With iconic Australian music festivals including Groovin’ the Moo, Splendour in the Grass, Listen Out and Spilt Milk looming in 2019’s horizon, the debate surrounding pill testing remains at the forefront of New South Wales’ premier Gladys Berejiklian’s public agenda.
In a Sunrise interview earlier this year following a drug-related death at FOMO Festival in Parramatta Park on January 12, the premier was described as “dogmatic” in her refusal to introduce pill-testing. Her argument is established on deterrence; pill-testing does not deter illegal drug use by informing that they are dangerous.
It is important to consider the perspectives of those who would be directly impacted by the pill-testing initiative: young adults. To do this, let’s explore what our very own WSU law students had to say about the pros and cons of introducing pill-testing.
Bradley*, takes a conservative point of view and asserts that drug use is illegal. He identifies that it seems to be a contradiction of the law around drug use and possession to introduce pill-testing, essentially because he considers it to be an avenue to legally use drugs. In essence, the laws should be prioritised above introducing pill-testing because in the first instance, the laws protects the population from the impact of drug use.
Interestingly, despite the illegality of drug use generally, some law students take the opposite approach and are in support of the pill-testing initiative. A student in the later years of his degree, Johnny, stated that “people’s use of drugs does not depend on legality. If people will be using drugs whether we test them or not, we must logically accept that such testing will save lives.” Heidi takes a similar approach, arguing that saving a single life through pill-testing outweighs the legalities or illegalities surrounding drug use.
Other students, while disagreeing with pill-testing also offer alternatives to it. Cassy* stresses the importance of education, and initiatives that inform young adults about the impact of drug use so that they are not tempted to experiment in the first place and especially not at festivals.
She also says that the age of people going to music festivals (i.e. 16 years – 30 years) hold “many other legal responsibilities including sexual consent, the right to vote and the ability to consume alcohol.”
Therefore, “they are responsible for their drug use and the consequences that accompany it.” According to Cassy, pill-testing removes accountability from the individual choices we make and transfers it to the Australian government, possibly resulting in a variety of unforeseeable ramifications.
Daniel takes a very alternative approach to the pill-testing debate, saying that prior to this, the government should have focused on the “decriminalisation of all drugs and even legislation of lower-schedule drugs such as marijuana.” He says that the “drug-debate needs to be reworked from the ground up,” and “the issue of substance-abuse and its growing popularity needs to be looked at the through a mental health framework.”
Perhaps funding education initiatives and considering the mental health aspect of drug use is a more appropriate solution to introducing pill-testing. However, after education and mental health services, does the government absolve responsibility for individuals who continue to use drugs? At what point is the individual responsible for their own choices and the consequences that are associated with those choices (e.g. death as a result of overdose)?
The W’SUP team would love to hear your perspectives, especially from students beyond the law discipline. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on the article below to give us your opinions on this highly contentious debate.
* Some students names have been changed to prevent identification.