LA County Task Force Discusses Harm Reduction Policies & The Future of Dance Music Events

Los Angeles County Electronic Music Festival Task Force meets to talk strategy for dance music events in the LA county
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Masha Lukashenko
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Los Angeles County Electronic Music Festival Task Force meets to talk strategy for dance music events in the LA county
Crowd / Credit: Chris Robinson

Crowd / Credit: Chris Robinson

This past Thursday evening was the fourth meeting of the Los Angeles County Electronic Music Festival Task Force. The task force was assembled in response to the tragic fatalities at the HARD Summer festival earlier in the year. The purpose was to assist in advising the LA County Board of Supervisors on whether electronic dance music festivals should be allowed to take place in Los Angeles along with other general safety measures that can be enforced.

The meeting was led by Janine Jordan, founder and executive director of the Electronic Music Alliance (EMA) and had presentations from Executive Director of DanceSafe Missi Wooldridge, Professor of Criminology at California State University, Long Beach Dina Perrone and CEO of the Association for Electronic Music Mark Lawrence. Present at the meeting, but not presenting was also, Emanuel Sferios, the founder of DanceSafe in 1998.

In Emanuel Sferios’ reflection of the meeting he wrote,

“Electronic dance music has become a multi-billion dollar industry, bringing much revenue and economic growth to the counties where EDM festivals are held. Long gone are the days where EDM was just a small counter-culture. With Justin Bieber making stage appearances at EMD festivals (for better or worse), nobody in the room seemed to harbor any illusions that a late-90s-style crackdown of EDM is going to make the culture go away. As one First Amendment lawyer in the room said during public comment, ‘If you prohibit these events on county property, they’re just going to happen elsewhere.”

The recommendations coming from the EDM community touched upon alternative harm reduction methods in lieu of the zero-tolerance policies most commonly enforced. The law enforcement in attendance had a unison concern for appearing to condone drug usage if they loosened up the drug regulations at events. Props were given to The Pomona Police for creating and distributing flyers with some decent harm reduction tactics, but as Sferios points out, much of the information in regards to MDMA was done in ”reefer-madness-style propaganda.”

It is understandable that no one wanted to be accused of encouraging drug usage, but offering up information to the attendees who have already had first-hand experience with MDMA (or any drug) will create distrust in the information provided. At this point, it doesn’t matter if the information is accurate or useful, they will just choose to ignore it on the basis of fear tactics from the local council.

The meeting ended with the mention of the RAVE Act of 2003 which was created “to prohibit an individual from knowingly opening, maintaining, managing, controlling, renting, leasing, making available for use, or profiting from any place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance, and for other purpose.” Many promoters and festival events have blamed the RAVE Act as the reason for their inability to allow harm reduction organizations such as DanceSafe to be allowed on the grounds (you can read my op-ed about that).

“As a stumbling block to harm reduction, it was the first time I head city officials (rather than promoters) say they can’t implement harm reduction measures in the most effective way due to the existence of the Act. This even came from police representatives. It was as if they were justifying a zero-tolerance approach because, well, federal legislation is forcing them to do it.” Sferios points out how he found it to be a flimsy excuse as to enforcing the zero-tolerance policy and make little effort to find alternative methods. He retaliated by stating that the language was vague enough that it didn’t forbid any specific harm reduction service.

To sum it all up, no it is not likely that the LA Board of Supervisors will ban all EDM festivals in the future. The RAVE Act of 2003 needs to be amended and reflect the inclusion of alternative harm reduction services and lastly, the stigma of “encouraging drug usage” needs to be irradiated. As the saying goes, kids will be kids. They will do what they want with or without your assistance so the best possible way of protecting is handing them the information in a manner that they can trust so that they can make well-informed decisions.

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