Ten Questions With Terry Gotham: Stefanie Jones of The Drug Policy Alliance

(This week, it is my privilege to bring you a conversation with one of the hardest working women at the intersection between nightlife & safety, and a dear friend, Stefanie Jones, Director of Audience Development  at the Drug Policy Alliance. Her #SaferPartying initiative & MusicFan programs are crucial to for harm reduction, drug policy activism and global dance population at large. Interview by Terry Gotham)

Stefanie Jones_Music Industry session_Nov 2015

1. How was Burning Man 2015? Did you go to any other transformational festivals that actually didn’t suck when it came to harm reduction & forward thinking drug policy?
Burning Man 2015 was a definite revelation. As I like to tell people, I’ve been invited to it by various friends and people I know practically every year since 2002 but for a lot of reasons never went. It was nice because all that time let me develop a theory around what it would be like for me to go and what the best approach was, and without feeling totally wrong about what I thought, during the preparation process and the actual experience of course it’s all out the window. Even if you know, it’s not the same as when you actually do a thing, right?

Burning Man is making some strides when it comes to integrating harm reduction. In 2015 they went further than they ever had before by giving the Zendo Project two locations on the playa – two safe spaces for people who are feeling overwhelmed for whatever reason, to stop by or be brought to and be cared for by trained volunteers and therapists. Burning Man Org also listed Zendo ahead of time in the JackRabbit Speaks newsletter and in their entry materials. I volunteered with Zendo and it was incredibly rewarding, as it always is. It’s a start but there’s certainly more they could do. They have a huge challenge because the event is on federal land and there are MANY enforcement and health agencies in the mix the organizers have to keep happy. A lot of people are surprised Burning Man isn’t leading when it comes to drug policy and harm reduction, but quite honestly, given the nature and location of the event, it would be hard for them to lead.

The gold standard is actually the Boom Festival in Portugal. They have an unfair advantage maybe, because all drugs are decriminalized in that country and it really clears the way for comprehensive harm reduction to take place. Nonetheless they do it all: onsite drug education and drug checking (testing drugs for adulterants), as well as a Zendo-equivalent compassionate care service called Kosmicare. All harm reduction groups are fully supported by and integrated into the event.

In the US the clear leader is Lightning in a Bottle. We have a little harm reduction coalition working with them, and the work is summarized here.

Also, it’s not a transformational festival, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Backwoods Festival in Oklahoma. Last year they invited DanceSafe onsite and not only let them do drug checking, but integrated an early alert system if dangerous or misrepresented substances were found. In Oklahoma!! Giant respect for this scrappy event.

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LSD, Burning Man, Safety & Susan Sarandon

By Terry Gotham

While there are literally thousands of sober people at Burning Man every year, and how to guides & resources for individuals who choose to not drink or do drugs at Burning Man, we can’t seem to shake the monkey on our back. The class of drugs that seem to be tethered most tightly to Burning Man (besides Margaritas & poorly rolled joints) is psychedelics, acid in particular. For better or worse, it’s as if LSD & Burning Man have become linked. There is something deeply primal about taking certain kinds of drugs and dancing to a beat in the middle of nowhere until dawn. The trope of “taking acid at Burning Man” has been so deeply embedded into the American alternative cultural landscape that there’s an extensively upvoted list of answers for the “What should you think about before trying LSD for the first time and doing so at Burning Man?” question on Quora.

Not just because of the psytrancers or the hippies either. With more and more of the tech landscape believing psychedelics can generate “out of the box thinking” or a predeliction for black turtle necks, the merging between the technorati, the 1% & Black Rock City will most likely remain psychedelic. There are dozens of trip reports from the playa and with reporters being granted expanded access to Burning Man, the potential for your private LSD-drenched art walk to make it into The Atlantic or Salon grows every year. But, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t having resonant, powerful experiences on playa consuming this stuff, or even merely orbiting those that do. Continue reading

2C-I & 2C-B: Research Chemicals Before It Was Cool

2CB

The 2C family of drugs is one of Shulgin’s famous progeny. He synthesized over 250 psychoactive chemicals, nearly all of them never having been consumed by humans before. As DanceSafe reminds us, there are 30+ unique chemicals in the 2C family of drugs, including 2C-I, 2C-E, 2C-D, 2C-T7 and 2C-B. So yes, that crazy dude at Entheogen Village years ago wasn’t kidding. That really was a drug name he was talking about & he wasn’t just tripping really hard.

They’re in the class of psychedelics known as phenethylamines, and came to prominence in the late 90’s & early 2000’s until the most populat of them, 2C-B, was scheduled internationally in 2001. Before that, you could still buy it on the internet. And yes, plenty of burners, ravers, psychonauts, taggers & straight-up gangsters purchased a whole bunch online while the getting was good. Sound familiar to anyone? It should, considering Erowid removed the “Research Chemical” label from 2C-B last year. We actually had a drug graduate from “new wackiness” to “yup, the kids are doing that now.”

That’s right, 2C-B & 2C-I served as some of the first examples of “research chemicals” entering the mainstream, especially as MDMA & LSD hit spotted rough patches in availability in the late 90’s & mid-2000’s across the country. Some users came to prefer the 2C’s to LSD or magic mushrooms because of the intense visuals higher doses of the drug provides. While lower doses give people a feeling of connection, at higher doses, many report intense visual illusions & effects. Trails, geometric patterns, carpets breathing & rainbow emanating from what seems to be nowhere, all reported by random users on & off playa of course. These symptoms come without the commensurate crush of thought & “back of the head” work that most report with traditional psychedelics.

This lightness can be a double edged sword. While many enjoy it and use it as a party drug, the lack of mental symptoms can sometimes convince people they’ve not taken enough. Leading many of my friends to the inscrutable “Oh shit the walls are melting” moments after they re-up their dosage. I can say (with confidence) I have seen more people fuck up their dosages & re-dose on the 2C family of chemicals than any other kind of drug. Whether at a burner party, a bar, club, on the deep playa, or at some stupid EDM brand orgy we call a festival now, I’ve seen the intensity knock even the most seasoned psychedelic user on their glowing ass.

It’s a potent reminder of the power of designer drugs. While it doesn’t seem as powerful as LSD or as binding/psychedelic as ayahuasca or psilocybin, set & setting need to be taken into account before doing fistfuls of psychedelics. Additionally, when the difference between the “low” & “high” dose is 5-10mg, dudes at festivals claiming they can eyeball the dose need to be shut down with extreme prejudice.

I do mean this. All of you playa-bound peoples, if you’re not rolling up with a milligram scale, take a pass on this one if some guy says he can dose you out on an index card inside of a tent. Unless you’re a fan of nausea, trembling, chills, anxiety or death, as someone in the UK in 2012 discovered.

2C-I also has a curious side effect that has only been in anecdotal reports around the internet, so hasn’t made it into the clinical documentation. That being one of the longest come-up times of any designer drug I’ve ever seen. When you see someone dose at 11:30 & it not hit them until 2am, you know you’re dealing with something a little out of the ordinary. This is even more of a reason to give yourself time, sometimes 4+ hours, before “doing more” or taking something else. Even in Black Rock City.

Have fun you crazy kids! But be safe, piss clear & don’t re-dose! The playa commands it!

DanceSafe, Bunk Police Shut Down in Attack on Raver Safety [Updates]

A raver surveys the MOOP left over after Electric Forest 2015. Image: MILive

A raver surveys the MOOP left over after Electric Forest 2015. Image: MILive

Strange things have been happening in the EDM Festival world over the last couple of weeks, with two different volunteer crews providing drug safety information – DanceSafe and Bunk Police – both getting shut down at two different festivals – Electric Forest and Bonnaroo.

DanceSafe are a non-profit organization who provide a booth at festivals, staffed by volunteers, offering education and information to promote safer raving. Depending on the festival, they provide drug-testing services and sell kits. You can get them from their web site. This year they also offered “snorting straws”. Ever heard the story that 99% of banknotes have cocaine on them? That means the note has been up at least one person’s nose. Maybe thousands of peoples’. Money is dirty, and can spread Hepatitis C and other things that you and your friends don’t want. Snorting straws only seems like a good thing for society, in my opinion. If you don’t like the snorting, fight the noses, not the straws.

DanceSafe have done this at Electric Forest in Rothbury, Michigan for the last 4 years. This time, the promoters turned on them, without explanation.

First, the Crime Scorecard for Electric Forest 2015:

ROTHBURY, MI – The Michigan State Police has released its report on police activity at the 2015 Electric Forest Festival.

Festival promoters contracted with the state police to provide on-site law enforcement services, as they have in previous years.

This is the roundup of the five-day event:

  • Troopers investigated 50 original complaints.
  • Eight people were lodged in the Oceana County Jail.
  • Twenty people are pending arrest after a review by the Oceana County Prosecutor’s Office.

These are the charges that were investigated:

  • 23 felony drug charges
  • Three misdemeanor assault charges
  • Five misdemeanor drug chargesTroopers also responded to or assisted emergency medical service or festival security personnel on numerous medical calls.According to promoters, approximately 40,000 tickets were sold for this year’s Electric Forest Festival.

[Source: MILive]

28 drug charges out of 40,000 tickets. That seems pretty good, right? A nice, clean, safe event. So why the sudden turn against DanceSafe, for doing the same thing they’ve been doing for years?

Read the full account at DanceSafe. Here are some excerpts:

Electric Forest Shuts Down DanceSafe– But We Have A Bigger Problem To Tackle

June 30, 2015
By- Mitchell Gomez, DanceSafe National Outreach Director


…Electric Forest has ended, and as those of us who were onsite know, this year the event producers ordered DanceSafe to shut down the booth early on Friday. Although we are still unclear on why this occurred, we feel it’s important for the community to hear about our experiences…

The DanceSafe booth at TomorrowWorld, where we provide information but no on site testing or kits for sale.

The DanceSafe booth at TomorrowWorld, where we provide information but no on site testing or kits for sale.

DanceSafe is a 501(c)(3) non-profit public health organization with a mission to promote health and safety within in the nightlife and electronic music communities. Using harm reduction and peer-based education as our guiding principles, we provide a range of free information and services including safe spaces to take breaks and engage in conversations about health, drug use, and personal safety; water and electrolytes [to prevent dehydration and heatstroke]; earplugs [to prevent hearing loss], safe sex tools [to avoid unwanted pregnancies and spread of STI’s]; honest, fact-based, unbiased information on drug effects and potential harms [to empower people to make informed decisions]; and provide drug checking [to avoid overdose or death].

We were founded in 1998 in the Bay Area, and since have grown to over a dozen chapters, with hundreds of volunteers worldwide. We are primarily known for being the first entity to bring free reagent testing to nightlife settings in the United States, 17 years ago. Reagent testing is a method of drug checking used to identify drug contents. It’s limited in that the chemical analysis is only able to identify what chemical is mostly present, not purity, potency or all cutting agents present. Although this is the service that we’re most widely known for, in recent years we’ve worked with many event producers who are uncomfortable with providing this service onsite, and in cases where we’ve been asked not to, we never test onsite, sell kits, or provide any other service that is not wanted.

For instance, at festivals such as TomorrowWorld, Imagine Festival, Mysteryland, and Lightning in a Bottle, we’ve had an official presence onsite to provide our other services listed above, but do not sell kits or provide free drug checking services. Even in cases where producers re-evaluate what services they want provided after DanceSafe is already set up onsite, if asked to stop or change anything, we always immediately comply. We also generally have items in the booth for sale. The only products we sell in our booth are either those directly related to harm reduction (such as high-quality earplugs or re-usable water-bottles), or items for patrons to wear in order to show their support for our cause (such as T-Shirts, our Grassroots Hat, Pins, etc…). All sales and donations during events go back into the organization and are used to support further outreach.

Since 2011, Electric Forest has provided DanceSafe with booth space, but classed as vendors, placed in one of the vendor areas, provided us with vendor wristbands, and generally treated as vendors in every way.

The DanceSafe Team, 2015

Thus, this was DanceSafe’s fourth year onsite, and it was our third year in the ‘Craft Vending’ village…Each year we’ve been in the Forest, we’ve provided our full range of services, and we’ve always had a fantastic working relationship with the event producers and staff…Excitingly, while testing onsite last year, some individual law enforcement officers were (quietly) supportive of our presence onsite, coming by to thank us for being there and picking up some of our literature. The support we received from the festival was simply amazing! Sadly, the story was very, very different this year…

The DanceSafe booth pre-shut down at Electric Forest 2015

On Thursday morning, after operating as normal for a few hours, we began to receive a series of complaints from the Craft Vending Coordinator, asking us to change certain services. Even though she wasn’t able to tell me who was ordering these changes or why, we complied immediately. At first we were just asked to stop doing free onsite testing and selling kits, which we did.

Less than an hour later we were visited again, this time in regards to a different service we provide. Although it isn’t well known, sharing a snorting apparatus like a bill or straw is a vector for spreading Hepatitis C. In order to mitigate this risk for people who are already using substances this way, we provide clean, safer snorting straws. At least we do if we are allowed to, and after mid-Friday, we weren’t allowed to anymore. At this point, I was finally able to speak to the person who was making these decisions, a very high level representative from Madison House Presents: the production company who makes Electric Forest possible.

During this meeting, the representative bizarrely insisted that DanceSafe had never been allowed to test onsite or sell kits, despite the fact that we have been doing so for several years and drug checking has been included in every proposal we have sent them to date. She also told me that I had to stop giving out the informational card we have on Heroin, as it was ‘too promotional’. Although I deeply disagree with ever censoring information, once again we immediately complied.

At every stage, no matter what the request was from the festival, DanceSafe staff and volunteers complied immediately…By Friday, it had become abundantly clear that something larger was going on, and that the festival was determined to shut us down.

Because of this, I was entirely unsurprised by a visit from a group of three individuals late on Friday: the Madison House representative I had been speaking with, another top-level producer of the festival, and a gentleman who I believe they stated was their head of security.  They asked me to ‘step away from the booth to talk’…we were being ordered to immediately shut down the booth…I was told by the security guard that I had “till the end of String Cheese” to close my booth, and that if I had not done so by that time, it would be done “his way.” I was deeply upset by this unnecessary threat, as we had been 100% compliant during every one of their requests. At no time during this interaction or any other interaction was the merchandise we sell in the booth (to fund outreach) mentioned to us, although that is now what the festival claims was the cause of us being shut down.

The booth after being shut down

The booth after being shut down

It was at this point that the incident occurred which precipitated my writing of this blog. I asked the representative from Madison House why we were being shut down, as we had been complying with all of their requests. In one of the strangest encounters of my life, the representative refused to answer me. I was told that we could “discuss it later.” I pleaded for some small explanation to give to my boss for this turn of events, and was told that it was not going to be discussed, and that I was being ordered to close my booth immediately.

So I did.

…The flat refusal on the part of the event producers to discuss it was strange, and the fact that I still have not received any explanation is problematic, but not nearly as problematic as other things I saw onsite this year. I think it is important that we, as a community, discuss these problems, and I think it is pertinent we do it NOW.

This year at The Electric Forest, I saw up to four hour lines to get from GA camping into the venue, with no free water, shade or medics in the area. This year at The Electric Forest, I saw a population grow by nearly 10,000, with no noticeable increase in the amount of water refill stations, resulting in nearly two hour lines just to refill a bottle of water. This year at The Electric Forest, I saw a festival shut down a group of volunteers dedicated to providing health and safety information and resources to the community without a single valid explanation. And I, for one, would like to know why I saw these things…

Under our present laws, a venue or company faces some very real risks if the government decides that their event is “maintaining a drug-involved premise.” But– to the best of my knowledge, the presence of harm reduction services has never been used as a part of any RAVE Act prosecution (although the law should still be changed). The fear that these services would be grounds for a RAVE Act prosecution are theoretical, and the result of a prosecution on such a shaky basis is far from clear, but the injuries and deaths caused by these fears are not theoretical. These injuries and deaths are real, and they are happening far too often.

The bold truth, that we must all speak loudly, is that in a world where correctional officers cannot keep drugs out of prisons, there is simply no way for a promoter to stop incidental, but inevitable use at their events. No matter how sincere the promoters effort, no matter how zealous and abundant the security and police, no matter how hard we try, those who wish to consume mind altering substances will always find a way to do so. However you may feel about this truth, it is reckless to deny. Once we accept that some use is unstoppable, it is our moral obligation to do everything within our power to reduce the risk of harm to those who do choose to use.

Frankly, the solutions to many of these problems are not difficult. Make it easy for people to find out what they are actually consuming by allowing onsite testing and allowing people to have drug checking kits of their own. Make sure that people have access to accurate, unbiased information about all drugs. Make it easy for people to stay cool when they are dancing by having chill-out areas that are physically separated from the dance floor so they don’t become overrun. Make sure that people both in the venue and in line to get in have access to shade, adequate and easily identifiable water, and medical services if they are needed…

It is far past time for us, as a community, to demand that all the health and safety of all participants are taken seriously and is prioritized. It is not an option for us to ignore these problems anymore.

[Source: DanceSafe]

I agree. Harm reduction, like safety, can often be a simple matter of education. If people are prepared to volunteer the time to provide this information for free, promoters and LEOs should encourage that. Kids are dying out there, and a lot of it is because they are not consuming what they think they’re buying. Reagent testing can save lives, and DanceSafe have an excellent track record of operations in this scene over 3 decades.

This situation is bizarre – and very disappointing. It comes on the back of Bonnaroo kicking out Bunk Police for selling drug testing kits.

From YourEDM:

We typically hear about how music festivals should be proactive in dealing with the drug overdoses and drug-related deaths at their events. Although not every attendee can be monitored at these events, there are plenty of options to prevent unnecessary casualties. From publicizing strict regulations against bringing controlled substances into the venues to enforcing those rules with security staff or the police, it would appear that in this day and age their best efforts can still be helped with alternative options.

However, one such option was shut down at Bonnaroo this past weekend. According to a post on the Bonnaroo sub Reddit, Adam Auctor issued a long statement about his business that sells Substance Test Kits and how the prominent music festival stopped his organization and treated him and his team like criminals.

Adam Auctor is the CEO of Bunk Police which has developed Substance Test Kits designed to test for different drugs and different chemicals and compounds within the tested samples. From spotting what’s in MDMA, LSD, Cocaine, DMT, Ketamine, and more, the test kits can be used to keep people who willingly want to take drugs to pursue that option in a cautious matter even if what they’re consuming is contraband. In other words, even if the drugs that some festival attendee has is illegal, at least they can test his or her drugs before ingesting it and harming themselves or worse.

After having his tent shut down from participating as a vendor at Bonnaroo and having 500 of his 2,000 substance test kits confiscated, Adam Auctor has made it loud and clear that although 2016 will not see the Bunk Police at Bonnaroo, they will return with a new plan in order to spread their message, ensuring that the people are informed and safe when it comes to controlled substances.

[Source: YourEDM]

An excerpt from Bunk Police CEO Adam Auctor’s statement on Reddit:

Before I get to the official reaction, let me tell you a little bit about a few local police officers and their reaction to us at the event. We were stopped by the police twice (while on foot) and were given the opportunity to explain ourselves. After elaborating on the harm reduction initiative, the issues with adulterated substances, etc. They kindly let us continue. Thanks for getting it, rogue officers.

Now on to the official reaction: We set up our tent, as usual, and within an hour our two – four individuals from the Mounted Patrol came by and treated us very differently. They detaining us like criminals and forced most of us to sit encircled by their horses. Shortly thereafter, an ATV with two representatives from the Bonnaroo security force showed up to assess the situation. We were made to bring everything out of our tent and our possessions were thoroughly searched. One of our “agents” walked up during this event and was also involved in the search. Unfortunately, so were two patrons that were completely unrelated to our operation – they were not even in the tent – they just happened to be walking by at the time. After nearly half an hour of extremely polite interaction, an explanation of our intentions, and pleading on our part – we were given two options 1) All of our wristbands would be cut and we would all be thrown out of the event (including the un-involved patrons.) They stated that if we chose this option, our supplies would be returned to us outside of the event as soon as we were removed. 2) Our supplies would be confiscated, but returned to us at the end of the event. We would be allowed to stay at Bonnaroo under the agreement that we would no longer operate or advertise in any way. We chose the second option.

They gave two main reasons for shutting us down: That we were “stealing from vendors who had paid to be there” and that “if someone uses our kit (to make sure their substances are safe?) and overdoses, Bonnaroo would be liable.”

It should be noted that Bonnaroo has never answered a single one of our dozens of emails requesting a vending permit or permission to operate.

At the conclusion of the event (where we still continued to operate tent-to-tent as they had only confiscated 500 of our 2,000 kits) I personally went to collect our supplies. As it turns out, Bonnaroo had not kept their word. In fact, they had given everything to the Sheriff’s Department. I was told that, in order to pick them up, I would have to personally go to the police station and show identification. This was not an option as it sounded like a great way to get arrested for illegal vending – among other unknowns – as the new Coffee County D.A. has made it a point to use the law in its full extent to charge Bonnaroo patrons[5] . I decided not to chance it, fearing that I could possibly be made into an “example” somehow and forfeited nearly 500 kits ( or5,000 individual tests) that could have been distributed and used at another event, along with radios, flyers, stickers, and a few (legal) personal items – a huge loss.

At around the same time, another one of our “agents” was stopped by a “safety team” from Bonnaroo. They were very interested in what he was doing, but not in anything beyond the cash he had on him at the time. They confiscated the remainder of his kits along with all of the cash he had on his person – including everything from his wallet. The kits were actually returned to him on Sunday by the Wormtown Trading Company booth (for some reason) but the cash came up missing. It seems that these “safety officers” had failed to log it and had kept the cash for themselves.

[Source: Reddit]

Interestingly, he ends his statement with this:

See you at Electric Forest – where the grass is greener and we have been allowed to freely reduce harm for five years.

Bunk Police tent at Electric Forest 2015. Image: Bunk Police/Facebook

Bunk Police tent at Electric Forest 2015. Image: Bunk Police/Facebook

Did Bunk Police complain to Electric Forest about DanceSafe for selling testing kits, and get them shut down? Or were both organizations victims of The Man, cracking down on We The Ravers?

Check out the What’s In My Baggie documentary, much of which was filmed at Bonnaroo.


[Update 7/1/15 6:46pm PST]

Brian has updated us with further details about what happened between DanceSafe and Madison House, the promoters of Electric Forest.

Dance safe obtained their booth for free by signing up as a non profit booth. Part of the contract with Madison house for non profit booths is that they do not sell anything. Also in the state of Michigan, anything that is for the use of testing illegal substances or use of illegal substances, is classified as paraphernalia. Since they were selling the test kits labeled as drug test kits and came with the color guide, at that point they not only broke their contract with Madison house as non profit booth but they broke Michigan state law. It’s a shame that a booth like dance safe was shut down as they have a great message, and they do great work, but if they were allow the booth to stay they could be held accountable of drug related offences due to the rave act. The focus of this should not be to point a finger at Madison house but rather at the skewed laws that create situations like this.


[Update 7/1/15 8:03pm PST]

DanceSafe’s Mitchell Gomez has made a statement, of sorts, on our Facebook page:

mitchell electric forest

walgreens drug kit

Screenshot 2015-07-01 20.04.27