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Police Say Aussie Pill Testers Risk Being Arrested

Written by Tom Williams on July 12, 2016

Police have warned that organisers of proposed pill testing services at upcoming music events will risk being arrested if they carry through with the trial.

As Fairfax Media reports, new internal legal advice from Victoria Police shows that people who conduct pill testing to determine the make-up of illicit substances could face criminal charges if they’re caught.

In a statement, Victoria Police says anyone handling illicit substances as part of a pill testing service could be prosecuted.

“In Victoria it is currently unlawful to use, possess, cultivate or traffic illicit drugs in any form,” Victoria Police say. Music Feeds has contacted New South Wales Police for comment.

Earlier this year, drug law reformists Dr Alex Wodak and Dr David Caldicott vowed to break the law in order to carry out their own pill testing trial at music festivals in New South Wales, despite the State Government’s hardline approach against such tests.

Since then, Dr Caldicott says he has received legal advice which indicates that licensed forensic chemists could not be prosecuted for operating pill testing services.

“We’re very confident that were we to be arrested in this environment it would be [a] wrongful arrest,” he says.

However, Dr Caldicott says he wants to work with police on the issue, because people submitting drug samples for testing could face being arrested. He wants festival-goers to be allowed to use pill testing services without being apprehended by police.

“It really comes down to how law enforcement wants to police these events,” he says.

Under Dr Caldicott and Dr Wodak’s proposal to trial pill testing at festivals, the drug samples handed over by festival-goers would not be returned to them.

Dr Caldicott says around 25 forensic chemists have offered to volunteer their time if the pill testing trial proceeds later this year.

Will Tregoning, Director of drug law reform advocacy group Unharm, is also spearheading​ the pill testing pilot program with Dr Caldicott and Dr Wodak.

Mr Tregoning told Music Feeds in December 2015 that police have previously suggested operators of drug checking services in New South Wales wouldn’t necessarily be at risk of being charged with drug possession or supply, because they wouldn’t hold any drugs for long enough to be considered as having had control of them.

“The main risk would be for the clients of the service,” Mr Tregoning said. “If you’re standing in the queue at a drug checking service, that would constitute reasonable suspicion for a police officer to search you on suspicion that you’re carrying drugs, and that would be hugely detrimental to the service and to the people.”

Since then, Mr Tregoning has explained how pill testers hope to prevent “mass arrests” at pill testing services, while some senior police and politicians are reportedly backing a pill testing trial at Australian music festivals this year, just not in New South Wales.

A spokesperson for Victorian Mental Health Minister Martin Foley says the State Government has no plans to introduce legislation to allow for pill testing at events in Victoria.

Pill testing is common at clubs and music festivals in some European countries, where punters can submit some of their substances to be analysed for their chemical make-up.

In December 2015, a Music Feeds poll found that 83 per cent of over 10,000 respondents were in in favour of Australian music festivals introducing drug testing procedures at their events.

A Victorian parliamentary inquiry into illicit and synthetic substances will look into issues like the use of sniffer dogs at music festivals and the effectiveness of roadside drug testing. The inquiry will hand down its final report in March 2017.

UPDATE 12/07/16: NSW Police have responded to a request for comment with the following statement:

“NSW Police Force will continue to enforce the law at music festivals with regard to the illegal supply or possession of illicit substances.”

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