The Feds Will Be Drug Testing Drivers At Burning Man

Along with a variety of other substances, marijuana found its way onto a list the Bureau of Land Management will empower law enforcement to test vehicle operators for while traveling in and out of Burnings Man’s Desert playa in Nevada.

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?

Jimi Devine has been involved in the cannabis movement since 2005, and joined the industry full time in 2009 after moving to the Bay Area from Boston. He currently works with Smell the Truth on SFGate,The Hash Podcast, and was involved in the organization of New West Summit in San Francisco last Fall. His writings on cannabis products and policy have been seen in The Boston Globe, SFGate, The Hill, The Chronicle of Higher Education, StopTheDrugWar.org, and HailMaryJane.com.

11 Comments

  1. John Thomas

    July 5, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    What this is really about is the corrupt government can’t stand to let people be free, even in a remote, worthless piece of desert. — This is a good measure of the incredible illegitimacy of what passes for “leadership” these days – or should I say “rule?” .

    The Rainbow People cannot go into town.
    Love is too dangerous. – Brings golden castles down.
    So make their sacrament a crime. – It must be gone!
    Close the cage and lock it! – Now we’ve got that light put out.

    Mister Emery, light one up for me.
    It’s been so long since hearing freedom’s song.
    Mister Emery, give us sweet words of liberty.
    Take us up there. – This deserts getting cold!

    So load the wagons. Haul the cinches tight.
    Pharoah’s army coming. – Jackals in the night.
    In Canada, the Dove still flies, with hope of herbal peace.
    This is what he promises. “We shall be relased!”

    Like Daniel in the lion’s den, he holds his head up high.
    Even dungeon masters see Kaneh Bosem’s light.
    One hundred years of bondage will soon be history.
    The chain of lies is breaking. The truth will set us free!

    Mister Emery, light one up for me.
    It’s been so long since hearing freedom’s song.
    Mister Emery, give us sweet words of Liberty.
    Take us up there. This desert’s getting cold!

    https://soundcloud.com/john-thomas-wanless/13-mister-emery

  2. chris furney

    July 1, 2017 at 5:18 am

    I went in 1999- the “thin blue line” was just starting to thicken up.
    Peace love, brotherhood, antimaterialism, art, freedom- as long as the pigs don’t decide to bring the whip down. So now what sort of melee will they have now that they don’t have cannabis to use for an excuse? But I guess that makes no difference, if the gov says it doesn’t, now. Another really cool festival shot to hell. Will I be going to Burning Man (again)? Not hardly. But please let me know the year that police aren’t allowed in town.

  3. Nameless

    July 1, 2017 at 3:21 am

    Nothing has changed with the closure notice from last year. The SAME rules were in place in 2016. This article is very misleading. See: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/07/01/2016-15681/notice-of-temporary-closure-and-temporary-restrictions-of-specific-uses-on-public-lands-for-the

  4. Cowboy

    June 30, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    Why drive all the way out to a rave in the desert. Then subject your self to draconian out dated laws. Are we having fun?

  5. mike ahuja

    June 30, 2017 at 12:08 am

    be careful burners that’s all i have to say….

  6. Joe Mayes

    June 29, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    KILLER WEED!!! What a waste of our taxpayers money.

  7. Robert Schell

    June 29, 2017 at 10:52 am

    The U.S, Supreme Court has said a warrant is required for a blood test. And a urine test doesn’t reflect any correlation to any amount of substance in one’s blood.

  8. Kacky

    June 29, 2017 at 8:16 am

    The playa is federal land, state laws allowing recreational use don’t apply.

  9. GoodnessnLight

    June 29, 2017 at 6:08 am

    Perhaps you should read the whole article before claiming fake news:

    C) It is unlawful for any person to
    drive or be in actual physical control of
    a vehicle on a highway or on premises
    to which the public has access with an
    amount of a prohibited substance in his
    or her urine or blood that is equal to or
    greater than the following nanograms
    per milliliter (ng/ml):
    (1) Amphetamine: Urine, 500 ng/ml;
    blood, 100 ng/ml;
    (2) Cocaine: Urine, 150 ng/ml; blood,
    50 ng/ml;
    (3) Cocaine metabolite: Urine, 150 ng/
    ml; blood, 50 ng/ml;
    (4) Heroin: Urine, 2,000 ng/ml; blood,
    50 ng/ml;
    (5) Heroin metabolite:
    (i) Morphine: Urine, 2,000 ng/ml;
    blood, 50 ng/ml;
    (ii) 6-monoacetyl morphine: Urine, 10
    ng/ml; blood, 10 ng/ml;
    (6) Lysergic acid diethylamide: Urine,
    25 ng/ml; blood, 10 ng/ml;
    (7) Marijuana: Urine, 10 ng/ml; blood,
    2 ng/ml;
    (8) Marijuana metabolite: Urine, 15
    ng/ml; blood, 5 ng/ml;
    (9) Methamphetamine: Urine, 500 ng/
    ml; blood, 100 ng/ml;
    (10) Phencyclidine: Urine, 25 ng/ml;
    blood, 10 ng/ml;

    • Jason Lun

      June 29, 2017 at 10:24 pm

      Just to throw in a small sample, from (good or bad – had some good referenced info):

      Why a 5 ng/ml THC Limit is Bad Public Policy – and the Case for Tandem per se DUID Legislation:

      Page 4:
      (…)
      marijuana’s THC is unlike alcohol chemically, biologically, and metabolically. As a result,
      what works for alcohol does not necessarily work for THC. There is no level of THC in blood
      above which everyone is impaired and below which no one is impaired. This is not due to a lack
      of research. It is due to chemistry and biology. It is not due to politics. It is due to science.
      Neither THC nor alcohol impairs blood, breath, urine, or oral fluid. These drugs impair the brain.
      We test for alcohol in blood as a surrogate for testing the brain. Blood tests are very easy, and
      breath tests are even easier. Testing the brain requires an autopsy which is far less convenient, to say the least. For alcohol, blood is an excellent surrogate because it is a small water soluble
      molecule that rapidly establishes a concentration equilibrium in highly perfused tissues
      throughout the body.

      For some drugs, especially marijuana’s THC that is of great popular concern, blood is a terrible
      surrogate to learn what is in the brain. That is because THC is not highly soluble in blood. THC
      prefers fatty tissues like the brain, heart, lungs and liver. THC is quickly removed from the blood
      stream as it is absorbed into the brain and other fatty organs and tissues. Even though the
      metabolic half-life of THC is estimated to be over four days, more than 90% of THC is cleared
      from blood within the first hour after smoking marijuana (Huestis et al. 1992; Toennes et al.
      2008). See Figure 1. Furthermore, that clearance rate is so highly variable from one individual to
      another that retrograde extrapolation to estimate blood levels of THC at a prior time cannot be
      done reliably, as is commonly done with alcohol.
      (…)

      Page 6:
      (…)
      2. Blood levels of THC are lower than brain levels of THC
      Mura compared THC levels in blood and in the brain in a series of autopsies. There was more
      THC in the brain than in the blood in 100% of the subjects. Significant levels of THC were
      found in the brain even when none could be detected in the blood (Mura et al. 2005).
      So even if we knew the blood level of THC at the time of the incident, this would tell us
      absolutely nothing about the drug level of THC in the brain, the only place where it really
      Matters.
      (…)

      3. Tolerance results in varying levels of impairment at the same blood level
      (…)
      So even if we knew the drug level in the brain, this tells us nothing about the level of impairment
      of the individual.
      (…)

      Page 16
      Conclusion
      Autopilot mentalities and a lack of scientific understanding have caused many state legislators to
      support scientifically-invalid 5 ng/ml THC per se laws. Impairment by other drugs is thereby
      ignored, as is polydrug abuse…

      Page 17
      The American Automobile Association concluded, “The data do not support science-based
      per se limits for THC” (Logan, 2016).

  10. Pablo Zissou

    June 28, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    Wow. Sweet #FakeNews!

    How does one logically glean that from the Federal Register notice??!!

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