17 Oct 2019

NZ First youth wing chair 'fully supportive' of drug testing stations

8:21 am on 17 October 2019

New Zealand First's youth wing is at odds with leader Winston Peters over pill-testing at festivals and is working to overturn the party's position.

MDMA pills distributed by drug dealer seized by legal authority.

Photo: 123RF

NZ First has pulled the brakes on a plan - supported by Labour and the Greens - to allow testing of drugs at public events, with Mr Peters warning it could encourage illicit drug use.

But in a post to a private Young NZ First Facebook group, chairperson William Woodward said he was "fully supportive" of testing stations and encouraged members to lobby the party to change its mind.

"The idea of pill testing stations is not based around assisting drug dealers, but rather saving the lives of Kiwis," the post said.

Mr Woodward declined RNZ's request for an interview, but his Facebook post went on to say the youth wing was committed to fighting for policies which were in the interest of young New Zealanders.

"In light of current events and increasing numbers of deaths as a result of the taking of unknown, dangerous substances, Young New Zealand First calls for its membership to respond to our party's survey on the subject in favour of pill testing stations.

"We also encourage our membership, if they feel this subject is important to them, to join the executive of Young New Zealand First as we discuss our position and strategy for overturning the party's current policy."

In a separate post, Young NZ First's former president Robert Gore also invited members to share their thoughts with the party through its online survey.

The post generated a mixed response from group members with six other respondents in favour and four against.

Speaking to RNZ, Mr Peters declined to comment directly on Young NZ First's position. He said he'd respond after the youth wing had presented its case at the party's annual conference which kicks off on Friday.

But he said the practice of pill-testing was more complex than many thought.

"[What if] somebody comes along [and] has 60 pills tested? Forty are regarded as safe, the other 20 are not. What happens now?" Mr Peters said.

"We're looking for solutions. We're not looking for problems to be expanded."

Mr Peters said discussions between government parties were ongoing, but he was confident "a significant majority" of NZ First backed its current position.

Pill-testing tents allow party-goers to check that the drugs they're planning on taking - such as MDMA, LSD or cocaine - are what they claim to be.

Some festivals already allow pill-testing stations on-site, but many are reluctant because those running the tests - volunteers with not-for-profit group Know Your Stuff - operate in a legal grey area.

Know Your Stuff director Wendy Allison told RNZ it was "very good news" to hear Young NZ First members were lobbying the party from within.

"Good on them," she said. "All support is good support, but of course, outcome is what we're after here."

She hoped the government parties could reach consensus before this year's festival season, Ms Allison said.

Earlier this year, Police Minister Stuart Nash endorsed a law change after police found drugs laced with pesticide at the Rhythm and Vines festival in Gisborne.

But he later admitted he had not been able to win the necessary support of NZ First to get the policy over the line.

Mr Nash told RNZ he was hopeful of finding a solution before the 2020 festival season, but there was still "a little bit of water to go under the bridge".

"Young New Zealand First perhaps need to talk to their leader," Mr Nash said.

A 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll on Tuesday showed overwhelming support for pill-testing, with 75 percent in favour of festival-goers being allowed to get their drugs tested legally.

Green Party spokesperson for drug reform Chlöe Swarbrick said she hoped NZ First would heed the calls of its younger members and the wider public.

"When you have most New Zealanders in line on something ... and you're seeing that disconnect between what the general public think and what politicians in here are ready and able to do, there is absolutely some weight to allegations of being out-of-touch."

NZ First heads into its annual conference in Christchurch on Friday.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs