Australia’s First Official Illicit Pill Testing at Canberra’s Groovin’ The Moo Music Festival: Legal Hurdles and Future Prospects
JLM 2018;64: 54-60
7 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2019
Date Written: 2018
The first official pill testing at an Australian music festival was conducted at Groovin’ The Moo in Canberra on 29 April 2018. As the trial was the first of its kind in Australia, it was not without legal hurdles and uncertainty. Primarily, there was concern over the legal consequences for patrons participating in the pill testing, as well as the legal liability of those facilitating and conducting the testing. This article will discuss the legal hurdles that were overcome in order to facilitate the trial, and the future consequences and position of pill testing at Australian festivals going forward.
Primarily, there were four main legal hurdles that needed to be addressed in order to successfully, and legally, facilitate the trial. First, approval was given by the ACT government that the testing could go ahead without the need to amend any existing legislation. Second, an indemnity agreement was offered by the main advocate and facilitator, the STA-SAFE consortium, to the promoters of the festival to provide protection from the consequences of all official pill testing. Third, participants were required to sign a waiver before participating in the pill testing, with consent being assessed by the medical professionals facilitating the services. Finally, an agreement and mutual understanding with local law enforcement was in place to protect patrons from criminal liability for participating in the trial. It is likely that other States and Territories in Australia will need to overcome similar legal hurdles in order to facilitate official pill testing at other festivals around the country. However, it appears that legal hurdles may not be the biggest problem, with political pressure currently proving most challenging.
Pill testing does not promote illegal drug use because pill testing does not increase the number of drug users. Recreational drug use involves a cost-benefit and risk analysis: first, law enforcement detection at the gate and in the venue; second, poor product safety; and third, risks to health. Pill testing is not a pre-condition for accepting these risks because pill testing does not remove risk. It better informs the risk taker (on contaminants, adulterants, allergies) but does not render the substance ‘safe’. Drug use exists with pill testing and without pill testing, and individuals not prepared to risk the risks before are not willing to risk them now.
Official pill testing will likely result in a number of positive health effects for the broader community. Unlike personal pill testing, official pill testing has the benefit of providing valuable information through the collection of data. The data will significantly increase the ability of the health sector to monitor and identify trends of substances in party drugs more broadly. As a result, medical professionals may be better equipped to handle and prepare for the negative effects of these substances. In addition, authorities will be better positioned to warn the public about potentially lethal substances being found in those pills tested.
If an official illicit pill test at a music festival reveals uncontaminated MDMA, free of bath salts, PMA, DXM, BZP or whatever acronym comes to mind, this is not packaged by the administering medical officers as a ‘thumbs-up’ to consume. The risk of injury and death subsist and consumption acts as implicit acceptance – even for individuals who would not consume a pill but for pill testing. At Canberra Groovin the Moo, STA-SAFE consortium offered the facilitator Cattleyard Promotion legal immunity for any adverse consequences from the pill testing trial. This would be an important consideration for subsequent occasions.
Pill testing does not promote illegal drug use because pill testing does not condone illegal drug use. Pill testing is not a rival to the so-called ‘war on drugs’. It does not preclude the long-term objective of abstinence, nor does it presume it. But this is immaterial because the ‘war on drugs’ has failed. Criminalisation is not a deterrent. Drug use has been embedded in Australian culture for centuries, despite colonial import taxes, post-60s counterculture reform, and despite existing legislative instruments. To better align itself with other jurisdictions, it is argued that Australia needs to stop viewing party drugs as a criminal issue and start viewing it as a public health issue.
To market pill testing is to promote education. Drug use thrives in the shadows until a death comes to light. Drug users don’t have knowledge of contaminants (or the extent of) and policymakers lack accurate data. Pill testing will provide the statistics required to re-evaluate regulation and resource allocation and will help drug users to assess risk and alter habits. Harm reduction preserves hospital resources, emergency services and prevents third-party trauma. Pill testing is a public good and will better arm both belligerents for a ‘war on drugs’.
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This article was first published by Thomson Reuters in the Journal of Law and Medicine and should be cited as Byrne S, Gock A, Cowling A, Faunce T, Australia’s First Official Illicit Pill Testing at Canberra’s Groovin’ The Moo Music Festival: Legal Hurdles and Future Prospects, 2018, 26(1), JLM, 54. For all subscription inquiries please phone, from Australia: 1300 304 195, from Overseas: +61 2 8587 7980 or online at legal.thomsonreuters.com.au/search.
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Keywords: Pill Testing, Illicit Drug Policy, Rave Festivals, Music Festivals, War on Drugs
JEL Classification: I12, I18, K42, K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation