Back in August, we covered a report by 60 Minutes on drug use at festivals. To our surprise and that of our readers, the long-running current affairs program did not take a hardline anti-drug stance.
In fact, quite the opposite was true. The report saw presenter Tara Brown visiting Austria and The Netherlands, where drug-checking is mandatory, to speak with drug experts and people running successful drug-checking services.
The conclusion the program reached was that taking a no tolerance stance against drugs simply doesn’t work and could even be dangerous. Instead, giving recreational drug users the means to take drugs safely was the answer.
60 Minutes has now been joined by fellow mainstream news outlet Fairfax Media in the call for pill-testing at music festivals, recently publishing an op-ed titled, ‘Don’t ban music festivals. Pill testing is the way to stop drug overdoses’.
Miles Hunt, a lawyer and director of drug law reform and harm-minimisation organisation Unharm, wrote the article in response to the death of 23-year-old Anneke Vo at the Dragon Dreaming festival over the weekend.
“The police have gone on the front foot, blaming the festival for the death and suggesting it should be banned in future,” Hunt writes, before quoting Superintendent Zoran Dzevlan, who was quoted as saying he didn’t want the festival to go ahead in the first place.
“The police have made the link between the festival’s existence and the death of Anneke Vo – using an argument that if the event didn’t happen then she wouldn’t have died,” Hunt’s op-ed continues.
“If someone had died in a car accident on the way to the festival, this would be tragic too. Would the police suggest the event should be banned? I doubt it, yet in both cases, a drug-related death at a music festival and a death on the road to the festival, the death wouldn’t happen without the festival.”
“Does it make it right to ban the festival? Festivals are places that young people go to connect to each other, to listen to music together and to create a sense of community… Of course, at all events that many young people attend, there are likely to be drugs, especially when there is music involved.”
Hunt goes on to argue that, like anything potentially dangerous but popular, drugs should be strictly regulated, rather than banned. The pill-testing advocate even goes on to suggest that drugs should be legalised.
“To suggest people don’t use drugs at a festival is as silly as suggesting people don’t have sex,” he writes. “Just say no, doesn’t work. Young people will experiment with drugs. It is as simple as that. Do you ban the festival? Ban young people coming together in this way?”
“No, that would be like banning horse-riding when someone falls off a horse, or swimming in the ocean when someone drowns, or banning cars when someone dies on the road, a festival if a young person dies tragically in car accident on the way to that festival.”
“No, we regulate these industries. We make people get a driver’s licence, punish negligent driving, have rules and regulations to make it safer. We could do the same for drugs. We could legalise and regulate them so everyone knows exactly what drug they are taking.”
“One solution that is available now, and avoids huge changes to drug law, is to have pill (or drug) testing kits at festivals, make them mandatory, even at any event where drugs are likely to be. They allow people to have their drugs tested before taking them.”
“Surely banning music festivals would achieve nothing apart from destroying community gatherings, but real change, to avoid senseless and tragic loss of life can come though provision of pill-testing and maybe one day even the regulation of drugs.”