By Jimi Devine
Cannabis and a variety of other controlled substances will be the targets of law enforcement officers empowered by the Bureau of Land Management to test vehicle operators traveling in and out of Burnings Man’s desert playa — in Nevada, which just legalized recreational cannabis. What’s going on?
Legal cannabis sales in Nevada are set to start this July, but the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management will be showing no love to the state’s new cannabis users: A microscopic 10 nanograms of cannabis per milliliter of urine (or 2 ng/ml of blood) will get you popped if you’re behind the wheel, according to a statement in today’s Federal Register.
Law enforcement will conduct the tests at their own discretion, but also at BLM’s request, based on guidelines listed in today’s announcement. Erratic driving or possession of anything falling under the notoriously broad category of “drug paraphernalia” appear to be the chief “red flags” that will initiate these encounters.
What’s more ludicrous than leaving your rolling papers in plain sight, ultimately forcing you to pee in a cup? The state’s standard for how much pot you can have in your system: A nanogram is a billionth of a gram — most of the smallest edibles in California have about two milligrams of THC in them. If 1 percent of that remains in your system when you’re behind the wheel, it’ll be considered a DUI. And anyone who smokes a joint the second half of that week will likely fail with such a low testing threshold, high or not.
We reached out to leading cannabis legal theorist (and our 2016 Activist of the Year), Attorney Lauren Vazquez, to give us the breakdown of what the feds are up to.
“It looks to me like they are setting a standard for drivers on the playa. It does say probable cause is required,” Vazquez said. “This is a rule making proposal and will soon be open to public comment and, hopefully, revisions. Knowing burners there’s going to be a lot of talks. I’m more concerned about the laser prohibition on page four: Never leave home without your laser!”
She added that not many people are going to be driving during the event anyway.
We also spoke to Vazquez about the ridiculously low THC threshold for DUI; isn’t this going to criminalize a lot of people?
“It’s only on the playa, and it takes probable cause to search the driver by saliva or blood or urine,” she said. “Just being at burning man is not probable cause — they have to smell weed, see you driving badly or see you doing drugs while driving before they can test you. So just sitting in line on the way out is safe.”
She added that the situation could technically have been worse.
“At least they wrote in the probable cause standard and we don’t have to argue about that,” she said.
While still in the formative stages, this policy would ultimately place the power all in the hands of a sheriff’s department that, last year, oversaw 46 arrests — 37 of which were drug-related.
Pershing County Sheriff, Jerry Allen, told the Reno-Gazette Journal cannabis accounts for the majority of drugs his deputies found on the playa.
“The most common drug found at Burning Man this year was marijuana,” he said, “followed by cocaine, ecstasy and acid.”
The arrest rate has skyrocketed in recent years; up from just seven people in 2014. Allen attributes the jump to proactive on-site policing.
Best of luck this year on the playa everyone.
TELL US, will you be at Burning Man this year?