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Festival Drug Busts Can Be As Inconsistent As the Drugs

How many pills can make the difference between a slap on the wrist or wrists in handcuffs?

Image: Voena

People take drugs at music festivals. People get busted with drugs at music festivals.

For many, the most stressful part of a festival is trying to get their gear through the front gate. And while there is a lot of bluster about harm reduction, sniffer dogs and pill purity testing centres, what actually goes down if you are sprung?

We spoke to four Australians who’ve been busted for drugs at or on their way to a music festival. When comparing their experiences there was almost no correlation between crime and consequence. Small offences received disproportionate sentences and huge offences were forgotten.

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Perhaps one of the scariest things about getting busted is the randomness.

22-year-old Kate was on her was to the inaugural 2013 edition of Listen Out in Brisbane. She and her friends were approached by police on suspicion of vandalism. She also had 25-30 caps in her bag. They didn’t make it to the festival.

“They were being really intimidating, shining lights in our face and saying all this shit [about the graffiti], like, ‘This is a serious offence, this is gonna stick with you’. One of them asked if we’d been drinking. We had open beers with us, we had obviously been drinking.

“My friend was really nervous and blurted out that she’d smoked a joint. So they searched us. They opened my bag, asked me if I had anything to declare. I said it’s not my bag. Then they said ‘Do these look familiar?’ And pulled them out. They asked if we were on the way to Listen Out.

“Suddenly they started being really nice. They gave me my bag back, with the caps, and let me call my mum. At the police station they took the caps away to test, and said I was free to go.

“I went to court a month later. The report said we were really compliant, very respectful– nothing at all in the court report was about the drugs. Then I had to do six hours of community service. That was it.

Image: Festival Sherpa

In 2009, 20-years-old Alana, went to Trance Energy in Sydney. Her boyfriend had been smoking bongs and a dog picked up the scent. She didn’t have any weed, but she did have a keychain full of pills.

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“Inside, a dog comes straight up to me and sits down. The policeman asks if I had anything on me, and I’m a terrible liar so I said yes. They got me to lay everything out on the floor. The dog couldn’t actually find anything, I ended up pulling out the seven pills from a bullet-shaped keychain. They took me across the road. I couldn’t get back in as there were no pass-outs.

“They first charged me with possession and then upped it to supply, but a lawyer advised me to get the drugs tested, and arranged it with the police. The police who made the initial arrest actually called and left a message, saying ‘It could’ve been easy, you should’ve just gone to court but you’re digging your own grave.’

“In court, the lawyer told the judge my history – about my mum, my troubled past, about how I’d been out of home since I was 14, and how I was trying to make things right. In the end I just got a two year good behaviour bond.”

21-year-old Ben brought a joint with him to Field Day in Sydney this year. He was caught, charged and ordered to attend rehab.

“I had a doob on me and my friend had a cap. As we were walking in, one of the dogs came up to us. The cops took us into the police tent area and got us to take everything out of our pockets. They gave us a quick pat down. I got a cannabis caution and my friend was charged with possession. It was pretty chill, they were just going through the motions.

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“I was seriously affected by it. It was my third caution, so it turned it into a charge, and I went for a section 10. The proceedings set me back a lot, which is difficult as a student. In addition to that I had to go through a government rehabilitation program for ten-weeks. They taught me about drug dependency and general drug knowledge, which is the only positive thing that came of it, but it’s a huge waste of government resources. I don’t have a drug problem.”

Image: Joshua Mellin

Simon and his mates attended Stereosonic in Brisbane last year. His singlet-wearing mates were already drunk and causing shit before they’d even walked in. Not all of them made it through the entrance.

“I was with about 15 people. We all had few on us, I had four. Except for this one guy who had like 30 caps and some weed. The dogs didn’t seem to notice us at all when we walked past them, but the cops did. We’d all been drinking all day, we were already getting rowdy. Most of our mates had gone through, we’re about to go through security, and a dog runs up to that one guy. So they pulled four of us aside.

“I honestly wasn’t that gone, but two of the others were so fucking pissed already, and they were giving the cops shit straight away, yelling and just being as uncooperative as they could. They searched us and they eventually found it all.

“I went into the festival, but it was a shit day after all that. Five weeks later I went to court, and got charged with possession. The guy with the whole lot was locked up, I dunno for how long.”

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One thing we can learn from these stories is that it’s not just luck of the draw but also how you dress, how you behave, how cooperative you are, and of course, how many offences you already have.

If you get caught, don’t run, don’t fight, don’t look for more trouble. If a dog approaches you, don’t panic – and whatever you do, do not swallow all of your pills.