Thousands of free pill testing kits will be distributed at major Australian music festivals this summer, following concerns over the rise in drug-related deaths among festival-goers. The same can't be said for New Zealand where our drug laws prohibit organisers from acknowledging the use of substances on their premises, and allowing drug testing effectively does that.
But there's nothing stopping consumers from using DIY kits to test their own drugs. This time of year, shops like The Hempstore Aoteaoroa in Auckland are usually busy selling kits to cautious partiers as they get ready for the holiday season. For the last couple of weeks The Hempstore's shelves have been empty. A shipment of ecstasy testing kits has been detained by the Ministry of Primary Industries and store owner and operator Chris Fowlie told VICE he's baffled as to why.
"We've been importing legal testing kits for over 20 years and never had any problems," says Chris. "Consumer safety is part of our philosophy. We've got a real commitment to keeping people safe, whether that's providing education material, safety kits, or safe smoking alternatives such as vaporisers, for example."
The shipment of about 50 kits reached New Zealand on December 5, and after enquiring, Chris received a letter and tracking number on December 13 that the Ministry of Primary Industries had "detained the products for inspection purposes". No other justification was given. Brokers working on Chris' behalf have contacted MPI regularly since the letter.
"It seems hypocritical for MPI to be doing this seeing as the kits are designed to help New Zealanders so they can be sure to be safe. That's something that MPI should be advocating, too, no?"
While missing 50 kits isn't a great loss to the business, it could be a great loss to the community, Chris says and given the festival season, it's the worst time of year to be turning people away.
"We've already turned two people away today. It can be a matter of life and death. People actually die from taking the wrong drugs. Those two people will probably still experiment over the break and they'll be doing so with more risk and less knowledge over what they're taking."
And it's people from all walks of life who've been buying the kits, he says, from the more honourable importers and suppliers of drugs who wish to test their products, to the end consumer who plans to go to a festival with friends.
"I could be dealing with stereotypical ravers, to businessmen, to Remuera housewives. This is the thing, it's a harm reduction tool, people who don't care about their safety don't buy them."
Meanwhile, a Ministry of Primary Industries spokesperson said the situation was "weird", seeing as the ministry deals with plant and animal-based products. She conceded that ecstasy drug-testing kits fall outside their jurisdiction, and she has been unable to locate where the kits are. She told VICE that MPI would follow up with Customs.
UPDATE: Shortly after VICE made contact with MPI, Chris received a fax from MPI saying the kits have been cleared. Chris is yet to receive the kits but told VICE he is thankful seeing as "it's in the public's best interests to ensure safety."
UPDATE: MPI have denied any responsibility for the hold up. An official media spokesperson for MPI said in an email to VICE that MPI had been in contact with the MPI International Mail Centre. "MPI inspected Mr Fowlie's package of ecstasy kits for biosecurity risk on December 6. No biosecurity risk goods were detected. The package was sent on to Mr Fowlie later that day according to our records." There was no explanation for what had happened to the kits.
Chris Fowlie finally received the shipment on December 30. The delivery documentation states the kits were released from the MPI International Mail Centre on December 22, the same day VICE enquired about their whereabouts.
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