RENO — Nevada has legalized recreational marijuana, but it’s still not OK for tens of thousands of Burning Man fans to light up this year.
“The broader public — including those that go to Burning Man — seem to think that at Burning Man, anything goes,” said Rebecca Gasca, CEO of the Reno-based cannabis consulting firm Pistil and Stigma.
Voters in the state passed a marijuana legalization measure in 2016, and sales began at retail stores on July 1.
But consumption is allowed only in private and even possession remains illegal on federal lands, including the stretch of Black Rock Desert managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management where the counter-culture festival began Sunday and continues through the weekend about 100 miles north of Reno.
“You’re not exempt from the law at Burning Man, and that is doubly true this year,” festival spokeswoman Megan Miller told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
BLM officials say a pot possession arrest can result in a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. But federal agents made no arrests for any crimes last year at Burning Man, or the year before.
Pershing County sheriff’s deputies, who also have legal jurisdiction at the event, arrested approximately four dozen people last year, about three dozen of them on drug-related charges, Sheriff Jerry Allen said. He said the most common drug found at Burning Man last year was marijuana, followed by cocaine, ecstasy and acid.
This year, Allen said his deputies will follow state law letting people possess up to one 1 ounce of pot. He said discovery of more than an ounce of marijuana or more than an eighth-ounce of marijuana concentrate can result in a citation or arrest.
Providing alcohol or drugs to a minor and drug trafficking also are illegal and can carry heavier punishments, he said.
“If they show up with a hay bale of marijuana, it’s definitely going to be more than a citation. It’s going to be up to the discretion of the officer,” Allen told the newspaper.
In addition, due to the danger posed to oneself and others on the road, anyone who is believed to be under the influence of any controlled substance, based on probable cause, is subject to arrest. Some attendees will be subject to vehicle searches, which may be aided by K-9 units from both the BLM and the sheriff’s office.
Participants may refuse law enforcement searches of their vehicles, but refusal of searches requested by Burning Man volunteers at the entry gate can result in denied entry.