Pill testing batted backwards and forwards

OUTDOOR music festivals are a rite of passage for many young Australians.

It’s been that way since 1972, when the first Sunbury festival in Victoria awoke the nation to the pleasures of spending a weekend in the middle of nowhere, listening to super loud music, often getting drunk or high in the process.

There were dangers then, and there are still are now; possibly even more so with the rise of synthetic drugs.

Many of those who went to the early festivals – Narara on the Central Coast, Tanelorn near Gloucester – are parents now, watching with justified trepidation as their kids bounce excitedly around, ready to head to this month’s Groovin The Moo, the homegrown festival that has expanded from its Gloucester origins to various locations including the ACT.

In the wake of a number of well publicised overdoses from so-called “party” drugs, there have been sustained calls from drug advisory organisations and others to have pill testing provided by festival organisers.

The NSW government, despite its support for needle exchange programs and medicinal cannabis research, has drawn the line at allowing pill testing at festivals.

But the ACT government, with a reputation for its progressive legislation, has given the idea the green light within its boundaries.

But there have been problems in turning policy into practice, with festival promoters getting nervous about the consequences at the 11th hour.

A promised testing regime was cancelled six weeks before Canberra’s Spilt Milk festival in November, despite a government go-ahead. In what looks like a repeat performance, Groovin The Moo organisers are citing insurance concerns before Canberra’s April 29 show, again despite government approval.

A sensible drugs debate would be a good thing, but there is little common ground between those who support harm minimisation policies and those who seek to minimise drug use through the criminal code. The two sides can never agree

Around the world, prohibition appears to have done little to curb the human appetite for drugs.

But to look at it that way is to ignore the untold harm and misery that drugs have caused to many of those who succumb to their allure.

There are no easy answers.