The New Zealand parliament has passed a new bill which fully legalises drug checking services in the country, becoming the first country in the world to do so.
Drug checking services – which had previously been allowed on a trial basis at music festivals there over the past year – allows individuals to test the safety of pills and other illicit substances without having them confiscated or being arrested.
The bill was passed with a 88-33 margin, and is expected to go into effect by next week, reports Vice.
Many advocacy groups and health experts have praised the decision, with the director of the NZ Drug Foundation, Sarah Helm, saying “it’s really significant and a moment to celebrate.”
“This will prevent harm and save lives. Drug checking is a hugely effective harm reduction tool as it gives people accurate information to make safer decisions,” she said.
Besides music festivals, the service will also be expanded across the country through health and social services, as well as reaching vulnerable communities via pop-up clinics.
New Zealand’s Health Minister, Andrew Little, has said that there is overwhelming evidence in support of drug checking, with the country’s Drug Foundation and Institute of Environmental Science and Research supporting the move.
“Research by Victoria University on behalf of the Ministry of Health showed that 68 percent of festival-goers who used drug checking services said they had changed their behaviour once they saw the results,” he said to RNZ.
The government has also pledged to allocate NZD800,000 (roughly RM2.3 million) towards the initiative, for national co-ordination of the service, the training of drug-checkers, as well as providing information on drug harms.
However, not everyone is totally on board with the decision.
The National party, which had exclusively opposed the bill, has said that the research cited by the Health Minister was unreliable, and that drug checking services will actually increase usage more than reducing harm.
“The only message that really stops fatalities is that no pill is safe. There’s no such thing as a safe ecstasy, or a safe dose of some of the other drugs that may in time be able to be tested,” it’s spokesperson Simon Bridges said.