The ACT government has rejected a proposal for pill testing at Canberra’s Groovin The Moo music festival.
Harm Reduction Australia approached the ACT government with a plan for a drug-checking trial at next month’s event, but this was rejected after “careful consideration,” an ACT government spokesman said.
“The government came to the conclusion that the proposal would need a significant amount of work and a trial would not be possible in 2017,” he said.
“It is the Government’s understanding that the festival organisers came to similar conclusions.”
The spokesman said the government would consider all the issues carefully and would not be rushed to meet an artificial deadline. However, it was possible a trial could be conducted at Canberra’s next major music festival, Spilt Milk, in December.
The government spokesman repeated previous statements made by Chief Minister Andrew Barr, which was that a range of complex legal and health implications needed to be worked through.
Speaking generally about politicians who reject pill testing, leading drug reform advocate Dr David Caldicott slammed those sorts of claims as either ignorant or dishonesty. He said those issues could be easily solved.
“Either our opponents have no idea what they are talking about, or they are lying for political gain,” he said.
“There are solutions for every problem they have put forward, but the dominant paradigm is likely cowardliness and fear of making a bold decision to do anything different. What we are doing is ridiculous and achieves nothing.”
Public health experts have been lobbying for a drug-testing program at Canberra music festivals for years. They say the practice, which is mainstream in several other countries, helps protect revellers from bad or dangerous substances that could lead to overdoses.
Dr Caldicott pointed to the harm-reducing effect of overseas programs and said there was no culpability for the licensed chemists handling the drugs as the pill was destroyed during testing. He also rejected the government’s claim that trialling pill-testing in the near future was rushing the process, stating there was reliable, fast, transportable and affordable technology readily available in the ACT.
Dr Caldicott is a member of the ACT Investigation of Novel Substances Group and had been working with the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation to push for pill testing in Australia.
Meanwhile the territory’s peak drug body has released a paper calling on the government to set up an experienced working group to design and formally propose the drug-checking program.
The Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT’s “keeping young Canberrans safe” report claimed previous proposals in Australia had been rejected without policy evaluation or evidence-backed opposition.
“Lack of clarity exists about any policy or legislative barriers to establishing formal systems of drug checking in the ACT community,” it read.
Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT chief executive Carrie Fowlie said it was time the discussion moved to action.
“We are really fortunate that we have drug policy expertise, technical expertise, good will and an excellent drug and alcohol sector here, ready to do this,” she said.
“In ATODA’s experience the ACT government has been willing to be a leader in implementing innovative drug policy so we think that this is very possible in the ACT.”
“There are lots of stakeholders involved who have lots of questions, but I have complete confidence we can work through the challenges.”
Harm Reduction Australia’s proposal was rejected after ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury petitioned the ACT government for pill testing at the Groovin the Moo Festival.
The Canberra Liberals remained opposed to drug-checking trials at music events.
This peice was originally published on ‘The Canberra Times’ April 20, 2017.