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Alcohol and other drugs are used at music festivals in New Zealand every Summer. For most this is an enjoyable experience but the reality is that all drug use involves the risk of harm. A harm reduction strategy is one way we can make these events safer for everyone.

Potential problems from illegal drug use are challenging because the law allows you only to prohibit use without acknowledging that people will use them anyway. But ignoring this issue does not resolve it. Setting clear expectations for your attendees, providing people with information and tool to be safer, and being honest in your approach will reduce the risk of harm.

KnowYourStuffNZ provides free drug checking at New Zealand music festivals using trained volunteers.

A music festival is different

Unlike a most bars and nightclubs, music festivals are often in distant locations or designed to be somewhere you can stay all day and night or for a number of days with first-aid, food and shelter provided. So while the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 requires people intoxicated by alcohol or other drugs to be removed from a licensed premises, this can be unreasonable or even unsafe at a music festival. And that's if they're licensed to sell alcohol at all. Therefore, a drug harm reduction strategy and a relationship with Police is a necessity.

Samuel Andrews at a music festival where KnowYourStuffNZ offered free drug checking

Harm reduction asks us to accept what we all know - that substance use will occur and cannot realistically be prevented at most music festivals. Once we have accepted this, we can put in place measures that keep attendees safe.


How to reduce harm from alcohol and other drugs

Organiser's should strike a balance between their legal obligation to discourage or prevent drug use, and the moral obligation of a responsible host to do what they can to reduce harm to those that will use drugs regardless.

  • Use channels such as the event website, on-site posters, notifications, emails and social media to issue information explaining:

1. Why drug use at festivals is illegal but also risky for other reasons and is not encouraged
2. Information and advice for those that will use drugs anyway.

  • Engage experienced harm reduction services from the Police and/or security firm, KnowYourStuffNZ and St John's or other first-aid provider.
  • Set-up a chill space close to your first aid provider where alcohol or drug intoxicated people can recover and be cared for.
  • Locate amnesty points for disposing of illegal substances.
  • Offer free water and sunscreen.


Drug checking at New Zealand festivals

Drug checking is a free service which safety tests substances to determine their contents. It is offered in New Zealand by KnowYourStuffNZ, a volunteer organisation supported by the New Zealand Drug Foundation. KnowYourStuffNZ has safety tested thousands of recreational substances at various New Zealand music festivals.

Drug checking is harm reduction with the potential to save lives. It arms people with knowledge about the substance they intend to use so they can make better decisions about how they will consume it, if at all. If a substance is not what people expect it to be, most choose not to use it.

Is drug checking legal?

If an organiser allows drug checking to take place, it could be said that they are allowing drug use and that is illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act. But the important thing to keep in mind is that drug checking accepts what we all know – Substance use will occur, cannot realistically be prevented and simply ensures people are safer from harm. It is offered in various forms in many countries, and the New Zealand Police are regularly consulted about the work of KnowYourStuffNZ.

SEE ALSO: Drug Checking FAQ


This resource was developed in collaboration with the Health Promotion Agency, NZ Police, NZ Institute of Liquor Licensing Inspectors, National Public Health Alcohol Working Group, Hospitality NZ, and security providers.