The New Zealand government will fund recreational drug checks at festivals and concerts, giving NZ$800,000 to a service that previously operated in a legal grey zone.

While pill testing has operated to some extent for years, it did so in an uncertain area that stopped it getting into major music festivals. Even when the Government legalised it last year, the charity running drug testing services didn’t have the funding to get to major festivals anyway.

Health Minister Andrew Little insists ‘this is not about condoning drug use’. However, National Party’s justice spokesman, Simon Bridges, says it’s a ‘slippery’ move towards decriminalisation ‘by stealth’.

The Labour Government passed legislation under urgency at the start of December to allow for pill testing at last year’s summer festivals. However, most of the major new Year’s festivals did not have pill testing available – because the charity which does testing didn’t have the resources to reach every festival.

The charity Know Your Stuff had been New Zealand’s main provider of drug testing services. Its deputy director, Jez Weston said each machine cost about $50,000.

He had been calling for funding so that machines and staff could be present at every festival.

A study from Victoria University associate professor of criminology Fiona Hutton, released in February, argued the presence of Know Your Stuff at festivals reduced drug use.

Her study found 68 per cent of people either disposed of their drugs or changed their consumption habits after checking the drugs at Know Your Stuff tent.

“Festival organisers who invited Know Your Stuff to their events noted fewer serious incidents related to illicit drug use and emphasised the importance,” she said.

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