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Strip searches at SITG may be “unjustifiable”

A public inquiry into police conduct at last year’s Splendour in the Grass festival in Australia has found that 143 strip searches were carried out over the three-day event, including on seven minors.

According to the inquiry, illegal items were found on 12 of the 143 who were strip searched.

The New South Wales Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) opened the four-day inquiry to investigate the potentially unlawful strip search of a 16-year-old girl at the 2018 festival.

Police regulations in NSW state that a parent, guardian or support person must be present whenever an individual under the age of 18 is strip searched.

The inquiry found that the girl was one of six minors to be strip searched at the festival without a parent, guardian, or other supervising adult present.

It was also revealed that staff including shopkeepers and bar workers were also strip searched at the event. None were found with illegal items.

According to the inquiry, illegal items were found on 12 of the 143 who were strip-searched

Under NSW law, police can only carry out field strip searches if the “urgency and seriousness of the situation requires it”.

When questioned at the inquiry, a senior constable who performed 19 such searches at Splendour in the Grass said they could not “think of any” circumstance which would necessitate a strip search at a music festival.

Splendour in the Grass promoter Secret Sounds tells IQ that the team is “learning of these searches along with the general public”. The promoter is unable to comment further as the inquiry is ongoing.

The New South Wales festival celebrated record ticket sales for its 2019 event, which took place from 19 to 21 July at its site in North Byron Bay Parklands with performances from Tame Impala, Childish Gambino and the Lumineers.

Splendour in the Grass and fellow Secret Sounds-promoted festival Falls are part of a coalition of events threatening to leave NSW, after the government reintroduced “unworkable” festival legislation.

 


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Dutch minister: We need fewer festivals

The Dutch festival market remains one of the most vibrant in the world. EM Cultuur estimates the Netherlands’ festivals will receive 19.5 million visitors in 2019 alone, while IQ’s recent market report found that it’s “hard to find anyone, in fact, who doesn’t believe the Dutch live business is broadly in the prime of its life”. But what if, instead of there being lots of festivals, there weren’t?

That’s the question being posed by the country’s justice minister, Ferdinand Grapperhaus, who is calling for a reduction in the number of festivals to help police crack down on illegal drug use.

In the Netherlands, it is legal to possess small quantity of drugs at festivals for personal use, according to NLTimes.nl, though a larger quantity (ie for supplying) should see the owner hauled off to a police station for questioning. This, however, is hardly ever enforced, suggests Grapperhaus, owing to the sheer number of music events that need to be policed.

“The problem is that we have 1,100 festivals in the Netherlands”

“The problem is that we have 1,100 festivals in the Netherlands,” he says in an interview with the Telegraaf today. “Do we have to deploy all our police to that end?”

Asked by the paper whether he thinks the number of festivals should be decreased, he replies: “Yes. I think we should be critical and say: can we handle all this?”

The Netherlands, known for its liberal attitude towards drug use, most famous cannabis, is one of several European countries where authorities tolerate drug testing on festival sites as a harm-reduction measure.

 


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Drug testing saves lives at GTM Canberra festival

The Pill Testing Australia (PTA) consortium returned to Canberra-based music festival Groovin the Moo for the second time this year, with increased numbers of punters using the service and a higher quantity of lethal substances detected.

The consortium, previously known as the Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE), detected seven lethal substances among the 171 samples tested.

The testing revealed the potential fatal samples to contain n-ethylpentylone, a substituted cathinone believed to be responsible for a number of deaths, detected for the first time in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) during the first drug-testing trial at Groovin’ the Moo last year.

PTA reports that in all seven cases, those found to possess potentially harmful substances elected to discard the drugs in the amnesty bin after learning about the dangers involved.

MDMA, cocaine, ketamine and methamphetamine were also identified during the trial at Groovin the Moo (20,000-cap.) which featured performances from Billie Eilish and Hilltop Hoods.

According to PTA, the second edition of the pill testing service was “overwhelmingly positive”. The organisation carried out twice the amount of tests as the year before, with 234 punters opting to use the service, compared to 129 in 2018.

Despite the success, PTA has announced that the drug testing at this year’s Groovin the Moo would be the last free trial it runs in the ACT, as enough data has been collected to prove the pilot works.

“This is a healthcare intervention and we are trying to encourage young people to learn a little about the stuff they are putting into themselves”

A PTA representative confirms that the consortium would like to continue testing but could not do so on a self-funding basis.

“Pill Testing Australia is a not-for-profit, we’re only looking at cost recovery,” says PTA co-founder, Gino Vumbaca.

The organisation is crowdfunding to run further pill-testing trials at music festivals, as well as exploring the use of public subscriptions and promoter-based funding. PTA has ruled out charging festivalgoers for the service.

“We will never charge the punter,” says PTA’s Dr David Caldicott. “This is a healthcare intervention and we are trying to encourage young people to learn a little about the stuff they are putting into themselves.”

The ACT is currently the only state in Australia to allow pill testing. ACT health minister Meegan Fitzharris says the state government is committed to “contemporary approaches”, focused on harm reduction, rather than punitive practices.

Groovin the Moo festivals taking place in Adelaide and Maitland, New South Wales (NSW), over the weekend (26 to 28 April) did not offer pill-testing services. NSW police said 14 people were taken to hospital with suspected drug and alcohol intoxication cases at the Maitland festival.

NSW has been at the centre of the pill testing discussion, following a strong of drug-related deaths at festivals in the region. The government has consistently rejected calls to introduce testing services, opting for the implementation of new licensing laws that demand detailed safety plans from festival organisers and impose significant licensing and security costs.

 

 


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Study: 1 in 4 people attend festivals sober

Streaming platform Cloud Cover Music has examined the changes in music festival experiences across the United States over the last few decades in a new survey asking respondents about sobriety, drug intake, sex, memorable acts and life-changing experiences.

The study finds that 24% of those surveyed reported being sober at music festivals. Alcohol consumption at festivals has been higher in the past decade than previously, rising from 64% in the noughties to 71%.

The survey finds that festivalgoers in the 1980s were more likely to consume marijuana or hard drugs, witness violence and rioting, have sex and witness nudity at a festival than they are now. 83% of attendees in that same decade described festivals as life-changing, compared to 53% in the 90s, 62% in the noughties and 65% now.

Burning Man consistently proved to be the least sober event, with 45% of festivalgoers saying they drank alcohol and consumed a mixture of drugs at the event

82% of respondents stated that Woodstock 1969 was life-changing, making it the most impactful music festival on the survey. However, the festival had only 17 survey respondents. Ultra Music Festival was voted the second most life-changing music festival with 78%, followed by Electric Daisy Carnival (75%) and Burning man (73%).

Burning Man consistently proved to be the least sober event, with 45% of festivalgoers saying they drank alcohol and consumed a mixture of drugs at the event. The results coincide with secondary ticketer TickPick’s survey of drug consumption at festivals last year. In contrast, 72% of respondents say they did not consume any substances at Warped Tour.

Across genres and festivals, Red Hot Chili Peppers were ranked the most memorable act at music festivals, with Jane’s Addiction, Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé and Tiësto also making the top five.

The full study can be read here.

 


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Australian music festivals face strict licensing laws

The government in New South Wales has introduced new licensing regulations for music festivals following a string of suspected drug-related deaths at festivals in the southeastern Australian state.

Since September, five young festivalgoers have died after attending music festivals in NSW. The most recent fatality occurred earlier this month, when 19-year-old Alex Ross-King collapsed and died at the Sydney edition of FOMO festival.

From March, festival organisers will have to apply for specific liquor licences, similar to those required for pubs and clubs. A panel of experts will decide whether to approve each application before a license can be issued.

It is thought that representatives from NSW Health, NSW Police, NSW Ambulance, and Liquor and Gaming NSW will comprise the panel. The licences will be targeted to the risks that each event entails.

“Events with a poor track record and heightened risk will face greater oversight from authorities”

The new regulations come following recommendations of an expert panel which was formed to advise the government on how to keep festivalgoers safe, following two deaths at Defqon.1 festival in September.

The licensing laws place heightened responsibility on festival organisers to ensure the safety of patrons, placing the onus on them to assess and proactively manage safety risks.

“Festival organisers will need to ensure their events meet high safety standards,” says minister for liquor, gaming and racing Paul Toole. “Events with a poor track record and heightened risk will face greater oversight from authorities.”

Until the new scheme comes into effect in March, interim measures at festivals will include “chill-out zones” staffed by medical professionals to help those who feel unwell. Obligatory free water stations will also be introduced.

However, the government has stated that it will not introduce pill testing, despite calls from the Australian Festival Association, and family and friends of the deceased.

 


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Australian Festival Association: Drug policy “endangering lives”

The newly formed Australian Festival Association (AFA) has written to government urging urgent drug policy reform following the deaths of several Australian festivalgoers over the Christmas period.

Suspected drug-related fatalities over the festive period – mid-summer in Australia, and the height of its festival season – include a 19-year-old man, Callum Brosnan, at Knockout Games of Destiny in Sydney, a 20-year-old man at Beyond the Valley in Larnder, near Melbourne, and a 22-year-old man, Joshua Tam, at Lost Paradise in Glenworth Valley.

Despite the deaths – and a pill testing trial at last year’s Groovin the Moo that was hailed an “overwhelming success” by harm-reduction campaigners – the government of New South Wales (NSW), which contains Sydney and the Glenworth Valley, has once again rejected industry calls for permitting drug testing at live music events.

“The government position is quite clear on pill testing: We oppose the use of illegal drugs at these festivals,” NSW planning minister Anthony Roberts told reporters in Sydney. “We appeal to you, just enjoy the festival and do it without taking drugs.”

“Encouraging drug abstinence instead of education is out-of-touch, proven to be ineffective and unnecessarily risking lives”

In an open letter to Australia’s six state premiers and two chief ministers, the AFA today warned that by continuing to “encourag[e] drug abstinence instead of education”, the country’s decision-makers are endangering festivalgoers’ lives.

The AFA, which launched in December, represents Australian festival producers, promoters, organisers and operators. Its 2019 board is Jessica Ducrou (Splendour in the Grass, Falls Festival, Download), Adelle Robinson (Listen Out, Listen In, Field Day, Harbourlife, Curve Ball), Danny Rogers (Laneway), Matthew Lazarus-Hall (CMC Rocks) and Rod Little (Groovin the Moo, the Plot).

Read the AFA’s open letter in full below.

 


We are deeply saddened to hear of the deaths at Australian festivals during the recent holiday period and our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives. Our thoughts are also with the medical, festival, production, security and law enforcement staff who were on the ground when these tragedies occurred.

Drug use is a complex issue and the current policies and strategies of our state and territory governments are needlessly endangering lives. Be it abuse of prescription medications, MDMA use at festivals or the devastating impact of ice [methamphetamine] on some of our regional communities, drug use is a national health issue that impacts many Australian families. We need to better understand drug use behaviour, identify significant intervention points, better coordinate between regulators, health, police, businesses and broader communities, and make sure that the health and safety of Australians is the ultimate priority.

As festival promoters, the last thing we want is someone to be hurt under our care. We need to be able to legally implement preventative strategies, not just reactive ones, and include any harm minimization [sic] tools that are available. We believe, and have evidence to support, that a combination of robust harm minimization strategies will help Australians make safer choices and reduce the harmful impacts of drug use on festival-goers and the broader community. This necessarily involves a collaborative, multi-layered approach of drug education, peer-to-peer support, pill-testing, health services and policing.

We ask state and territory governments across Australia to:

We do not believe that pill-testing is the only answer. But it is a crucial part of a broader harm reduction strategy that prioritises people’s health and safety, over criminality or laws. Encouraging drug abstinence instead of education is out-of-touch, proven to be ineffective and unnecessarily risking lives. Young people deserve better. Older people deserve better. Families deserve better.

We implore Premier Berejiklian, Premier Andrews, Premier Marshall, Premier McGowan, Premier Palaszczuk, Premier Hodgman, Chief Minister Gunner and Chief Minister Barr to be open to better ideas and to work with experts on making festivals safer for everyone.

 


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Mike Tyson to host cannabis music festival on ranch

Former boxing heavyweight Mike Tyson will host Kind Music Festival, a celebration of cannabis and “the next generation of music festivals”, on his 420-acre ranch in Desert Hot Springs, California.

The inaugural Kind Music Festival will make its debut on Saturday 23 February. The one-day pop-up event aims to embrace cannabis as a legalised, recreational product, in line with updates to California’s cannabis regulations.

Up to ten artists will play at the event, including Miguel and Starcrawler. Food trucks, inflatable rides, a bar area and vendor village will also adorn the grounds of the future Tyson Ranch Resort, an entertainment complex and cannabis research and design facility.

General admission tickets for Kind Music Festival sell at US$85 and VIP passes for $165. Part of all proceeds will go to Standing United, a charity dedicated to helping drug addicts and the homeless.

“Kind Music Festival is a revolution, leading the way for a new generation of health and wellness-focused cannabis consumers [that we call] ‘the Kind Generation’,” says an unnamed festival producer in a launch announcement.

“If music pairs with alcohol in a way that enhances the moment, our goal is to show that cannabis products can do the same”

Smoking cannabis in public places remains illegal in California. Rules on the festival website forbid sales or giveaways of cannabis products, as well as the carrying of illegal drugs or paraphernalia. However, a publicist for the festival has stated that festivalgoers will be permitted to light up on festival grounds.

The event is one in a wave of festivals marrying marijuana and music in the United States, as more and more states legalise recreational use of the drug.

The Original Green Mountain Cannabis and Music Festival took place in West Dover, Vermont last year. 1,000 people flocked to the festival, billed as byob/c (bring your own booze/cannabis), to view live music performances, purchase cannabidiol (CBD) products and smoke cannabis in the sun.

The United States is not the only country in which weed and music are mixing formally. In Canada, large legal marijuana producers are teaming up with talent agencies to sponsor events in much the way that leading alcohol brands do. This year, Toronto’s North by Northeast festival will be presented by Aurora Cannabis.

Jay Wilgar, head of UP Cannabis, summarises the thinking: “If music pairs with alcohol in a way that enhances the moment, our goal is to show that cannabis products can do the same.”

 


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Use of laughing gas on the rise at events

The use of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, at live events such as concerts and festivals is on the increase, according to the members of the Dutch Association of Event Producers (VVEM).

VVEM – which along with promoters’ association VNPF represents the country’s live entertainment sector – says use of the gas, which is usually inhaled via balloons filled with nitrous by metal ‘whippets’, is becoming more popular in the Netherlands, with users typically not seeing nitrous as a ‘drug’ in the same way as other substances.

While the association notes it’s receiving more and more questions from promoters about “how to deal with members of the public who take laughing gas [whippets] to an event, or ask for it to be sold”, it is difficult to prevent its use: There are currently “no indications of serious health risks”, and the sale, possession and use of nitrous oxide is legal in the Netherlands and throughout most of the EU. “That is why the drug, which is usually inhaled via balloons, is popular,” reads a VVEM statement.

“The choice to allow nitrous oxide on site is up to the organiser”

Its legality, however, “does not detract from the fact that there are indeed dangers associated with the use” of nitrous, the association continues. “For example, according to the Trimbos Institute, users have reported, in addition to the desired effects (hallucinations), side effects such as dizziness, confusion and headaches. […]

“Several VVEM members state that – although there is no legal obstacle – they see nothing positive in the sale of nitrous oxide at their event. Why would you deliberately send your visitors into a daze? In addition, they have witnessed [negative] side effects in combination with alcohol.”

“Nevertheless, the choice is up to the organising party, and venue owners can not forbid event organisers who decide to allow its sale. VVEM does, however, argue for more education about the use and effects of nitrous oxide.”

 


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Drugs deaths could signal end for Oz Defqon.1 fest

State authorities in New South Wales are calling for dance festival Defqon.1 to be banned after two people died from suspected drugs overdoses and hundreds more had to seek medical help for drug-related problems.

Joseph Pham, 23, from Sydney was named as one of the victims, while an as yet unnamed 21-year-old woman from Melbourne also died. There have been other deaths at the Sydney festival in 2013 and 2015.

Police in the state report that 13 people required hospital treatment, with three people still in a critical condition, while on site, 700 revellers were seen by medics at the festival. The situation prompted NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian to brand the event as unsafe and call for it to be banned from ever taking place in Sydney again.

Organisers Q-Dance Australia say they are cooperating with the authorities. The company’s website outlines its zero tolerance drug policy and carries warnings such as, “We want to make you aware that the use of illicit substances carries a range of health risks including the possibility of death, and is strictly forbidden at this event.”

Despite this and informing the 30,000 visitors that there would be “a strong police, drug dog and security presence upon entry into the event to ensure everyone’s safety and wellbeing,” the warnings apparently went unheeded, prompting drug testing advocates to slam government officials for their ‘head in the sand’ approach to dealing with drugs use.

“We still have young people dying needlessly because we’re doing the same old thing over and over again and we have the mechanisms that we know keep people alive.”

“I’m absolutely aghast at what has occurred,” Berejiklian said in a statement. “I don’t want any family to go through the tragedy that some families are waking up to this morning. It’s just horrible to think about.” She added, “This is an unsafe event and I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure it never happens again.”

However, Berejiklian’s ‘just say no’ stance on drugs has been criticised as dangerous, while the government’s policies on drugs has been labelled as ineffective by doctors and campaigners.

Kieran Palmer of the Ted Noffs Foundation, told morning TV show Today the deaths made it clear the government’s approach of “just say no” is not working. “The difficulty now that we face is that we’ve been handling this with the same approach for such a long time,” said Palmer. “We live in one of the most privileged countries in the world and we still have young people dying needlessly because we’re doing the same old thing over and over again and we have the mechanisms that we know keep people alive.”

Advocating on-site drug testing programmes, he added, “We have the evidence. Shutting down festivals, getting tough on drugs, telling kids to ‘just say no’ doesn’t work. It doesn’t change behaviour.”

 


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Sniffer dogs criticised as false positives revealed

The use of sniffer dogs at music festivals has come into question again in New South Wales, after data released by police revealed the huge extent of false positives made by the animals leading to strip and general searches.

Figures were made public after Green party politician David Shoebridge questioned the effectiveness of sniffer dog programs. In May this year, he was contacted by constituents who had been turned away from Midnight Mafia, a music festival in Sydney, after wrongly being singled out by dogs. Despite finding no drugs on the festivalgoers, they were barred from the event.

A similar policy was adopted for last month’s Above & Beyond, another Sydney-based festival. NSW police warned prospective festivalgoers that they would be turned away if a sniffer dog made any indication, regardless of if drugs were actually found or not.

The release of the new information has prompted outrage from politicians and media – outrage made even worse by the New South Wales Police Department’s (NSWPD) lack of information regarding the cost of sniffer dog programmes for the taxpayer.

“These aggressive searches are all about PR, about the police being seen to do something on the failing war on drugs.”

Mr Shoebridge called the failed searches an abuse of rights. “Any other government program that gets it wrong almost two-thirds of the time would be immediately halted,” he comments.

“These aggressive searches are all about PR, about the police being seen to do something on the failing war on drugs.”

According to the numbers for strip searches last year, sniffer dogs made 1,124 indications to NSW police. Of these, just 406 successfully identified a person carrying drugs – a 64% failure rate. General searches proved just as unsuccessful. 2017 saw 3,954 out of 10,224 general searches indicated by dogs turn up positive results – a 61% failure rate.

Numbers look no better for the start of 2018, either. The current failure rate for strip searches stands at 56% and at 63% for general searches in the first six months of the year.

Backed by Shoebridge and the Green party in NSW, the Sniff Off campaign group has opposed the police use of sniffer dogs since 2002. It labels the program as “excellent at violating civil liberties,” particularly those of “young people, Aboriginal communities and the poor.” Responding to the new figures on their Facebook page, the group called on Gladys Berejiklian, the current NSW premier and leader of the Liberal Party, to “get rid of the drug dog program for good.”

 


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