Series Post 3: The War on Drugs

For decades now, the United States has been battling a war on drugs. This initiative includes a set of drug policies that are intended to discourage the production, distribution, and consumption of illegal psychoactive drugs, including all festival drugs. Among these policies intending to prevent consumption, includes education and awareness. From a young age, children are informed of the harmful effects of drugs and how they can negatively impact all aspect of ones life. We’ve all seen the commercials and many of us have even sat through drug prevention programs in school, nevertheless drugs continue to be used.
They’re found on the streets, they’re found in clubs, and as mentioned they’re found in large quantities at festivals. In other words, the war rages on. It is impossible to completely eliminate illegal drugs use, should it ever happen, I believe many people would be outraged.
Not only would we have the obvious people who would be outraged; drug addicts, drug dealers, etc but also many avid festival attendees.
If the cops all of a sudden decided to step in at festivals and police drug use, as they hypothetically should be, it would completely alter the festival scene.
As mentioned drugs like LSD, mushrooms, and ecstasy have been known to generate creativity, and generally open the mind of its user. Such a collection of people creates a setting like none other. You can come as you are, whether it is dressed in jeans and sneakers, or a tutu and an elaborate headdress. It also gives people the ability to create whatever their imagination desires, and often beyond. One of the greatest things about festivals is that there are plenty of people who choose not to do drugs, and they are fortunate enough to never have to feel pressured into doing anything they choose not to. Festival life is the ideal world, and those who never attend a festival cannot truly understand.
Many outsiders see festivals as a bunch of drug using hippies, but it is in fact much deeper and much more profound than this and should the police step in and remove such an intricate part, many people would be distraught and lost. For many festival attendees, drug use, especially psychedelics, is as important and ritualistic as it is to the many shamans around the world and no one would dare take away drugs from a shaman.
Fortunately enough the police don’t really seem to be doing much about drug use at festivals, and it all goes back to the war on drugs.
Oddly enough, the term “War on Drugs’ was first used by President Nixon in 1971, which was at the peak of the hippie movement and just after the explosion of LSD use. Although the war on drugs began because of the hippies, it has since been redirected to street level drug dealers and users. This is likely due to the fact that the war on drugs costs the federal government nearly $20 billion a year, and even more at the state level. This is an astronomical amount of money, and yet, police and other authorities cannot keep up with the war.
Hippies and festival attendees, initially the criminals, are now recognized as a generally peaceful and harmful group of people. Due to limited funds the police have been forced to recognize this and therefore leave them alone and allow them to do and use as they please, instead they are now focused on more violent and harmful drug criminals. This works out for festival attendees, many of which consider festivals their true home and who would be lost without them.

Series Post 2: Where are all the cops?

Without drug use, festivals of this nature would take on a whole different meaning. Drugs like LSD, mushrooms and ecstasy are known to spark creativity. They bring intense colors and beautiful art to life. Not only that, they also encourage musical genius through elaborate sound combinations, and extreme alternate modes of dress or costumes like you wouldn’t believe. Even though I have been to many festivals, I still continue to be shocked and amazed by what some people come up with. It’s one of the few places that remain where adults are allowed to use and explore their imaginations without anyone second guessing them. It truly is a beautiful thing.
Essentially drugs are an integral part of festival life, yet they remain illegal and highly punishable under law. If this is the case, than how are they so openly distributed and used at festivals? What I’m really wondering is, where are all the cops?
If one were to read the fine print prior to entering a festival, you would likely find a statement claiming that selling or using drugs is strictly prohibited and if you are found doing so you will be kicked out. This is more for the benefit of the police than an actual rule.
There was one festival in particular that I went to where they checked your bag every time you entered the main stage area, what they were looking for was glass or alcohol. They didn’t care if you brought in drugs, and if you had them in your bag they would simply pass over them and pretend it wasn’t there. Granted these weren’t cops doing the checking, they were simply volunteers. In fact, at most festivals there is no police presence within festival walls. You will likely see volunteers or security if necessary, although the only security I ever saw came wearing full kilts. You would think that with the amount of people at these events and with the activities that go on, there would have to be police present but this doesn’t seem to be the case.
Most festivals are done on private property, and in doing so, it seems that many laws are surpassed. As long as festival attendees keep the peace and do not give the police probable cause to enter the premises, than they can do nothing but remain on the outside looking in.
Not all festivals are done on private property, some are done in public spaces and county owned spaces like fairgrounds and parks. It is at these spaces that the first amendment is put to use. Under the first amendment is the right to peaceful assembly. Not only does this include the right to assemble for petitioning purposes but also for purposes like festivals and other events.
At festivals done on public spaces you will see cops roaming around, but I’ve yet to see them apprehending or questioning anyone and this is because they are upholding the first amendment. As long as things are kept peaceful and no one is seen doing anything obviously wrong than the police stay out of it. It is from my experience that festival attendees keep their drug use more under wraps at events on public property. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. According to an online article, police in the United Kingdom are trampling people’s rights to peaceful assembly and causing trouble where none existed, they have gone so far as to bust people with microscopic particles of hash. British citizens, who are known for assembly of all kinds, are demanding bold reforms in order to prevent disruption at further festivals.
Festivals help us maintain playfulness, harbor originality, free our soul and let us love profoundly. Without them, many of us would be lost and should the cops step in and alter such an integral part of festival life, I believe people would be equally as distraught. Drugs, although illegal, are still an important part of festivals. We have demonstrated how their use remains possible, and should this be altered I believe it would completely change the whole scene.

Series Post 1: Festivals and Drug Use

Festivals. We’ve all seen archive footage from the Woodstock of 1969; images of free-loving hippies, tripping on acid and moving to the jams of the era. It was nothing but music, dancing, love and drugs. In fact, drugs played a large part at Woodstock and things might have played out a lot differently should they have been prohibited in accordance with the law.
Although over forty years have passed, you can still find these same scenes playing out at the festivals of today and ironically enough, you can even find the same drugs.
With that in mind, one might wonder, how drugs were first introduced to the festival culture and what it is about certain festivals that encourages people to so commonly use them. As a frequent festi-goer, I myself have even considered this from time to time. So, where does this story begin? Not surprisingly enough, it all begins back during the days of Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey.
According to an article by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit, although festivals of many types, including popular music festivals, had been around since the 1950s, it was in the late 1960s that these developed into a focal point for psychedelic drug use. Advocates and frequent users themselves, Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey, helped bring drugs like LSD to the masses through their frequent “Acid Tests.” During this time, they had what they called “be-ins,” or gatherings in which all attendees would be given LSD in Kool-Aid. It was from these be-ins that the idea of festivals, like the one at Woodstock, were born.
What we are essentially saying is that festivals of this nature are a concept born from the use of LSD. What kinds of festivals are we talking about exactly? Were talking about festivals that are not only notorious for being free but also for bartering, self-reliance, self-expression, volunteerism, non-violence, love, etc.
It only seemed natural that LSD and other drugs continued to be used at such events. Other popular drugs at these festivals include; magic mushrooms, marijuana, alcohol and MDMA or ecstasy.
A recent study monitoring illicit drug use at music festivals in Australia, found that over 44% of young people between the ages of 16-29 had used illegal drugs at least once in the past month. Given that this study was done on a sample of only 5000 people this is still a fairly high number, and I would bet that if this study was done in the U.S., the results would turn out a lot higher. Most kids these days grow up being taught how harmful drugs are and how we should avoid them altogether. With such education, why is the number of users still so high?
This can be attributed to the fact, that at festivals drugs are not viewed as a bad thing. Sure, people recognize the harm that they can do to our bodies, but for the most part they are used to explore the mind and to have new and profound experiences. Most festival attendees use drugs like LSD, mushrooms and ecstasy to enhance their festival experience. There are arts displays, light visuals, and music; all of which can be significantly enhanced and much more appreciated by the use of these drugs. It doesn’t end there but they are also used to explore the inner depths of the mind, often times leading to intense conclusions about oneself and the world around us.
It is safe to say that for the most part drugs are used in a positive way at festivals; nonetheless there is always a negative side. There are always the people who use too much, people who develop habits, and there have likely been deaths attributed to over drug use. Good or bad, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that most of these drugs being used are illegal. If this is the case than how are these drugs so commonly used, and should something be done to reduce the amount of drug use? How might avid festival attendees react? Valid questions, all of which we will continue to explore. 

We’re Home!

A thought from the former burner, Meg Rutigliano:

I like to think of burning man, as a family reunion.

Meg isn’t the only burner who feels this way, it is a thought shared by most burning man attendees and by most festival goers in general. Sure a festival offers opportunities to listen to great music and view amazing art displays, but most will agree that the best part about attending music festivals and other festivals similar to burning man, are the people.

When I arrive at a festival, or whatever particular event I am attending at the moment, I have made a habit saying “We’re home,” and this is in large part due to the people. Over the course of my festival attending ‘career’ I have met some of the most amazing people.

The thing about festivals, is that people are very open minded, loving and genuine, therefore it only takes one moment or one connection and you will have likely made a life long friend. There have been times when I have met somebody just in passing, and we wind up spending several hours in each others company. By the end of the day, I have made a really great friend. It is a beautiful and very rare thing.

As one attends more festivals you begin to recognize the same people, and meet up with friends you’ve met at past events. What this creates is a sense of comfort and home. I am generally one in a crowd of thousands, yet I feel just as safe and at ease as I would in a crowd with only my close friends. I can honestly say that in all my life I have never had any other outlet in which I could completely be myself and feel so comfortable and secure and this is because over time frequent festi-goers become a family of sorts or as Meg puts it:

A very colorful and vibrant family.

Which in all reality is the best kind of family.