate the change. Now, we just wait.

More on VICE:

We Walked Around a Bush Doof And Tested People's Drugs

Why Drug Testing Needs to be a Part of Australian Music Festivals