Burning Man Settles Lawsuit with Pershing County, Nev.

Gavel
A gavel.

[Editor’s Note: The AP has published a retraction and correction of its original story, which incorrectly stated the facts of the case.]

San Francisco, CA. – Black Rock City, LLC and Pershing County have reached a settlement of all issues of the lawsuit brought by BRC last year. Associated court documents were filed in U.S. District Court in Reno, Nevada last week. The parties are now waiting for the federal district to approve the settlement in a hearing scheduled for this coming Monday, November 18th.

“This is a very favorable outcome for all parties,” said Raymond Allen, Government Affairs Representative for BRC. “The terms address all of BRC’s and the County’s concerns.”

The settlement agreement spans ten years and is designed to cover all of Pershing County’s costs and impacts related to the Burning Man event, while also preserving participant freedoms protected by the First Amendment. The agreement is based on integration of operations of the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) law enforcement command.

The cost structure is based on a schedule that accounts for population changes and inflation. If the agreement had been in place for the 2013 event, the payment to Pershing County would have been $240,000. It is too soon in the planning cycle to know precisely what the cost will be for 2014, but BRC expects the cost to be in a similar range in future years.

2013 was the first year that BLM and the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office integrated their command structures. “We are grateful to both BLM and the County for making integration happen this year. It led to a successful and safe event, and to a full resolution of the lawsuit between BRC and the County,” said Allen.

The settlement is great news for our participants and our community,” added Marian Goodell, BRC’s Director of Business and Communications. “The resolution of the suit bodes well for the sustainability of Burning Man. The settlement ensures our ability to operate our annual event in the Black Rock Desert in the future.”

The settlement agreement incorporates all of the terms of the county’s opt-out provisions made possible by the Nevada State Legislature earlier this year.

The lawsuit was originally filed in August 2012 after the County applied its festival ordinance to BRC and voided prior settlement agreements with BRC.

The Burning Man event has been held in the Black Rock Desert for more than 20 years and is a keystone contributor to the economy of northern Nevada. There are no vendors at the event; the only goods sold are coffee and ice, the proceeds of which go to local charities. The event accounts for more traffic to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport annually than any other, and participants spend at least $35 million in the area before, during and after the event.

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About Burning Man:
For 23 years, the Black Rock Desert outside Reno, Nev., has been home to the increasingly popular and influential Burning Man arts event. Started on a beach in San Francisco in 1986, the event now attracts more than 60,000 participants annually, from every U.S. state and 22 countries. For more information, visit http://www.burningman.com. For media inquiries, please call 415-865-3800.

About the author: Burning Man

This is the official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man's Communications Department.

46 thoughts on “Burning Man Settles Lawsuit with Pershing County, Nev.

  • I was pulled over by BLM youngsters after witnessing several others in front of me being “lite up” and pulled over. After 12 hours on the road from San Diego, I was pulled over in the line waiting to get into the event because “my bicycles were obstructing the license plate frame. After providing proof of ownership and insurance, i was asked if they could board my Dad’s RV. I said that it was my Dad’s Domicile and I would not be able to authorize them to come into it. They then proceeded to pull me and two other Friends, both Doctors (one from Australia) from the vehicle. They ran a dog around the vehicle and then asked if I noticed a strange reaction by the dog. I said that I didn’t….The officer said that the Dog gave a positive response and 4 officers and dogs proceeded to search the inside of the vehicle and all of it’s contents dumping all suitcases onto the bed and floor. They confiscated my heart medication and aspirin because they could not identity it. They found 6 grams of Marijuana which I am licensed to carry and use in California and srote me a ticket for $500. I was suspicious that the BLM was unhappy with BM and heard later that there was a dispute relating to money for their security services so they decided to hassle and ticket all of the unwary ticket holders in the hopes of collecting more $$ from us. I did not feel like BM protected our rights and after submitting my complaint was told by BM officials that I could defend myself and they had no plan to get involved. My initial thought was that BM has gotten too big for me and I was not going to subject myself, my friends and my Dad’s private property to that again. Does this mean that BLM officials will not be prosecuting me for the 6 grams of Medical Marijuana? Please advise..

    Pokey

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  • Burning Man has paid law enforcement from a variety of agencies as well as federal land use fees for more than a decade. Nevada has different state medical marijuana (and paraphernalia) laws; a California prescription is not in effect. I’m sorry for all who have negative law enforcement interactions but Black Rock City is still part of the default world’s legal structure.

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  • Pokey:

    As clearly indicated on the BM website, possession of marijuana is illegal under Nevada state law. Nevada does not have a medical marijuana law, and does not recognize medical marijuana cards from other states.

    Unfortunately, it looks as you may be SOL.

    Sorry.

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  • Specifically, from the Survival Guide -> Rules and Regulations -> Law Enforcement

    “The use and possession of illegal drugs are violations of the law. You will receive a citation if BLM Rangers see you doing drugs and/ or have drug paraphernalia on you. Medical marijuana cards are not recognized by the federal government, and the State of Nevada does not recognize medical marijuana cards from other states. Medical marijuana is only legal in a handful of states. Possession of marijuana is a federal infraction in the Black Rock Desert. Having a medical marijuana card is not a defense. BE FOREWARNED!”

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  • @Techie

    The Nevada Medical Marijuana Program is a state registry program within the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health. Our role is to administer the provisions of the Medical Use of Marijuana law as approved by the Nevada Legislature and adopted on 2001.

    http://health.nv.gov/medicalmarijuana.htm

    part right part wrong
    Sorry

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  • A 6th generation friend who lives in the region and has lots of connections from Reno to Susanville to Winnemucca tells me that much of the hard-line law enforcement is the cop’s and county officials’ way of retaliating due to their perception of being treated with severe attitude by the Bmorg.

    @pokey . . . Next time leave the cannabis at home. If not, package it in absolutely airtight glass jars, clean the exteriors thoroughly, and I would suggest one or two ever larger airtight containers a la a Russian matryoshka doll. Sad but true, taking aromatic illegal substances into what is likely the most heavily anti drug enforcement zone in the country IMHO, is simply not worth it. I stopped doing so years ago. The event is mind altering enough in of itself. I am telling my Washington & Colorado friends to be mindful of their ashtrays & whatever other “contamination” might exist in their vehicles.

    I hope to see the day that cannabis is legal in Nevada and the Feds (cough,BLM, cough) respect state laws. It would be interesting to see if the mood of BRC would change. Years ago an old timer lamented to me that with all the strident suppression of illegal drugs, that the general tenor of the event had shifted towards aggressive alcohol drunkenness instead of stoney mellowness.

    Personally I have only had friendly encounters with law enforcement. This year I was invited to sit at lunch with four Pershing County sheriffs. To my surprise, their disdain and disrespect for the BLM was quite blatant, they were citing particular instances. My regional friend tells me that this is likely a manifestation of the dislike for the Feds that is widespread in the area and goes waaaaay back. I did say to them point blank, that there is such a thing as enforcing the spirit of the law and enforcing the letter of the law, and that the extreme enforcement of the letter of the law at the event comes across as harassment and intimidation. I also expressed the opinion that of course law enforcement is the essential, but they should be there in case of trouble rather than trying extremely hard to look for trouble. I also told them that thousands of people come from other countries, and such extreme law enforcement is giving the USA an international black eye in some small measure. Somewhat ironically the next day one of the sherifs recognized me and hung out of the back seat window of passing BLM vehicle to smile and wave at me.

    In any case, I do hope this new development satisfies whatever powers that be that they have gotten their pound of flesh from the organization and will now stop trying to extract it from directly from a small group of participants.

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  • Pokey I’m sorry that happened to you and many others. No one has ever heard of the bike rack stop excuse anywhere before this years burn. They also stop for dust obscured plates! After hearing of it I put the bike in the car before driving and fixed every light. I was vigilant about following every law from the 80 to Bm and back to 80 and wasn’t stopped.
    They will use ANY excuse as a pretext for a dog sniff. Every dog sniff results in a search. You must decline but assume you will be searched. Contact lawyers for burners and Nevada ACLU (google) before paying ticket. You may be able to plead guilty to a less serious charge, violating the closure order, etc. also per Barry cooper Glass does not stop odors.

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  • I’ve seen the ‘obscured license plate’ excuse being used for at least the past three years. Its not going away, because once cops have an excuse for a pull-over they aren’t going to give it up easily. It would be nice to see a note about this on the bike page of the survival guide.

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  • I’ve done greeter shifts for the past 3 years and in 2012 I noticed there were quite a few people being pulled over for bikes blocking the license plates, license plate lights out, etc. They were stopping them just after the greeter’s station. Wasn’t that bad this year though.

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  • Apply stickers all over your vehicle that say “Loyal Law Enforcement Supporter” or “Member of Police Officers Association” or “US Army Retired” or “I Love Guns” instead of “Go Green” or “Legalize Marijuana” or whatever…works for me. Oh…and give someone else your dope to take in for you! ;-)

    (So, please see the humor here and don’t go all postal with indignation)

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  • Actually, as we reported in the Black Rock Beacon this year Nevada does have a medical marijuana law, though it is finding it very difficult to organize itself to administer it. Most notably, though, it will not recognise out-of-state medical marijuana cards. It may be possible next year to get one in Reno on your way in.

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  • hey burners I was driving my artcar Cinderella and was pulled over by blm
    the dude wanted a ride. I turned my ride over to 3 blm burners and watched them play that was the best part of my burn.

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  • Our experience and enjoyment at Burning Man was 2007, and as I read, and read, all has gone into a pit and the real burners will never see the REAL burn again.
    We are so sorry for that! We will NEVER see a real burn again.
    We found fake burners appeared on Fri. dressed in their finest garb and would never have ridden out on the playa or gotten, (god for bid dirty), or cleaned up MOOP, we will forever miss going to the Burn, but it has gone to more of the people with money than the people who want to celebrate life.
    We miss the Burn and hope it comes back to what it used to be, but it is impossible to know who you sell tickets to.
    Thanks for letting me vent.

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  • I know law enforcement at Burning Man is a contentious issue and nobody likes the “man pokin’ into his or her bidness.” I will try to stay away from current drug laws but suffice it to say that the certain substances that are legal in say Washington state are still illegal in other states (states like Nevada). This is a federal versus states issue and I encourage other states to pass their own initiatives. It’d be delightful if the White House came to it’s senses on this issue (maybe after the new health.gov website finally goes live). The fact that you can buy ten shots of flaming, hard liquor on the sidewalk in downtown Las Vegas but could go to jail or get fined for a joint is beyond my sense of reason. I think this has more to do one special interest trying to monopolize their market. At least you can walk around with your drink! Nevada is definitely the wild west but I also agree with other blog posters that heavy handed patrols and search dogs does not help the United States’ reputation as a police state especially considering the international draw the event enjoys.

    Back to the subject of this blog: we are talking about several different jurisdictions, economies and municipalities that overlap at Burning Man. For example, Gerlach is in Washoe County, Black Rock City is actually in Pershing county, the Black Rock desert itself is under the BLM (federal) and, of course, there is Nevada state. Most of the business from the thousands of burners who descend on northwestern Nevada each late summer gets directed toward Reno and Washoe county. The seat of Pershing county does not receive nearly the volume of traffic and “tourist” dollars as other counties of the state (sorry to use the term “tourist”). However, by law, Pershing county must support emergency and judicial services such as 911 and courts.

    Let’s just say that I can offer a very close and unique perspective of Pershing county’s position. I am a burner but I have spent quality time in some of these small communities and I have talked with local citizens, state troopers, sheriffs and ranchers. I also have some professional experience in litigation support (but I am not an attorney). The vast area around the Black Rock desert is very rural and normally does not have a large population (except for cattle and horses). There is a set amount of resources and taxes devoted to emergency services (such as 911). During August and September as the population dramatically swells the load on the local jurisdiction is strained. I believe this is the heart of the issue. For example, one local law enforcement person said that during his first year there were five deaths including a plane crash. Another year, after the event, someone had blown their brains out with a shotgun and the body was rotting in the tent. Guess who gets to deal with the dead bodies and clean up? Pershing county. There are also ugly instances of rape that have to be dealt with. In my mind, you can’t pay someone enough to have these sorts of responsibilities and what the county does not get from the event must come from within their own local budgets. I would support a per person, per day fee to help offset local law enforcement costs.

    Agreed, most of the time nothing major happens, most burners are “cool” and Burning Man does in fact give money to local jurisdictions. But again, if someone dials 911, then someone has to respond. Guess where the calls get routed? If there is a legal issue guess what courts must hear and process the case? Now not everyone within the law enforcement and local government agrees and you have politics as usual through out each of these levels. I am not about to hang dirty laundry in public but my point is that local governments are feeling strained and under appreciated. I can also see how big city, city slicker, “free-love” type attitudes may not go over so well in more “cowboy,” rural settings. Outsiders have to be sensitive and respectful to local population. I am sure that the county didn’t appreciate a big lawyer type lawsuit either.

    It is interesting that many of the law enforcement personnel take their own vacation time to work the event. Burning Man is considered a “good gig” to have. I was also very moved by this year’s law enforcement procession to the temple to pay respects to their fallen comrade. It seems everything had come full circle (at least in that special moment) and both sides of the equation met in the middle and shared their common human condition. That’s really what it’s all about. I think it’s amazing that the BM event actually has happened with the incredible success, vibrancy and international renown. Much of this success is due to local law enforcement making it happen and their leadership and tolerance (believe or not). You have no idea.

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  • I’ve burned 2005-2009 with no law enforcement attention drawn to myself or my vehicle. Returned this year after a hiatus and was stunned by the officers crawling all over us once we left the highway for that long dusty drive to the gate. I crawled by them but was “pulled over” anyway, in my convertible, with the top down, with stuff piled up in the seat next to me. Nothing to hide. I was told my license plate light was out and that my bike was obscuring the plate. Sigh. I cooperated and offered to park the car, ride the bike in, come back for the car, and was instead sent on my way. Another cop was looking through my car with his flashlight the whole time, perhaps checking to find…..I don’t know what but it would have been in plain site.

    It was disheartening to see the shift. Things have changed. I hope this settlement calms down the harassment, cuz default world rules or no, that is what it was.

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  • A suggestion on the bikes – my husband went to BM this year and was concerned that his bike rack might (or might appear to) obscure his license plate. He took that washable window paint and wrote his license plate number in large letters/numbers in his back window – that way even if his plate got dusty, anyone could know what his plate was. As a result he had no problems and was thanked by a couple of cops for his thoughtfulness. It made things really easy for him – one less thing to worry about.

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  • As someone that has burned since the mid 90’s I would argue that there has been a shift in “burner attitude’ that may be partly responsible for increased oversight. As someone that has always brought either playa art, and art car, or interactive art camp, I was dismayed to see the participant count rise with what appeared to be a disproportionate increase in event “energy”. I have always been concerned that many attend to “see the show” versus participate. It is evident that some participants don’t understand that this is a gift economy whose success is dependent upon shared energy and participation.
    A previous post by “FOXY” clearly outlined the financial realty of the burn to local communities. Also numerous burners on this thread have documented unusual scrutiny when compared with previous years. I would suggest that there is in fact increased law enforcement oversight that is at least partly related to “money wrangling” between municipalities. Is it possible however that our evolving community over the years has left the door ajar for them? As dedicated burners, I would suggest that we direct our energy inward to help shape future events so that all participants understand and participate in Larry Harvey’s vision.

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  • Pretext stops are not limited to burning man. This is a classic police tactic to give police a legal excuse to search for other things. Once you are stopped for a legitimate reason, then they can search for weapons within reach of the driver or passenger. If they have probably cause to think you have contraband (ie the dog can sniff it from outside) then they get to look further.

    I have been in Lincoln City Oregon on my way to a conference late at night (I worked all day then packed then drove to the conference) with my black lab asleep in the back seat, and I was driving like 20 mph, and just because the light bulb was burnt out above rear my license plate. I got pulled over another year (same conference) in Lincoln City for bumping a curb while turning – a curb that they had built sticking out into the street too far. I have been stopped in Milton-Freewater Oregon for pulling away from a curb under bright lights (it was at their armory- picture the type of lighting major sports arenas use that turn night into day) and forgetting to turn my headlights on. I am pretty sure they were all hoping to find a drunk driver – but I was stone cold sober every time. DUII’s are big business and big money for small towns!!

    This is a classic police tactic, more so in small towns (probably because they have time to “look for trouble” unlike police in large metro areas that are running from call to call). The solution is simple – don’t give them any excuses to pull you over. Check your lights, make sure your plate is visible, drive slow, etc. Leave your drugs at home or figure out how to get a medical marijuana card in Nevada if that is an option. (There are prescription drugs you can get from your doctor and carry legally if you need eh pain relief. But to be safe carry them in the original bottle with the label and your name on it.) Or stick to alcohol assuming you are over 21.

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  • @Foxy: Your point is quite reasonable: Pershing county with its population of some 7,000 should not have to bear the expense when some 60,000+ people decide to play in their back yard. In a deal agreed to by the BORG and Pershing county in 2005, renewed in 2011, this is exactly what Burning Man was doing. Every year the sheriff of Pershing county and the BORG would sit down and come to an agreement what the expenses would be for PCSO to patrol the event. Over the years this rose from $66,000 in 2006 to $154,000 in 2011. Starting in 2008 there were additional fees tacked on for prosecution costs and starting in 2010 even more (relatively minor) fees for vehicle usage. In addition, Burning Man has contributed to various charities in the county a total some $394,000 between 2003 and 2012.

    In spring of 2012, the sheriff’s office and Burning Man agreed that the law enforcement costs for the event would be $180,000. Then at a public meeting, “concerned citizen” Richard Wagner said at a public meeting, “When they first came, everyone was shocked. Now we’ve accepted them and now we’re embracing them, because what? They bring money to the community? Something’s wrong with that.” In May of 2012, mainly citing that alcohol was available and permits had not been applied for, county prosecutor Jim Shirley brought a petition against his own county commissioners saying a lot more law enforcement would be needed. Judge Richard Wagner found this entirely reasonable and despite the fact there was a total of five arrests in 2011, the enforcement fees ballooned to $450,000 that year and would have been over $800,00 this year.

    Personally, I feel that Wagner was not interested in the money, per se, but was wanting to use it as a club to drive the event out of his county. After all, those filthy, fornicating hippies a mere 135 miles from the population center of Pershing county are an offense to the eye.

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  • Folks, Marijuana is just the Kabuki theater for today. You knew the rules. You either choose to play by “The Man’s” rules or your own rule. If you play by your own rules then don’t complain about the consequences of your actions. I agree the bike-racks- covering-the-license-plate is a new, annoying twist, but if you don’t have marijuana you won’t get a marijuana ticket, regardless of your license plate visibility. You can’t say you weren’t warned by Burning Man. If you can’t do without marijuana for a week while visiting out of state then perhaps you have other issues. I guess I don’t understand the need to take mind altering drugs at a venue where reality is mind altering. If you want to alter your mind, stick with the legal, non-aromatic stuff for the week. Boy, talk about first world problems… Enjoying Burning Man citation free since 1997.

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  • This year the Nevada Legislature and the governor signed a new bill to except all out-of-state medical marijuana cards in Nevada. :)
    This still does not get you a pass on BLM land but gets you to the door. Be safe!

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  • Pokey:

    You have the option to plead guilty to a non-drug offense like “Closure Order Violation” and pay a fine of between $400 for marijuana and up to $950 for multiple controlled substances. Lawyers for Burners attorneys negotiated this option with the office of the United States Attorney, District of Nevada in 2011, and it continues to provide a consistent and reasonable resolution of BLM issued citations.

    Unfortunately, many Participants are unaware of this option and they simply pay the amount of the citations ($125 or $525) by mail. But Participants who do this can be pleading guilty to possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia. This guilty plea could negatively impact your personal and professional future.

    It’s better to take this option and not have anything on your permanent record.

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  • Folks, keep all your things you’d rather not have law enforcement find *on your person*.

    They’ll not put the dog on you, and if you are sweet to the cops, they’ll likely not pat you down…

    Truly

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  • Ok, so pokey shouldn’t carry marijuana in Nevada. Still, the whole pulling over and dog sniffing thing sounds completely unnecessary. If their job is to guarantee our safety, they failed when they took his drugs – all three of them medical.

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  • In 2012 I watched (and took pictures) as a member of Law Enforcement pulled up t0the PortAPotties in his SUV. He got out, walked over to a PortAPotty and banged on the door until a woman opened the door. I cannot tell you what was said but after a minute he returned to his SUV and left. The door to the potties were closed when he pulled up. He could not have been following a suspect because he could not have seen who walked in there. It seems to have been random harassment. I do not know it my taking pictures helped but I do it whenever I feel transparency is in order and I suggest it for all. I would be glad to send te pictures if the Burning Man wants them. You have the address.
    It is so sad that the Police in general are no longer here to help the people who hire them but to enforce laws upon those people. That really is the difference between a free country and a police state.

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  • Yes, it is definitely illegal to possess weed here in Nevada. I agree with the comment that it is a bit hypocritical to think that a wild drunken state of mind is better than a stoned mellow one, but until the Nevada voters realize that we just have to deal with the law. As far as law enforcement goes, some attitudes are better than others. I realize that the officers have a job to do but sadly some harassment be a part of it. I talked to a couple of officers a few years ago and they commented about folks bring kids. They thought that it was horrible that anyone would bring children because of all of the pedophiles at the event (not too sure why he thought that). I couldn’t help but think that Burning Man wouldn’t be the best venue for a child predator. Maybe they should be hanging out at Disneyland?

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  • I’m a defense attorney in So. Cal. I cannot count the number of times the cops have used an obscured plate as a pretext for a stop that then escalates into an arrest. The classic one is that a trailer hitch is in the way of the plate. As one cop once told me, “There are 4,000 entries in the Vehicle Code. We’ll find one to fit every time.”

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  • Regarding covered license plates: I have been pulled over by Washoe county Sheriff deputies for a ” faded license plate” one New Year’s Eve, purely a tactic to find drunken drivers.
    Everyone forgets that Nevada is predominantly a consurvative state with Lyon and Pershing counties leading the way on being anal about drugs. Things are changing,but slowly. The washoe county commisioners recently voted to pave the way to set up medical pot points of sale!.
    The event has never given law enforcement a reason for such extreme scrutany, they just figured out that it was a fun place to hang out and get paid the big bucks for a week or so!
    For those that can, get envolved with the politics of Burning Man. For those living in Nevada, support Burning Man friendly legislators. Gary Schmidt will be running for the Nevada Senate, and I will be running for the Washoe County Commishion again next year.

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  • in agreement with sharonboo i to will never again see the true spirit that bm used to be about, the freedom to do what made you happy without hurting anyone but helping and being together with people you did not no but felt like you new all your life and having come away with the tearfull feeling that you did not want to leave these people
    seeing the women running and playing and the guys shaking hands and laughing as if they had been friends forever but now bm is like most other corporate BUSINESS it is now corralling and putting to many unnecessary restraint on it money(i mean people) i will never go back again because it is no longer an event it is a business and feels like one

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  • I witnessed when a squad of Nevada cops dressed in full gear, rifles and bulletproof vests, dogs and shit searched a small car maybe half a mile after the gate on Monday around noon. There were four scared kids (two guys and two girls) in the car and the cops behaved as they were busting Pablo Escobar.

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  • I wish the 5mph law was raised to 8mph. I saw many cars speeding and getting away with it, but I also saw many not-so-lucky vehicles. On that surface, my car naturally coasts at 7mph. Riding the brake was the only way to keep it down to 5. I tried going into low gears, such as one would for going down a steep hill, but those seemed to make the problem worse rather than fix it.

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