Pill testing? or Dog whistling?

It’s becoming another repetitive narrative – with every passing festival, more deaths, and further calls for the implementation of pill testing. The Berejiklian state government appears firm in their stance against pill testing – and for a state government – it is probably with good reason. It’s all too easy for a minority government or independent candidate to throw around these ideas and call for changes – they have none of the responsibility and all of the kudos. The difficulty with implementing such changes for a majority state government is that it erodes the rights of the NSW police force and undermines their ability to do their job (that is, lay charges and issue fines for drug possession), not to mention that the semi-decriminalisation of drugs is a slippery slope. It’s an interesting conundrum for the government, and like all social issues, people are playing on people’s emotions surrounding the continued deaths in order to support their own political agenda.

The pill testing argument seems, on the face of it, to be a genuine attempt to prevent festival deaths, does it not? After all, any story which relates to the emotional deaths of teenagers and 20-somethings must never be questioned for its sincerity, right? There is, however, a much more simple and effective solution to the problems we face with regard to drug-related festival deaths – but surprisingly (or not so much) it has failed to be discussed.

The solution most beneficial to both the festival goers, the festival management and the state government would be to give police the power to undertake random drug tests during festivals and issue on the spot fines and criminal charges for anyone found to be affected or under the influence of illicit drugs at festivals. Fines should be harsh – after-all, your main objective is to stop drug related deaths, right? Anyone found to be under the influence of illicit drugs should also be removed from the festival. This is a means of prevention and much more effective than simply telling people to not take drugs in the first place.

Drug tests like this are routine, fast and economical – requiring no upskilling of police, no burden of cost to the taxpayer or the government, and no semi-decriminalisation of drugs. It’s a win for those who want to stop festival deaths, a win for the tax payer and a win for the government. Win, win, win. This is not to mention the obvious inability for people to avoid detection by taking drugs prior to the festival, or the inability for people to simply take too many drugs and overdose. But its only a win if that IS actually the true intent of your outcry.

So why is the social media narrative oblivious to this obvious solution? It seems clear that pill testing is a push for the start of decriminalisation of drugs, rather than a legitimate attempt to legislate changes in order to save lives – again, its people fuelling their political agenda with fresh deaths of young festival goers. While there is nothing wrong with having a view FOR the decriminalisation of drugs, the problem seems to lie with many people’s inability to reveal their true biases and true feelings toward the nature of drugs at festivals. Indeed, for festival promoters, it is a difficult line to say that you would prefer the decriminalisation of drugs. So, they preach pill testing as a means of making people feel safe about drugs, while really enabling people to securely bring drugs inside the festival gates and within the law.

People need to be consistent with their views and at least attempt to try to recognise their biases. If people actually care about festival related deaths, why push an issue that won’t actually stop people taking drugs like pill testing and will be far less likely to pass through any government of the day? Why not focus energy toward real solutions that provide real benefits to festival goers with a much higher potential for bipartisan agreement? If they care more about the decriminalisation of drugs, be open about it and push that as your agenda instead of attempting to hide behind a campaign that rallies off the people’s emotions. Festivals too need to take some kind of responsibility for these deaths occurring at festivals as it is absolutely clear that a culture of drug consumption is rife within festivals.