BPM & Ending The War on Drugs: Don’t You Dare Look Away Now

Narco-sign in Playa Del Carmen after BPM shooting

Photo By Trevor Dunn

Editorial/Analysis by Terry Gotham

I’ve spent the last week interviewing people and collecting information about the worst thing to happen in live events since Orlando. Last week, the BPM Festival suffered a terrible attack, leaving 5 dead and more than a dozen wounded. Long considered one of the crown jewels of the festival circuit, this heinous attack has resulted in the local government showing BPM and all other music festivals the door. As usual, most commentary on the causes or effects either totally misses the mark or descends into slap fighting.

Photo by Semanario Playa News Aqui y Ahora

Photo by Semanario Playa News Aqui y Ahora

Before I dig into this story any deeper, I need to make a strong caveat. This commentary is in no way blaming anyone who was shot at, injured or killed for the violence that was done to them. I cannot stress this enough. While macroeconomic forces, drug cartels and America’s ineffectual responses to the growing demands for legalization are to blame for this attack, blaming BPM or BPM ticketholders for narco-terrorism is tone-deaf to the point of brutality. While I assume people will believe that was my aim to engage in some classist/leftist/racist point that serves only to divide, I believe this can be a wake up call for everyone who parties, not just those who take drugs or care about legalization, but for all Americans who believe in Constitutional rights.

According to Miguel Angel Pech Sen (district attorney of Quintana Roo, a Mexican state) at 2:30 AM, Monday morning, the security at Elrow’s closing party at the Blue Parrot was overwhelmed and the club was entered by an as-yet undetermined number of assailants. BPM declared that there was a lone gunman on the FB post about the shooting, but this has been called into question by a number of witnesses who spoke to Billboard and claimed they saw multiple shooters. The Attorney General later said it appeared there were “a lot of people carrying arms” in the club, and that many of those wounded were hit when security personnel were attempting to shoot the attacker. The attacker escaped, he said, and may have been assisted by a taxi in getting away. Three members of security died, a 4th, who seemed to be the target, and a fifth person died in the stampede to escape the club.

After the shooting at the Blue Parrot, the violence raged across Playa Del Carmen for the rest of the week. On Tuesday, a “Code Red” was activated in Cancun when the Control Center for Command, Computing & Communications was attacked by 10 armed men who arrived by motorcycle. Their goal was to extract a local drug cartel leader from holding, not kidding. Avenues in Cancun were attacked with fucking grenades, while shots were reported inside of the Plaza Las Americas Shopping Center. Narco-signs (messages from the cartels) sprang up, with the Zetas claiming responsibility and announcing that more violence was to come. Again, Playa Del Carmen banned not just BPM, but electronic music festivals, in case you had tickets to the Arena Festival, slated to go on in the beginning of February.

At this point, I hope it’s clear that this is a situation that the police and military do not have under control. While plenty of American and Canadian party people live blissfully unaware of the spiral of drug-fueled violence that Mexico is enduring, we need to stop pretending “this is fine.”

mexican-safety-map

Whether it’s the Fast & Furious gun program, Hillary’s refusal to support legalization, or the psychedelic libertarianism I’ve written about before, the indifference to legalization as a priority has put billions into the hands of cartels that have much of Latin America by the balls. MS13, the Zetas, the Sinaloa Cartel, and dozens of others we’ve probably never even heard of have rained suffering and death across so much of our hemisphere. Our continued inability to care about the problems that come with drugs, namely opiate abuse by the poor and swelling the coffers of organized crime, has all but ensured that tragedies like the one that befell the Blue Parrot will keep happening anywhere the drug war has touched.

I don’t want to hear that legalizing drugs will just cause the cartels to make money somewhere else. The revenue is non-trivial. Even before legalization hit, the RAND Corporation and the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness estimated that almost 30% of cartel revenue (not profit) came from cannabis. With legalization, we’re already seeing cannabis seizures drop:

In the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector, marijuana seizures fell to 8,158 pounds in fiscal 2015, an 88 percent drop compared to a decade-high of 68,825 pounds seized in fiscal 2011…As marijuana seizures have declined, other drugs including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine are skyrocketing at the border. Traffickers are capitalizing on the growing opiate epidemic, as well as their ability to cheaply produce enormous amounts of pure meth from Chinese precursor chemicals in Mexican “superlabs.”
~San Diego Tribune

Source: Washington Post

It’s not just along the California border. According to the US Border Patrol, cannabis is just not showing up at numbers it used to be anywhere they’re seizing it:

But the amount of one drug — marijuana — seems to have finally fallen. U.S. Border Patrol has been seizing steadily smaller quantities of the drug, from 2.5 million pounds in 2011 to 1.9 million pounds in 2014. Mexico’s army has noted an even steeper decline, confiscating 664 tons of cannabis in 2014, a drop of 32% compared to year before.
~Time

The Zetas aren’t super-villains from the 50’s. They know how much money they can make getting certain substances over the border and into the hands of eager consumers. This connects back to parties almost depressingly well. How many people do we all know that expect there to be drugs for them to buy at parties? How many of them honestly give a fuck about whether they’re legal or not? Just think of the thousands of party people who demand farm to table, vegan/vegetarian or some other form of “I don’t consume things made unethically” cuisine, but then proceed to put $200 worth of possibly Peruvian Cocaine up their noses. I really think we should be more concerned about the lives of indigenous people living under cartels than whether our almond milk was sprayed with pesticide before it landed in my smoothie. As a dear friend put it, we couldn’t stop the Orlando mass shooting, but decriminalization/legalization probably would have stopped this shooting.

stratfor-map-2014

You need to ask yourself, if this shooting happened at a club on the beach that only Mexicans went to, and had nothing to do with BPM, would you have cared? Would you have even seen it on your news feeds? I’ve spoken to dozens of Clinton supporters over the last 18 months who strongly supported her not legalizing. If the Zetas weren’t able to wholesale pot into every city in America outside of a handful of states, would they be able to buy weapons and commit crime? Of course. But certainly not to the levels that they’ve been able to in the last several years.

Not a lot of people remember this, but over a decade ago, we deported a bunch of MS13 members, trying to break the back of the gang. This backfired so spectacularly that MS-13 chapters cropped up all across Latin America, accelerating its growth from a few thousand members in LA to an international cartel, possessing a massive supply chain and a network that rivals most intelligence services. We trained & funded the 34 commandos that eventually flipped the script & became Los Zetas. Remember them from earlier in the article? Yup, the very same. Our efforts to stop people from doing drugs are directly responsible for this shit. The blood of party people is on American hands.

But don’t think this is anything new. Whether it was Al Capone and the bootleggers profiting from prohibition, the evolution of disco and cocaine, house dealers in the superclubs of the 1990s & 2000s or the flood of adulterated psychoactive substances that find their way into the hundreds of music festivals occurring in North America every year, Americans have partied for decades without agitating for legalization. While the mob did move on to other illegal activities once Prohibition ended, you bet your ass they jumped right back into trafficking once drug prohibition returned in the 20th Century. Until we (whether we do drugs or not) demand decriminalization/legalization and an end to the DEA/ATF/FBI/CIA’s fuckery south of our border, we should expect things like this to keep happening. Some people are fine with throwing up our hands, giving up and only partying/consuming illegal drugs made within our national  borders, but that still resigns millions of our fellow citizens to a fate of incarceration, underemployment and a life controlled by the scarlet letter of conviction. People demand the ability to modulate the contents of our minds. We should allow them to, and join them in ensuring they can, legally…if only to ensure a horrific attack like this one never happens again.

Lazarus Parties, Heroin & the Continued Evolution of Harm Reduction

I’m taking a quick break from my series on the History of Addiction & Society because I’ve been tracking a disconcerting story for the last week. You may have seen it posted by one of your more conservative/pearl clutch-y friends this week, and if not, expect it before election day.

A smattering of local coverage, based around Toledo, Ohio, describes a Lazarus or “Narc” party. Heroin users will do heroin with other users, and in case one of the users overdoses, a sober person who isn’t using, administers Naloxone, or by its common retail name, Narcan. The implication is that because a user was standing by with Narcan, that’s the actual problem. The presence of the OD reversal substance is emboldening heroin users. To test their limits, or to even try using it in different ways, like shooting it, instead of just snorting or smoking it. Instead of preventing death, some are attempting to claim it’s making some people’s use more adventurous.

To research the work I release here on Burners.me, I maintain a quiet presence in a lot of different circles, so a lot of the time, I get to experience how mutually exclusive groups respond to stories. Today, I saw both a pool of researchers, doctors, law enforcement officials AND a group of ravers, talking about the same story, this “Lazarus Party” story. Oh yea, and in case you didn’t go to Sunday School, it’s called a Lazarus Party, because Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead as proof of his Jesus-ness. But, here’s the thing. Are there any actual, confirmed reports of recreational users calling them Lazarus Parties? No, of course there aren’t. But there “might” be, especially if you believe poorly sourced news & blowhards with agendas. Just in case you don’t believe me, ask a member of each political party their thoughts on FBI Director Comey & his investigation, and you’ll see how easily facts can be distorted or ignored to suit a pre-existing bias.

Larry Clark -

Larry Clark – “Tulsa” (1971)

What was amazing about what I saw, was the same mixed field of ignorance, trolling and reason within two opposite populations of commenters. One was a thread where you saw users, scenesters, and sober party attendees, the other was  entirely by people with respectable, well paying jobs, in and around the substance use, abuse & control sectors. Having the same argument. It’s one thing when two of your hippie festival friends argue about the purpose of “Narc” parties, with the dude who has the Deep Mind Acid filter on his profile picture, correcting a burn out when it comes to how Naloxone is used. It’s quite another thing when an ER Coordinator makes the same correction to someone who works in a rehab program.  The two arguments raged all day. At the time of writing, the festie kid argument had died down, but the med/substance abuse professionals was still going back and forth, and did so long into the night. And you thought you took your job home with you.

The facts of the situation are slightly less terrifying. Because Fentanyl, Carfentanyl, U-47700, W-18 and an array of other substances are present in the recreational opiate supply, opiate users have begun to switch off dosing to ensure they’re not all high if someone OD’s. The reports elaborated that people were starting to do heroin in groups more, in response to the tidal wave of Fentanyl-exacerbated OD deaths currently plaguing North America. Of course, if more than 1 person is doing an illegal drug in a room, the media thinks it’s a party.

The inherent idiocy in this line of reasoning should be apparent to everyone who has watched fear mongering and confusion go hand in hand. Thankfully, every time I saw this discussion occur, the intelligent and sensible among those willing to comment rose to the occasion and reminded everyone involved that harm reduction and opiate usage patterns evolve with time. In this case, it looks like people are starting to understand the inherent dangers of their habit, and pivoting around them. Not because they want to do “more drugs” or have a party, but because they don’t want to die. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s actually deeply subversive when it comes to the traditional line of reasoning that prohibitionists use.

chicago-vice

In both this case, and the example from last week, the idea that drugs take control of you, or that you can’t engage in rational thought while under the influence, was the central pylon in the argumentative infrastructure supporting the case that all drugs are bad and humans shouldn’t have the choice to consume substances, especially to excess. But the narrative that I heard from both elder ravers and MD’s who ran emergency rooms was just the opposite. These “Narc” parties are nothing more than opiate users understanding the conditions on the ground and attempting to prevent bad things from happen to people they care about. Which is the very definition of harm reduction. They know no one is going to stop doing heroin, even when it might be spiked or adulterated with a substance that could kill them.

This point was so well defended, that opiates don’t turn people into zombies, people actually started to understand individuals with physical addiction and a fear/aversion to withdrawal exist. They were looking out for each other, and will continue to do so. I got to see some excellent harm reduction advice dispensed by a forensic toxicologist, so I wanted to share it with y’all, in case this stuff was useful for you:

  • Don’t use alone. Use a buddy system, to have someone who can call 911 ( and give Narcan) in case you stop breathing.
  • Learn how to use Narcan if you plan on using street heroin.
  • Even if you know how to use Narcan, test your drugs.
  • Do the same for another addict.
  • Don’t inject at the same time. Stagger your injection times.

These seem like no-brainers to most of us, but sometimes it’s easy to forget. Phillip Seymour Hoffman forgot. So did Prince. We live in an age where adulterants are far more dangerous than even some of the most problematic recreational drugs. And users are recognizing that, leading them to consume with others, and to learn how to reverse overdoses. That sounds like progress to me. Not something to be afraid of, and certainly not a reason to remove Narcan from the hands of those that consume opiates. Let the people save each other, since the powers that be don’t seem all that concerned about saving them.

White Ocean, Gabby Giffords & A Stand Alone Complex

White-Ocean

Editorial by Terry Gotham

Unless you’ve been under a really big, non-dusty rock, you’ve heard about the sabotage/accident/Tusken Raider attack at the White Ocean camp during Burning Man 2016. As my editor has reported, dozens of news outlets have reported on the story, big and small, from left wing to the Drudge Report. Lots of people have offered stories and explanations for what happened, but I think a lot of them miss the mark. I’d like to offer an explanation that draws on the commodification of Burning Man, the shooting of Gabby Giffords, and one of my favorite TV shows, Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex. We may never know who really did it and why, so let’s stop with the poorly supported, largely assumed narrative that’s been constructed by journalists since the man burned last weekend.

white-ocean-vandalized

If you’re not familiar with Ghost In The Shell, I highly recommend it. The movie, but even more so the 2 season show, explored the cybernetic & internet-everywhere world we’re hurtling towards as a species. In NeoTokyo, a “stand alone complex” occurs, a series of corporate hacks expose government corruption, blamed on a single actor sparking a movement and revolution in cyberspace. In reality, there’s no actual team of people with an agenda, things are happening totally independently of each other. However, because the internet is watching and being drawn along, never truly seeing the whole picture, the populace believes “something” is happening, when things aren’t. This is the nature of a stand alone complex. When you don’t have all the evidence, your mind draws whatever line through discrete events that makes sense.

The two competing stories so far have been class warfare vs. personal vendetta. On the class warfare side, White Ocean is a plug and play hotel for the elite. Bucket listers show up, hang out, get fucked up, Burn, party until the sunrises, then head home, have earned a tremendous amount of ire over the last couple of years. White Ocean has attempted to defray the concerns that they cater to the elites by discussing the size of their speaker system and the fact that they feed Burners. Many have spent time debating who actually gets fed at White Ocean, and of course, there are a miasma of opinions surrounding the deployment of EDM/commercial DJs to the playa, so I won’t belabor their points. While the case is slowly building that they can provide benefit to the greater playa, the idea of Burning Man VIP is a sticky accusation that many elite camps have done a poor job defending against. Plenty of people have come to the defense of White Ocean because they camp in similar levels of comfort, but I wanted to point out that there are plenty of uber wealthy/influential people who don’t earn that kind of scorn. Susans Sarandon shows up, works, and then has a ceremony using the Temple honorably and in a way that invited participation. Some of David Bowie’s ashes were burned at the Temple this year as well. I assume everyone associated with that was decently well off, and somehow, they managed to be respectful to the wider playa community and be wealthy at the same time.

The other side is that White Ocean stiffed a bunch of workers, so the workers retaliated. Not because of the revolution, but because “Fuck you I want my check.” This explanation tends to hold water once the facts of the sabotage are reviewed. It’s really difficult to do the level of damage that occurred at a camp without being seen, and White Ocean had actual guards posted in their camp. The idea that some socialist Solid Snake infiltrated the camp, wasn’t seen by anyone, and made off after doing so, is a reach even for the guys I hear on playa detailing the underground cities and hyperloop transports the government has created in case of nuclear war. If you saw a cook or a campmate wandering around you camp, you wouldn’t think anything of it.  I assume White Ocean didn’t exactly broadcast that they stiffed these people, so the camp wasn’t on high alert. If a couple of peeps were really burnt about getting stiffed, it would’ve been trivially easy to do what happened to White Ocean, without being flagged as an intruder. But, here’s the thing, people don’t believe that, because they’ve built this pre-existing narrative about class warfare over the attacks, and see a Stand Alone Complex, where there is none.

I want to emphasize that doing this is not only human nature, but also how we evolved. The ability to recognize patterns with incomplete data kept us alive in the jungle, and helped teach us how to farm. Some of the highest paying jobs in Silicon Valley are for people who can spot patterns in data that no one else can. So it’s no surprise that everyone & their mom has tried to figure out why sabotage and why White Ocean. But, as Freud says, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. We increasingly live in a world where people will have access to massive amounts of data, that still provide an incomplete picture. This causes us to have faith in the model/trend line we built, but that doesn’t mean it’s anymore correct than it was when we saw “predator eyes” on a leaf instead of a moth and ran like scared apes 125,000 years ago.

Lots of people are talking about class warfare as if there’s some directed attempt to stoke socioeconomic resentment by certain groups on the playa, and when I read this stuff, I keep thinking back to how quickly we lost the plot after Gabby Giffords (US Congresswoman from AZ) was shot in 2011. The shooter, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia after years of drug abuse, was convicted of the mass shooting, but also totally dehumanized as a puppet of the NRA, or a martyr for states rights. First came the ham-handed attempts to blame Fox News & Sarah Palin, ensuring that a nuanced discussion about how incendiary rhetoric affects the public consciousness would never happen. Then, the rush to demonization of the shooter as a super-villain, cold and calculating, fighting as a standard bearer for all that the NRA/GOP/your arch nemesis stood for. This guaranteed the discourse devolved into team sport, talk radio, and Facebook sparring. Someone shot a sitting Congressperson and not a single policy change came out of it. That’s startling to me, even to this day.

I’m seeing this happen right now in the comment threads, think pieces and tweet storms about White Ocean. Not only are large numbers of people hailing this person as some kind of working class hero, but the real problems of turnkey camps are taking a back seat to faux outrage and slap fights. Let’s be real, unless you were camping at White Ocean, this problem does not affect you. Period. It’s not a portend of violence to come, and it’s not going to filter into open “rebellion” on playa, so we all need to dial this pearl clutching back. While we’re being real, I’m not going to spend a lot of time being terrified that a camp for people who live in the Capitol of The Hunger Games was fucked with. Even in the worst case scenario, how long would it take White Ocean to get resupplied, via air if necessary? An hour? Two? Five? While the average burner would be fucked by this event, I’m still not clear on how this could have been anything but a minor annoyance. Not because you’re turn-key, like the White Ocean FB post said they were told by BMOrg, but because you’re FABULOUSLY WEALTHY. If how much you spend at Burning Man doesn’t even appear as a line on your yearly budget, I have no doubt contingencies existed to ensure no harm came to anyone at the camp. And if they didn’t, after this attack, I assume all turn key camps will simply bake that contingency plan cost into the price of your FuturePod or whatever the package will be called next year.

White Ocean isn’t closing up shop, no other turn key camps have announced they won’t be returning to the playa because of it, so, that aspect of the burn won’t change. And, considering their blotches of red on the MOOP Map from 2015, 9 days out, I hope they did better this year, as it seems we all have progress to make. As for the likely saboteurs, I’m a fiesty fucker, but even I’m not trying to pick a fight with rich Saudis or Russians. I truly hope law enforcement finds the culprit before they do.

At the end of the day, many are using this event to push a narrative that they most likely held before the event happened. I heard a lot of people talk about how horrifying this attack was, not realizing just how much more they spend on their average Burn than many Burners out there. The same thing happens when the poor start cheering for destruction and rebellion, not realizing that they’re actively calling for terrorism against people who, you know, work there. I found it terrifying that people were advocating for harm/further attacks/sabotage against these camps, totally glossing over a lot of people at these camps are either non-rich guests, paid staff, or simply tourists. The idea that they’d be forced to suffer simply to make a point about participation or “the priniciples” is some Daesh level bullshit. Both sides have put their insecurities on display, and are using the same event to advance their own agenda. Hopefully something like this doesn’t happen next year, but if it does, let’s try and keep a clear head about it next time.

Two Ominous Side Effects Of Cannabis Legalization

By Terry Gotham

A caveat: things are heading in the right direction in places where cannabis has been legalized for recreational use for adults. We can all agree that Colorado, Washington, Alaska & the District of Columbia didn’t become the pot-drenched “Beyond Thunderdome” dystopias that pearl clutchers & puritans envisioned. My aim is not to deride legalization efforts, nor question the dedication or motives of anyone associated with the fight to get America’s head out of its ass. Because Burning Man can be seen as a laboratory for progressive thinking & ways of living, and because a lot of Burners live in states that are currently grappling with the “how” instead of the “if” of legalization, medicalization or decrmininalization, I felt compelled to mention them. We’re legalizing in uneven steps across the country, which has brought us into unknown economic, cultural & law enforcement territory and produced some worrying side effects. Continue reading

W-18: A Novel Opioid The Media Is Getting All Wrong

By Terry Gotham

I try not to use Burners.me as a megaphone, but as I read about this substance & how it was being covered in the media, I needed to make an exception. To be clear, we have no evidence of this substance being found or consumed at Burning Man, but I believe it will become a problem in the painkiller consuming community on the West Coast over the next 18 months. W-18 is a novel analgesic that was patented as the 18th in a 32 compound series by a trio of Canadian researchers in 1984. First flagged by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs & Drug Addiction in 2014,W-18 started turning up in prescription oxycodone pills seized by Canadian law enforcement in early 2015. It’s been banned by China, but the reasons why are unclear. The news stories on it started to pile up in April, so started digging. I found two scoops of sloppy reporting and a shocking lack of real information.

Continue reading