In 2012, Jeff Chambers took two tabs of acid at Bonnaroo. At least, what he thought was acid. What Jeff actually took was called 25I-NBOMe, a dangerous research chemical that has reportedly led to at least 14 deaths in America, according to the DEA.
While wandering around Bonnaroo tripping his face off, Jeff happened to meet a member of The Bunk Police, an organization that hands out drug testing kits at music festivals as part of its mission to promote drug education and "abolish drug dishonesty." Their Facebook page makes their mission clear: "With the rise of research chemicals comes an equally powerful force… The Bunk Police."
Chambers and his friends decided to follow The Bunk Police around for five months, going to music festivals around America to document the rise of these dangerous substances. The documentary that resulted was released today, and you can watch it in full here.
Research chemicals, commonly called "bath salts" or "plant food," have been flooding the drug market in recent years, disguised as more commonly-known substances like MDMA, LSD, ketamine and cocaine. This is due to legal loopholes that allow distributors to buy these research chemicals online, cut their substances (or just swap them out completely), and flip them for a far greater profit.
Methylone, one of the many types of synthetic cathinones that is commonly passed off as molly, has been responsible for several high-profile deaths at EDM events like Ultra and Electric Zoo in recent years. And given that the number of shady substances on the market will only continue to increase, the threat isn't going anyway anytime soon.
The problem is that America has historically treated drug use as a criminal justice problem, unlike some of our European neighbors, who are more inclined to view it as a public health issue. Instead of a harm-reduction approach, our current laws lean towards criminalization and prohibition.
As Jeff told our sister site Noisey in an interview about his documentary, the difference can be seen in the ways we approach drugs versus sex education. "With sex education we tell our kids the safest way to not get an STD or get pregnant is to be abstinent, but, let's be realistic and give you the proper tools to do it safely," Jeff says. "The approach with drug education in this country is the complete opposite."
He's right—current federal law creates a huge disincentive for music festivals to allow harm-reduction groups like The Bunk Police and DanceSafe to sell test kits within their premises. The RAVE Act (which stands for "Reducing American's Vulnerability to Ecstasy" Act) was introduced by Senator Joe Biden in 2002 and passed by Congress in 2003. It allows the police to prosecute event organizers if they maintain a "drug-involved premises." How exactly a "drug involved premise" is defined is completely subjective. As a result, music festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival and the Mad Decent Block Party have banned everything from drug-testing kits to to drug information booklets to kandi bracelets in their efforts to not come across as fostering an environment for druggies.
During the Reddit AMA with Pasquale Rotella, the CEO of Insomniac Events (which is responsible for major EDM festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival), hundreds of Redditors demanded to know why harm-reduction groups like DanceSafe and The Bunk Police are banned from his festivals. Rotella cited the Crack House Law—which is closely tied to the RAVE Act. "Unfortunately some people view partnering with DanceSafe as endorsing drug use rather than keeping people safe… when the DEA started going after innocent event proucers under the Crack House Law, having DanceSafe at an event was one of the things they looked at to justify putting them in jail for 20 years," Pasquale said.
So what can you do? First, protect yourself. If you're going to imbibe in recreational drugs, we can't stress enough how important it is to test your shit. Drug kits used to be confusing affairs with complicated color charts that looked more like Pantone advertisements. But these days, new kits on the market are simple to use—and extremely cheap. Different substances like MDMA, Ketamine and Opiates require different "regeants" to identify them. TestKit.com recently launched a complete testing kit that will test all of them for $54, with separate testing kits going for $22. The Bunk Police's basic test kit is $20, and DanceSafe's complete set costs $65.
Second, educate yourself. Take the time to watch important documentaries like What's In Your Baggie, read exposeson this new class of synthetics, and catch up on news reports on why harm-reduction groups are getting banned at EDM events.
Finally, you can also join organizations that are petitioning to change America's current drug policy. For example, Protect Our Youth was started by the mother of a 19-year-old UVA student who died at an EDM event in Washington DC after taking (what she thought) was MDMA. The foundation is collecting signatures to amend the RAVE Act, and will take the petition to Congress this fall.
EDM's Most Powerful Man, Pasquale Rotella, Got Grilled on His Reddit AMA
Death By Avicii, or the Dangerous Mayhem of EDM Club Shows
At TomorrowWorld, DanceSafe Will Tell You About Your Drugs
Mad Decent Block Party Resulted in Two Suspected MDMA Overdoses