Doing drugs at Coachella? Here's how to avoid trouble with the police
Timothy Norris This dude's actually drug free. But he still knows his rights
Hate to say it, but some of you at Coachella (which starts today!) are going to be approached by police officers assuming you have drugs. Well, you just may, but guess what? You still have rights, man. Cameron Bowman is here to help! As a music festival lover and attorney at San Jose firm Valencia, Ippolito & Bowman, he's a legal expert on this kind of thing. Bowman, aka The Festival Lawyer, talks below about the best ways to protect yourself if you're approached by the fuzz at the fest.
1. Your medical marijuana card doesn't mean shit
Sure, your "glaucoma" has earned you the right to legally purchase marijuana at any number of dispensaries in Denver, where it is now also legal to smoke for recreational purposes, but that does not mean you can legally bring it into the festival. Coachella makes it very clear on its website that wacky tobaccy purchased with a medical card is as illegal as stuff purchased from the black market.
"People need to realize," says Bowman, "that a medical marijuana card is a recommendation from a doctor that you're allowed to use marijuana to treat an ongoing physical or mental condition. It's not the same as a prescription, and under federal law it's still illegal." Since Coachella is a private event, it also means that the organizers can set any rules they like about what is and is not allowed inside.
This scenario becomes even less legal when those with a medical marijuana card purchase weed with the intent to share it with friends or sell it to strangers. (Both of these acts are considered "distribution" and are felony offenses.) "There are real limits on what you can do," Bowman says. "If you are transporting or possessing marijuana for purposes of sale, not only is it illegal, but it's what called a non-alternative felony, which means that a judge can't reduce it to a misdemeanor, you're not eligible for drug diversion programs, and it's basically a felony on your record for the rest of your life."
Long story short, marijuana and other controlled substances are definitely not allowed inside the festival, although some of you are going to sneak them in anyways in your sweaty pants. Just remember...
Nanette Gonzalez "No officer, you cannot search my headdress."
2. Coachella is crawling with undercover cops
If you're doing anything illegal, don't be blatant about it.
3. Memorize a few key phrases
"If a cop comes up and asks to see your ID," Bowman says, "the first question out of your mouth should be, 'Am I being detained?' Then, 'Why? What am being stopped for? Am I free to go, or am I under arrest?'"
Memorize this. Repeat it out loud: "Am I being detained? Why? Am I free to go, or am I under arrest?"
With these questions, you establish whether you are being arrested and transform any subsequent detention into a scenario in which the officer has to justify stopping you. Somebody looking at that explanation later will then make a decision about whether the officer had a good reason to stop you, which might make your case easier to defend.