Burning Man is a festival dedicated to art and community, catering to a demographic known for their principles of radical self-expression, creative costumes, and, of course, the burning of enormous structures in the middle of a desert in Nevada. It has long been a haven for pot smokers from all over the world.
Unfortunately for cannabis users who attended Burning Man from August 25 through September 3, event coordinators issued several statements in their Survival Guide reminding attendees that marijuana use is against federal regulations.
“The possession or use of marijuana is a federal infraction in the Black Rock High Rock National Conservation Area where Burning Man takes place, and having a medical marijuana card is NOT a defense,” the Survival Guide states.
While Nevada did pass a measure legalizing recreational marijuana for people over the age of 21 in 2016, consumption is only allowed on private property. Additionally, the stretch of land where the counterculture festival takes place, Black Rock Desert, is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, meaning federal lands hold host to the event.
Due to the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, a federal pot possession arrest for Burners could result in as much as a $1,000 fine and a year in jail. Providing marijuana to others as a “gift” is considered drug tracking under federal law.
Local, federal, and tribal police officers from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe have been pulling over dozens of vehicles passing through the State Route 447, the only main thoroughfare to the Burning Man event site.
Last year, the Pershing County Sheriff's Office arrested 58 people at Burning Man, 45 of those arrests were for charges of drug possession. Of the 125 citations that were handed out, only four were not drug-related.
The most common drug found at the Burning Man festival is Psilocybin (Mushrooms); however, according to the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, marijuana products have always been a close second.
So what are festival-goers to do? Recreational marijuana use has long been a part of festival-culture. In fact, there are several festivals dedicated specifically to cannabis. Unfortunately, many of the rules and regulations surrounding marijuana-use have caused difficulties for cannabis festivals, even in states where marijuana is legal.
There's a sharp increase in law enforcement activity on the route to Black Rock City this year. We're concerned about the impacts on our participants and the local communities, so we've put together these resources to keep everybody informed and safe. https://t.co/7UzizW20p4
— Burning Man (@burningman) August 22, 2018
Buzzkill starts with the bureaucracy
Nevada finds itself, like other states wading into the world of attempting to regulate a popularly used product that is still prohibited by the federal government, drowning in red tape. Festivals which have featured cannabis-use in the past must now comply with state regulations to ensure that the party can go on.
Beginning in 2018, California cannabis festival organizers became eligible to apply for event permits in which participants would be able to buy and consume marijuana without the use of a medical card. These events come with a laundry list of conditions, including the acquisition of written permission from the city in which the cannabis festival will take place.
“For each event they do, they have to have local authorization,” said Lori Ajax, chief of the Bureau of Cannabis Control, California’s licensing authority for cannabis events.
The regulatory office released a fact sheet for coordinators attempting to organize festivals centered on cannabis, such as the Emerald Cup or Tommy Chong’s Blazer Cup.
Regulations include requiring that the Bureau must license all vendors at the festival. Sales are limited to an ounce of cannabis per person, with all products meeting state lab-testing and packaging requirements.
In addition to requiring the proper permissions for these events, licensing will cost organizers a pretty penny. For $5,000 per year, cannabis festival organizers may hold one to ten events. To hold more than ten events in a single year, organizers must pay an annual fee of $10,000.
Unfortunately for California, there are only eight fairground venues in cities or counties which permit adult-use pot sales. Southern California has had no scheduled cannabis festivals in 2018, while Northern California has two scheduled events, including the Emerald Cup which will be held in Santa Rosa this coming December.
“It’s costing us a lot of money, but it’s going to come back in the long run,” said Tim Blake, founder of The Emerald Cup festival and competition in an interview with the Orange County Register. “We’re going to really be teaching them how it should be done.”
While it will require further clarification on cannabis event organization requirements and probably a half-dozen more Town Hall style meetings from California’s main cannabis watchdog, Burners and fans of festivals alike can be sure that the cannabis industry will keep on rolling.