Blog Post

Why Can't Los Angeles Get It Together When It Comes to Festivals and Drug Use?

Stefanie Jones

I really thought this was going to be a celebratory blog post.

This past Tuesday, on March 1, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously not to ban EDM events and instead adopt a series of health and safety recommendations on a case-by-case basis for all events over 10,000 attendees on county property.

Sounds great, right?  But is this actually a de facto ban in disguise?  And even if not – why the hell are LA County venues refusing to book electronic music events?  Even San Bernardino County looks to be getting in on this mess.

The recommendations came as a result of the Electronic Music Festival Task Force, led by the LA Department of Health and including a diverse group of community partners (including the Drug Policy Alliance and Electronic Music Alliance), as well as medical and law enforcement representatives.

This process mirrors one that happened six years ago, and having played a role in both Task Forces I have to say: the 2010 recommendations were good, but – aside from a couple that still rely on ineffective enforcement strategies like searches and drug sniffing dogs – the 2016 recommendations are better.  They include provisions for drug education via as many sources as possible, involvement of community and peer groups, free water and earplugs and designated cool-down areas.  It’s a huge win to see across-the-board agreement on these efforts from all Task Force participants.

So why am I worried?

It seems like there may not even be a chance to see these recommendations put into action.

Right on the heels of the Board of Supervisors’ decision being made, stories started to come out mentioning that two major LA County venues – Whittier Narrows and the Pomona Fairplex – were not booking electronic music events in 2016.

Aside from strongly smacking of a 1st Amendment violation, this is a huge disappointment.  We finally have all the players at the table and a strong plan to reduce deaths and hospitalizations, not just at electronic music events, but all events, and now the venues are refusing to allow the opportunity?

It’s so short-sighted and terrible.

Not that it would have been a slam dunk even without this obstacle – it still remains to be seen how the LA County ordinance for events will be written and enforced.  It’s meant to be based on California state legislation AB74, also known as the Concert and Music Festivals Safety Act.  Coincidentally (or not?) this law also started its life as a rave ban before switching focus.  It requires events on state property to submit an “event action plan” before potentially requiring additional safety measures including “educational pamphlets” about the risks of the event.

Sounds great, but the problem is, that law has never been used for the seeming opportunity it provides to finally get some real drug education and harm reduction going.  And incidentally, “raves” are still banned at Cow Palace, the venue that was the site of deaths that instigated the original AB74 legislation.

I’m going to have some tough questions for the LA County Board of Supervisors – because I’ve been burned before.  The 2010 Task Force recommendations, which also seemed great at the time, were squashed just after they began to be implemented.

We can’t let that happen again.  Electronic music events are a vibrant and valuable part of Southern California’s culture, and we have a clear way to make them better and safer for everyone.

LA County – and its venues – has a second chance to work together to make this happen.  Let’s make sure they get it right this time!

Stefanie Jones is the director of audience development for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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