By Natasha Frost / The New York Times
New Zealand has enshrined into law a one-year experiment allowing drug users to have illegal substances tested without penalty to ensure their authenticity and to weed out dangerous chemicals.
The testers will not call the police. The drug users will not be thrown in jail. To tackle an endemic drug problem, New Zealand on Friday became what is believed to be the second country to formally legalize such drug checks, after the Netherlands. The European nation began a similar program in 1999 — though the practice is spreading around the globe.
It is still a crime in New Zealand to possess or sell illegal drugs. But say you’ve acquired an illegal chemical substance and would like to double check that what you have is what you think you have. A New Zealand law allows that.
Last year, as part of a pilot program, the government passed the Drug Checking Act, and the Ministry of Health appointed an independent drug-verification service, KnowYourStuffNZ, to test samples of pills or powders to give users a clearer picture of their chemical makeup, often at music festivals. But until the act became permanent, KnowYourStuffNZ operated in a kind of legal gray zone, where the testing was not widely publicized.
Over time, demand for its services skyrocketed, leaving the organization struggling to keep up. In 2016, it tested 330 samples at nine events, which rose to 1,368 samples tested at 22 events in 2019, according to recent data from Victoria University in Wellington.