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Feature: Summer's Here and the Time is Right for... Getting Busted Going to the Festival (If You're Not Careful)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #538)

With Memorial Day now just a memory, the summer music festival season is on -- and with it, special drug law enforcement aimed at festival goers in what could be called a form of cultural profiling. If years past are any indicator, music lovers should be prepared to encounter everything from announced "Drug Checkpoints" that aren't -- they are instead traps to lure the freaked out -- to real, unconstitutional, highway drug checkpoints masquerading as "safety checks" (complete with drug dogs) to undercover cops working inside the festival grounds themselves.

Richard Anderson, via
Nationally known festivals like Bonaroo in Tennessee and Wakarusa in Kansas, as well as countless lesser festivals, especially in rural areas, have drawn special law enforcement efforts in the past. With this year unlikely to be any different, festival goers will need to know their rights and how to exercise them when they encounter the cops.

The police enforcement actions are already getting underway. Last weekend, the 2008 Summer Camp Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois, drew some 13,000 fans to hear a diverse line-up of bands including the Flaming Lips, George Clinton & Parliament/Funkadelic, Blind Melon, the Roots, and the New Pornographers. It also drew city and state police, who claimed 20 drug arrests -- for marijuana, ecstasy, and LSD -- between them in and around the festival.

The police were pleased. "I think a lot of it had to do with all of the agencies getting together before the event and really planning out our attack," Chillicothe Police Chief Steven Maurer told local HOI-19 TV News. "Our goal is to prevent it from coming in and that's what we did a lot of."

Meanwhile, down in northeast Georgia, some other law enforcement agencies had also gotten together to plan an attack. This one wasn't aimed directly at concert-goers, but at the highway-traveling public in general. In what the Northeast Georgian described as "one of the county's largest highway interdiction and safety checks in at least five years," personnel from the Habersham County Sheriff's Office, Northeast Georgia Drug Task Force, Georgia National Guard Counter Drug Task Force, Georgia State Patrol, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Department of Public Safety Motor Carrier Compliance Unit, Lee Arrendale State Prison, Phillips State Prison and Cornelia Police Department participated in a 24-hour checkpoint on a local highway.

Police bragged about the success of their checkpoint, which netted 74 arrests, 31 of them for drug offenses. "It worked well, I thought," said Habersham County Sheriff De Ray Fincher. "The operation resulted in a seizure of $36,000 in illegal drugs. And a total amount of currency, drugs and vehicles seized is estimated to have a value of $82,000."

Police did write some tickets for traffic offenses, Fincher told WNEG-TV 32 News. "We got a lot of people with no insurance, no driver's license or suspended license," he said. And some pot smokers: "The majority of our cases were marijuana cases; however, we did get several methamphetamine and we got one case of cocaine," Fincher explained.

In a 2000 Supreme Court decision, Indianapolis v. Edmonds, the high court held that indiscriminate highway drug checkpoints were unconstitutional since motorists were being stopped without suspicion for a law enforcement -- not a public safety -- purpose.

But Fincher was open about his constitutionally-suspect highway checkpoint. "We are trying to do everything we can to prevent drug activity in Habersham County, whether it's just passing through or stopping here," he said, noting that drug arrests in the county were on the rise. "That just means we've taken a real aggressive approach to drug enforcement."

"In the wake of the Indianapolis case, law enforcement has tried to figure out ways to still conduct drug checkpoints that comport with that ruling," said Adam Wolf of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. "Intent is the name of the game. If the intent is to conduct a checkpoint basically for law enforcement purposes, that's not okay. If it's for public safety purposes, such as sobriety checkpoints, that is okay."

A constitutional challenge to any given checkpoint would turn on intent, said Wolf. "If it turns out the intent was primarily to be a drug checkpoint, that would be an unreasonable search and not comply with the Constitution," he said. "That kind of checkpoint should be shut down, but it would take someone to challenge it."

Noting Sheriff Fincher's report of cash and goods seized, Wolf suggested the purpose of the checkpoints could really be about something other than law enforcement or public safety. "So often these things are being done to fund law enforcement agencies. Asset forfeiture is really a cash cow," he said.

Whether the checkpoints or other special law enforcement tactics are to raise money, wage the drug war, or indeed for "public safety," experts consulted by the Chronicle sang a remarkably similar song: Be prepared, don't be stupid, and don't give away your rights.

"The most efficient way to get arrested for marijuana possession short of blowing pot smoke in an officer's face is to smoke marijuana while driving or parked in your car, especially on the way to a festival," said Steven Silverman of the civil liberties group Flex Your Rights, which has released a video instructing people how to flex theirs. "You have a minimal expectation of privacy, and it reeks. Officers can smell it, and if they can smell it, that's probable cause to search you."

"Keep your private items out of view," recommended the ACLU's Wolf. A baggie full of weed on the front seat is all the probable cause an officer needs to search the vehicle and arrest the owner.

car search
"The only sure thing to do is not to carry," said Keith Stroup, founder and currently senior counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "But the problem with that is there may or may not be good marijuana available at the festivals. If you're going to bring something with you, keep the quantity as small as possible, and for God's sake, don't smoke in the car!"

If you are stopped at a checkpoint (or pulled over for any reason) and you haven't provided police probable cause to search you or your vehicle, now is the time to exercise your rights. People in such situations should be polite but assertive, the experts said.

"If you are pulled over by police for any reason, the officers are very likely to ask you to consent to a search," said Silverman. "Don't do it. Never, ever consent under any circumstances. It might be couched in terms of a command, but it is a request. If you consent, you are waiving your Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. They won't 'go easier' on you; anything they find, they will confiscate, and arrest you and put you in jail. Don't do their job for them."

"There is no circumstance I can imagine where you should ever consent to a search," agreed NORML's Stroup. "If you give permission, you waive your Fourth Amendment protections. They may say it'll go easier if you cooperate, but that's bullshit. Their only reason for being there is to see if you have contraband and arrest you and put you in jail if you do."

"Just say no to warrantless searches," echoed the ACLU's Wolf. "Officers won't tell you you have the right not to consent, but you do, and it is one that people have held dear since the founding of the Republic."

There are other highway hazards for the unwary festival-goer. Law enforcement can be creative in its unending war on drug users and sellers.

"Anybody driving to see his favorite band should also be aware of fake drug checkpoints," said Silverman. "Drug checkpoints are unconstitutional, but what some sheriffs will do close to festival sites is set up a big 'Drug Checkpoint Ahead' sign, and then watch who turns off the highway at the next ramp or who throws something out his car window. Then they pull them over for littering or failure to signal a lane change or something. If you see such a sign, keep driving -- it's a bluff designed to see who it scares."

"When you see a sign like that, proceed ahead within the speed limit, driving safely through the area," advised Wolf.

Wolf has problems with the harassment of festival-goers that run deeper than particular law enforcement tactics. "Profiling based on race is not okay, profiling based on gender is not okay, and profiling based on the type of concert you attend is not okay," he said. "It's unreasonable and unjustifiable for police to target a group of people because they are going to any particular type of concert."

"Simply having a Grateful Dead sticker or dreadlocks doesn't constitute reasonable suspicion of anything," agreed Silverman.

But in the real world, it can. Festival-goers and other highway travelers need to be aware of their rights, as well as the realities of life in the contemporary US, as they hit the highway this summer.

And one last thing once you actually make it to the festival. "There's a big myth out there that police officers must reveal if they're an undercover cop," said Silverman. "That's wrong, and it's stupid to believe that. Police officers can and do legally lie in doing their jobs. Believing that has probably led to thousands of people being arrested."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Lets vote for people like Ron Paul and run for office ourselves and end this tyranny that this current fascist regime government has us living under. GET INFORMED! GET INVOLVED! Call your state rep's and demand an end to the war on drugs!

Fri, 05/30/2008 - 2:06pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

They have a new commissioner, Julian Fantino, with nebulous connections to organized crime. (Guess it's really about the market after all!) Anyway, last year, they set up a supposed "drunk driving" checkpoint to catch Ontario Hempfest goers. Inside word has it this was one of Julie's pet projects.

Fri, 05/30/2008 - 4:01pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

i always wondered about how police can lie and it is leagle .how and why do judges take testimony from known liars .when exactlty do the police stop lieing .and the truth starts

Fri, 05/30/2008 - 5:47pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

if i was to lie to a cop, i can be arrested. How can they have the right to lie to us? there suppost to be enforcing the law, not breaking it.i guess it isnt illegal. if they can lie to us to entrap us, how can they charge us with interfearence in an investigation or what ever. PLEASE, someone explain this to me.

Wed, 06/11/2008 - 11:31am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

As the story goes,,,Once you give it to them, it's hard to take it back.

It's time to slow the money tree down from growing. If you don't give it so much water, it wont grow as fast. Stop the massive anti-drug funding efforts that have anything to do with marijuana, medical or not, and law enforcement all around the country will be able to get back to fighting crimes of violence that are not all drug related. The "Land of the Free" needs to mean what it stands for. Change the controlled substance act. THAT would be a great start. Something needs to change. It's well known the current war as we call it, was lost long ago. It was lost in the name of justice and to those that profit from it. It's really a no brainer...TIME FOR CHANGE!

Fri, 05/30/2008 - 8:11pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I worked the gates of Bonnaroo last year as gate security, gathering all the bottles, contraband, etc. that was taken and locking it up. The number one thing every supervisor emphasized was that we were only interested in arrests for people with obvious for-sale quantities. If someone came in with personal use amounts, we had several options. We COULD confiscate it, which was usually due to a poor attitude or outright lying from the owner. We could tell them to turn around and go hide it somewhere, and come back without it. We could turn them over to the local police and ATF agents parked directly across from the main entrance, which was for some of the more serious offenders who reacted with violence (one man attempted to run over a supervisor with his truck) or tried to bring in tens of thousands of dollars worth of drugs of all kinds. Or, if you were just a friendly, agreeable person, didn't cause any trouble, and weren't searched by a supervisor personally, we could simply let you through.

The point is this: If you're going to a festival where there is obvious security involved, don't be a jerk. If you have to be a jerk, get high before you get there and be smart enough not to bring anything else.

Sun, 06/01/2008 - 1:25am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

"Being a jerk" = asserting your property rights as a human being, and refusing to comply with an out-of-control police state's illegal searches?

...Funny, I thought that was being American.

Best figure it all out and vote Libertarian, now and in 2012,2016, and 2020. Wayne Root has given us the gift of a 20 year assault on the police state. We're no longer limited to getting into the race too late to matter. Let's use that gift, and start contributing to his campaign (that promises to defund and abolish the DEA).

Also: gives you the tools you need to survive voir dire in court. Your lawyer is barred. The second the judge threatens him with disbarment (and the loss of his career) he will shut up and abandon constitutional arguments that could save you.

If you want to fight the man, you'd better learn those arguments yourself. If we reinstate the practice of informing the jury of their right to veto bad laws, and thus prevent unjust punishments, we thereby protect every individual right. They are available here:

I also recommend that any dumbass liberals here figure out that gun rights = drug rights = property rights. By separating those two groups, the government has weakened its opposition. ALL DRUG USERS should always carry concealed weapons whenever they are not carrying drugs.

(Unless, of course, you're skilled enough to kill everyone and get away, in which case you should definitely carry protection when you're carrying. After all, the cops are willing to ruin your life for no reason: they should at least occasionally be shown the same contempt from private citizens.)

Let's all be jerks this 4th of July, and contribute to Wayne Root's VP website. He is Bob Barr's running mate. For those of you who don't know the weird story, Barr is a former drug warrior who lost his office due to Ron Crickenberger, at the Libertarian Party. Ron ran a bunch of ads criticizing Barr for being drug warrior slime, and it actually seems to have shook some sense into Barr.

After the ads successfully pushed Barr out of office, Barr decided that he lost office for a good reason, and reversed his position on the drug war. He's now running for pres on the LP ticket.

Vote for him.

It will make the LP a major party, and will help bring about the speedy end of the drug war. If you can't contribute to a former drug warrior, send the money here: (it will still go to Barr-Root in '08 if it's contributed before Nov 4, 2008, but it will send the message to Barr that you disagree vehemently with his prior positions. Perhaps he will speak out more against the entire drug war, instead of simply legalizing marijuana, as he has been.)

Let's adopt a unified strategy towards freedom. There's not much time left.

The best book for people unfamiliar with guns to read is "Unintended Consequences" by John Ross. The book "The New Prohibition" ed. Bill Masters also has an essay by Ross titled: "How Drug Laws Hurt Gun Owners"

Worth every penny!

-The Free Juror

Sun, 06/01/2008 - 7:43am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Get high before you get there? Bonaroo is a three day camping festival...lots of people get there by driving from nearby states or even flying into a nearby airport and renting a car. A pot high lasts, what, three hours? So smoke at home before taking a plane or driving to Bonaroo (it's also recommended in TFA **not** to be smoking in the car before you hit the "safety" roadblocks) and what? You're surely not going to be high when you're finally at the festival and at the actual concert.

And you just said that your job is to take salable drugs away from customers so that they will have none to sell on site to the people who follow your directions to leave their drugs at home and make your and the police's job easier, by not being "jerks".

Well, I guess the only way you can go to Bonoroo and not be a "jerk" in your terms would be to attend Bonaroo stone sober. I understand why that would make the lives of the Bonaroo promoters easier and be one less problem between "hold festival" and "deposit large profits in bank", but something tells me you haven't thought your modest proposal through.

In part because it's unreaslistic and hypocritical. And in part because you are calling most of your faithful, paying customers "jerks" for wanting to smoke a little pot at a rock and roll show, something that was done before the authorities started cracking down recently and even thinking they were going to successfully "push back" on marijuana like they are doing with tobacco.

Anyway, these are just words. You were just a "yellowshirt" local security doing your job, doing what they told you. But "they" (security supervisors) don't really know what's going on either. If you want to see what direction things are going in, check out the Wakarusa festival (Lawsrence, KS) which had a near death experience after playing footsie with some big brother type law enforcement types who thought that high-tech surveillance techniques could beat drug dealers at concerts. When the news of that came out, the festival was on life-support and fan probation and that mistake was not repeated last year...and the promoter had to eat some serious crow!

Tue, 06/03/2008 - 2:03pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified) - Stories about more defenseless, cowardly, pathetic sheep getting fleeced here. (Mixed in with a few stories of heroes, usually in other countries ---like the UK--- that have more of a history of standing up for the individual than the USA does.)

Sun, 06/01/2008 - 8:02am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Whatever happened to the day when cops would rather work a Grateful Dead concert than a baseball game? I really do think the guy at a game drinking a few beers could cause more trouble than a guy getting lethargic listening to a Pink Floyd tribute band. If you want things to be safe, just let everyone get lethargic and you won't have any trouble I mean come on it really is common sense.

Sun, 06/08/2008 - 5:38am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

What about someone underage coming to bonnaroo with booze? Do they even ask for ID?

Tue, 06/10/2008 - 3:18pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I just reviewed the video "busted", while it contains very good advice, you should not rely on a police officer's truthfulness about the situation surrounding the arrest. In the judge's eyes testimony by one lying officer is worth a hundred truths told by witnesses. It was in plain sight !!!

Sat, 07/05/2008 - 6:31pm Permalink

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