Every summer hordes of artists, visionaries, trust fund kids and dance party enthusiasts make the trek to transform Nevada’s Black Rock Desert into The Playa for Burning Man, a celebration of life, quirkiness, dust storms, and of course, drugs. And while the far reaches of nowhere, Nevada may sound like a free-for-all where anything goes, a new directive from the federal government’s Bureau of Land Management is looking to crack down on burners driving under the influence.
Because Burning Man takes place on federal land, it is subject to federal regulations, and in a section of this Wednesday’s Federal Register, representatives from the BLM, a subset of the Department of the Interior, laid out the law of the land for this year’s festival, including standard bans on peeing on the desert, underage drinking and setting off unsanctioned fireworks. But in addition to those run of the mill rules, the BLM directive sets a new standard for driving while stoned that could put thousands of burners at risk for a false DUI arrest.
According to the new directives, anyone caught driving in or around the playa with 2 nanograms or higher of THC per milliliter of blood in their system is subject to arrest and prosecution. If that doesn’t sound out of the ordinary, consider this, a nanogram is one billionth of a gram - yes, with a ‘B.’ And because marijuana stays in the system for up to a month, even someone who smoked their last joint in August could be arrested for a DUI while leaving the desert party in September.
Thankfully, the stipulations do specify that officers need probable cause to perform the test. Unfortunately, probable cause is still pretty arbitrary, with bad driving or anything considered drug paraphernalia giving cops free range to enforce the BLM regulations.
According to reporters at Cannabis Now, who first noticed the new BLM Burning Man regulations, arrests at the festival of desert debauchery have been steadily climbing in recent years, with 37 of last year’s 46 Burning Man arrests stemming from drug crimes. To get an expert's opinion, Cannabis Now asked cannabis legal theorist Lauren Vazquez what the rules meant for festival attendees, and found a more optimistic view than expected.
“It looks to me like they are setting a standard for drivers on the playa. It does say probable cause is required,” Vazquez said. Adding, “It’s only on the playa, and it takes probable cause to search the driver by saliva or blood or urine, 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.”
Still, if anyone on The Playa is subject to the BLM’s DUI drug test, no part of Nevada’s recreational legalization law will be able to bail them out thanks to federal prohibition. So while plenty of cannabis DUI cases have been thrown out because of the inability of a blood or urine test to prove intoxication, Burning Man’s federally owned campsite presumably offers no such protections.