It’s one hell of a festival, I’ll tell you that. But like everything else in life, Burning Man — that week-long gathering… okay, party at the playa — comes with certain consequences, especially if you don’t behave. As a drug attorney in Reno, my first advise would really be for you “Burners” to behave, but if you do plan on misbehaving (tsk, tsk) then you should at least be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.
Contrary to popular belief, Burning Man is not an event where anything goes. It may look like it, what with nearly 70,000 free-spirited Burners scattered across the Black Rock Desert, but make no mistake: There will be law enforcement patrolling the grounds. We’re talking DEA agents, FBI agents, and other police officers. Some of them even go undercover, mingling with the crowd and just waiting for the right time to bust you even for minor infractions.
Just how serious is law enforcement at Burning Man? Take a look at last year’s numbers. In 2015, the Pershing Country Sheriff’s Office (one of the entities responsible for policing the event, along with the Bureau of Land Management and Washoe County) reported 41 Burning Man arrests. That’s 600% more arrests than in 2014! Forty six percent (46%) of those arrests were for trafficking of a controlled substance, the most serious narcotics crime in Nevada, so let’s go over that.
Different Drug Charges at Burning Man
Disabuse yourself of the notion that drugs are legal at Burning Man. They are not. People who do drugs at Burning Man – whether it’s possessing, making, or selling them – do so at their own risk. For the sake of awareness and information, here’s what you can get charged with:
- Possession for personal use. Legally, this is defined as “unlawful possession not for purpose of sale.” This occurs when a person owns or has in his possession controlled substances without lawful prescription. This is the least serious of narcotics offenses.
- Drug possession for purpose of sale. Legally, this is defined as “unlawful possession for sale.” This occurs when a person possesses a controlled substance with the intent to sell it. This law penalizes individuals for a sale that hasn’t even happened yet. Intent is hard to prove, but in my career as a drug attorney in Reno, I’ve witnessed people being charged with this offense even when they never intended to sell drugs.
- Sale of a controlled substance. This covers any kind of sale, transport, or distribution of a controlled substance. Unlike the second type of drug charge mentioned previously, which focuses on just the intent, this offense happens when a law enforcement official actually witnesses the sale.
- Trafficking of a controlled substance. Legally, this is defined as the “trafficking in controlled substances” where a person deliberately sells, manufactures, or delivers into the state of Nevada large quantities of Schedule I or Schedule II drugs. Schedule I drugs include Heroin, Acid (LSD), Ecstasy, PCP, and Marijuana. Schedule II drugs include Cocaine, Meth, Adderall, Ritalin, OxyContin, and Methadone.
Penalties for Drug Charges at Burning Man
Here’s a very important piece of information: Burning Man arrests have been handled locally for some time now. This means that Burners who are arrested are subject to state laws, and the state of Nevada has some very harsh penalties for drug offenses, from hefty fines to incarceration.
Penalties for drug crimes in Nevada vary and depend on the type and amount of controlled substance in one’s possession. The intent to sell or the actual sale of controlled substances are also huge factors. For instance, if you’re a first-time offender found in possession of less than an ounce of weed, you get no jail time, but you do need to cough up $600 to pay the fine. On the other hand, if you’re a repeat offender found to be selling less than 100 lbs of weed, that would be a felony and you would be facing 3 to 15 years of jail time.
A lot of Burners who are charged with misdemeanors feel like their only option is to pay the fine and move on. And then there are those who are charged with a felony and facing hefty fines or the threat of incarceration. If you fall under any of these scenarios, always remember that you have another option: Get a good attorney and fight the charges. A lawyer who knows what he’s doing (and has the track record to prove it) will know what kind of defense strategies to employ to get the charges reduced or dismissed.
Busted for a drug offense? Contact Richard P. Davies, a seasoned drug attorney in Reno, to evaluate your case.