Pubdate: Sat, 30 Jun 2001
Source: Nevada Appeal (NV)
Copyright: 2001 Nevada Appeal
Author: Guy W. Farmer
Note: Guy W. Farmer is a semi-retired journalist and former U.S.


Kristina Malsberger, a former senior editor for the California State
Automobile Association magazine, "Via," has written an article about the
annual Burning Man event without mentioning drugs. That's like writing a
Bill Clinton biography without mentioning Monica Lewinsky. 

Ms. Malsberger's article is titled "Hot Times at Burning Man," but a
more accurate title would have been "High Times at Burning Man." 

Just in case you think I'm exaggerating illegal drug use at Burning Man,
let's look at the facts. Over the Labor Day weekend this "experiment in
communal living" (their language) will attract between 25,000 and 30,000
neo-hippies from San Francisco, Seattle and other centers of urban
enlightenment to the Black Rock Desert north of Gerlach on the far
western edge of Pershing County, where law enforcement is minimal. 

If the "artistic" event attracts 27,500 people at $175 per head (a
conservative estimate), festival organizer Larry Harvey and his cronies
will gross nearly $5 million and pay approximately $500,000 to their
co-conspirator, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, in usage fees. Which
helps to explain why BLM officials turn a blind eye to massive drug
consumption on public lands in our state. 

And why are so many "free spirits" willing to pay such high prices in
order to spend four or five days baking in the Nevada desert? One reason
might be the ready availability of a cornucopia of psychedelic drugs. 

Although the Burning Man Web site generally avoids the subject of drugs,
related websites aren't nearly as careful. After visiting Gerlach and
the Black Rock Desert last month, I did some Internet research and
quickly came across an informative electronic publication. "Piss Clear,"
which describes itself as Burning Man's only alternative newspaper,
offers a helpful "drug guide to the playa" as follows: 

n Acid: "Depending on the particular strength of the LSD you're using,
frying in the desert can produce either a really great trip, or freak
you out beyond belief." (Note: More on LSD below). 

n Ecstasy (an illegal "designer drug"): "This is the Piss Clear staff's
substance of choice for the Black Rock Desert. It's a real head-opening
experience ... In general, you feel 'more alive' and 'full of love.'" 

n Crystal Meth: "With so much cool stuff going on this weekend, who
wants to sleep? If this is how you feel, then crystal meth might be your
drug of choice." 

n Heroin: "Although currently in vogue, smack just doesn't seem very
appropriate out here in the desert." Thanks a lot! 

In 1999, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published an article quoting an
on-site physician, Dr. Jim Allen, on the growing popularity of GHB
(gamma hydroxy butaric acid), a respiratory depressant. "We're seeing a
lot of GHB this year," Dr. Allen told the P-I. "They're mixing it with
everything from alcohol to mushrooms." 

The doctor said 660 revelers had been treated at Burning Man's medical
clinic, "most of them for heat and drug-related injuries." 

And so on. I'm sure you get the idea. But if not, let's consider what
may be the largest LSD bust in Nevada history, which took place at
Burning Man's Black Rock City on Sept. 3, 1998, when Gerlach Justice of
the Peace Phil Thomas signed a search warrant that led to the seizure of
a half-million dollars worth of LSD - more than 100,000 doses - by the
Nevada Division of Investigations. 

At least two California drug dealers were arrested and convicted, but
the press hardly noticed. Although Burning Man generates hundreds of
cases in federal, state and local courts, most of them are ignored by
the press. Hey, it's way out in the middle of nowhere and no one will
notice, or care. 

And then there are the young children who are exposed to widespread
adult nudity, and worse, if you know what I mean. The festival's own
coffee table book, "Burning Man," published in 1997 by HardWired (Get
it?) Books of San Francisco, is replete with nude photos and contains an
essay by participant Bruce Sterling on how much his 9-year-old daughter
enjoyed the festivities, especially those "drum-pounding maniacs in the
grip of hallucinogens." 

For its part, Piss Clear notes that "once upon a time, it was pretty
rare to see children at Burning Man.... But as the festival gets more
popular ... it's obvious that the playa has become a playground." Piss
Clear also advises that "kids can get in for free, but only if you put
them in the trunk" and that "while you take drugs and wander around the
desert, avoid losing track of your youngsters." Think about it. 

Finally, a group of conservationists led by John Bogard, owner of Planet
X Pottery in Gerlach, has formed the Black Rock Rescue organization to
protest the cumulative ecological damage caused by Burning Man. 

Last August, Black Rock Rescue appealed BLM's approval of the 2000
event, asserting that the desert would be "substantially and irreparably
impaired" by the negative environmental impacts of tens of thousands of
festival-goers and their vehicles, and requesting that BLM be required
to prepare a full-scale environmental impact statement. 

Nearly a year later, the group's document is buried beneath a pile of
3,000 appeals in the Interior Department's Office of Hearings and
Appeals in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the BLM continues to stonewall
and parrots Burning Man's description of this drugfest as a
"non-traditional form of outdoor recreation." 

Yesterday morning, a group of Nevada politicians and federal bureaucrats
gathered north of Gerlach to congratulate themselves for "saving" the
Black Rock Desert as part of a new National Conservation Area. Their
boast will be a hollow one, however, until they summon the courage to
send Burning Man back to the Bay Area, where it belongs.
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MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk