15th Annual Burning Man Festival September 2, 2000, Black Rock Desert

Getty Images/David McNew

Authorities May Crack Down On Drugs At Burning Man

KCBS Radio Morning News
June 20, 2019 - 11:17 am

It's hard to visualize: Burning Man, the end-of-summer, week-long gathering in the Nevada desert, without drugs. 

But now, the Bureau of Land Management is talking about killing that buzz by hiring a private security firm to conduct drug screenings.

The party that started on the summer solstice of 1986, when the original Man was burned at San Francisco's Baker Beach, is now a beloved tradition among artists and non-conformists of all ages, from all corners of the world. And for many of the tens of thousands of people who come to Black Rock Desert every year, getting high is an intrinsic part of the experience on the Playa. 

"Screening processes and procedures are just one facet of a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement approach to ensure the safety and security of the event," said BLM spokesman Christopher Bush. "BLM will continue to work with our law enforcement stake-holders and partners on a range of security-related tasks."

Related: Burning Man Organizers Stress The Importance of Consent

Screening for drugs would make the already lengthy wait to get in to the event much longer, and could result in plenty of Burners not getting in at all.  It would also substantially alter the experience of many people who attend. 

The possibility of drug screenings is still in the discussion stage, with no final decision made, according to Bush. "At this time BLM has no new announcements or changes to law enforcement for security policies or procedures related to Burning Man 2019," he said. 

Another new development is a done deal though: BLM has rejected a request by Burning Man organizers to be allowed to raise the number of participants to 100,000. The cap on attendees remains at 80,000, in part because patrolling the Playa is a massive task. 

"Our law enforcement personnel are focused on life, health and safety issues for attendees and staff, which can be complex for an event this size at a unique location like Black Rock," Bush said. 

Already, one third of all BLM law enforcement in the country patrol the desert during the festival. 

Reporting by Jim Taylor.