Why TomorrowWorld Could Be the Future of Festivals in the U.S.

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September 27, 2013 - By Stefanie Jones

It could be the start of something big.

Like thousands of others, I’m headed down to Atlanta, Georgia this weekend for the TomorrowWorld festival, a large three-day electronic music event modeled after the hugely successful Tomorrowland held in Europe each year.  Unlike most everybody else, I’m there to work.  I’ve been invited to be part of the onsite team of DanceSafe volunteers who will be providing a range of health and safety information to festivalgoers, most especially about drug use.

Drug use at festivals is top of mind right now following the two highly publicized deaths at the beginning of this month connected to New York’s Electric Zoo event.  That these deaths were first rumored and then confirmed to be related to molly use has only fed the media cycle, with numerous stories asking, “What is “molly”?  Why is it dangerous?  And what are we doing about it?”

What’s remarkable is that so many of them (like a blog post of mine, but also here, here and here, for example) have outright called for a more open discussion about drug use at festivals, with emphasis placed on providing accurate, non-judgmental information about drugs and their effects, particularly molly (which, if you’re following along at home, can be pure MDMA; it can also be MDMA cut with other substances, most commonly those from a class called cathinones, of which mephedrone and methylone are prevalent, aka “bath salts”).

Those stories – and the general public sentiment they reflect – have had an incredible impact.  Whether the promoters of TomorrowWorld, ID & T, were reading the same headlines as the rest of us, or perhaps are just more accustomed to the inclusion of drug education and harm reduction at events (which is much more common in Europe), they reached out to DanceSafe, the U.S.’s only group providing such services for the electronic music community, to set up at this weekend’s festival.

When I wrote that maybe having more specific harm reduction-oriented information about drug use onsite at a festival might help to prevent future deaths, I didn’t think I’d see it happen less than a month later.

But that’s how fast things are moving right now.  And for whatever reasons it came together, the partnership between ID & T and DanceSafe is an important first step toward addressing the issue of drug use at festivals head on.  It’s a model for prioritizing the health and safety of festivalgoers – even in the context of a “zero tolerance” drug policy environment.  It’s one step closer to some kind of workable compromise when our laws are not always in line with reality.

We have to keep that in mind no matter what happens at TomorrowWorld.  With my deepest and most heartfelt sincerity I hope that every single attendee is able to drag themselves home on Monday exhausted but happy, fulfilled and safe.  But no matter what, I hope the people who are inspired to participate in the festival experience and understand what it’s about will keep pushing for honesty, compassion and responsibility from all participants: promoter, city officials, advocates and fans.

Stefanie Jones is the event manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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