Another year, another Paradiso come and gone, and another headline in the summer of 2018 that brags the number of drug arrests made at the massive EDM festival.
KIRO 7 reported that: “According to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, 30 suspected drug dealers were arrested, and over 80 charges were filed” at Paradiso this year, confiscating 2,000+ ecstasy pills among other miscellaneous hallucinogenic and stimulant narcotics.
Reports such as these often conclude with a statement from a sheriff’s office or a government professional warning against the dangers of hallucinogens, and/or commenting on how you can’t trust that your friendly drug dealer at the festival isn’t selling you molly cut with bath salts. That’s fair – in the absence of testing and regulation, anything goes, and it can be said that accepting a pill from a well-meaning festival attendee should come with a “proceed with caution” warning sign.
However, the summer of 2018 holds a grim trend for those who enjoy taking recreational drugs at these events. EDC, Electric Gardens, Ultra Europe, and many others have made headlines this year for the number of drug arrests made on their grounds. Festival-goers accept a certain risk when entering a festival carrying drugs – this is not news.
However, in the post-festival reports that are posted by news media, a common thread can be seen stringing throughout the cases in which medical help needs to be called. In fact, most festivals report that the biggest medical concern is dehydration, followed by risk of seizures.
In the wake of one of the most strict summers for drug arrests on festival grounds, and the call from our neighbors in the north to decriminalize all recreational drugs, it’s time to start thinking about ways that festival-goers – who are inevitably going to find ways to bring drugs into festivals – can feel safe, relaxed and cared-for at events around the world. There will never be a completely sober festival, governments will fight over the legalization of recreational drugs for years to come, and police will never arrest every raver who pops a pill during a Marshmello set.
Why Don’t We Start Acting Like It?
Instead of putting everyone found with a bag of molly in handcuffs, we can take a page from our friends across the pond, the UK, in their handling of Kendal Calling in partnership with The Loop organization. Their partnership has been instrumental in making sure that the festival is safely handled, providing free, no-risk testing of drugs within the festival.
And it’s working. According to research done by The Loop in partnership with Durham University on the effectiveness of their services: “last year one in five people handed over drugs to be disposed of after receiving their test results and the harm reduction advice they received.” This means that people are actively making decisions about their own safety based on testing from services such as these, and not just shrugging and deciding to take a risky pill.
In conjunction with safe testing sites, a common issue mentioned earlier was dehydration, which often accompanies the use of recreational drugs, especially ones inhaled through smoke, like marijuana. How many times have you been to a festival where the food trucks that were lined up were selling beers at $8 a pop, and water was only a buck or two cheaper? Oftentimes, water is expensive, hard to find or downright forgotten at music festivals. Expensive water, stimulants, and hot weather are a perfect storm for dangerous levels of dehydration and accompanying heat stroke. This risk can easily be curbed by placing a priority on providing free, easily accessible water sources for attendees. This includes free water bottles and other portable sources of water that you can take with you into a show, not just water fountains.
Another contingency on the well-being of recreational drug users at music festivals is the availability of medical help in the event that you or a friend has a bad trip, or needs medical attention. Many states across the US have Good Samaritan laws in place that are meant to protect people who are in need of medical attention from being detained or having charges filed against them.
Unfortunately, these laws don’t always work in practice, and many festival-goers are still afraid of seeking help lest they end up like the UCF student being tased by a cop while tripping on LSD. In order to ensure a safe festival, and the least number of critically ill attendees, people need to know that the security at the events is a safe resource to approach in the event of a bad trip and/or a medical emergency. The sooner someone can be brought to a medical tent, the better chance they have of a smooth and speedy recovery.
Festival attendees shouldn’t have to worry about being hauled out of the festival in the back of a cop car because they sought out medical help, and festival organizers need to make it explicitly clear that no-questions-asked medical attention takes a higher priority than drug arrests.
Safe on-site drug testing, free and easy access to a water supply, and Good Samaritan medical attention are all desperately needed in order to create an atmosphere where attendees are no longer in fear of ending up in handcuffs, and are instead comforted with the knowledge that they have help when they need it, whether or not they choose to take recreational drugs. Only when we have that safe, trustworthy, no-questions-asked festival space will we see a reduction in the number of people hauled out in a stretcher.