As Phish's Telluride run nears, the beautiful Colorado village is preparing for whatever it is they think will happen when the circus comes to town. They've already taken measures to help with their biggest concern: the large number of fans showing up without a ticket (or money to buy one). But according to Telluride Chief Marshal Jim Kolar, they're also concerned about the use of psychedelic drugs causing bad trips.
“There are a lot of drugs involved with these folks,” said Kolar, describing the range of expected narcotics as “a whole potpourri of illegal substances” including marijuana, cocaine, LSD and heroin in addition to “a lot of drinking.”
However, when it comes to bad trips, Telluride isn't gearing up a drug task force to make hundreds of arrests (someone must have tipped them off that placing tripping kids in handcuffs isn't such a great idea). Instead, paramedics are looking to embrace the harm reduction philosophy and divert those having an unpleasant psychedelic experience to a "trip tent
Attached to the medical tent normally set up for large events like the Bluegrass and Blues and Brews Festivals will be a secondary “trip tent” where those high on hallucinogens can essentially go for a time-out if they need to.
Softly lit and containing cots and chairs, the tent will be manned mostly by concerned friends of the trippers and overseen by some Emergency Medical Services personnel, said Chief Paramedic Emil Sante.
“They can stay as long as they like,” he said, noting that the goal is to prevent law enforcement holding facilities from being clogged up with trippers.
“As long as they’re not a threat there’s no reason they can’t be in the tent,” said Sante.
The method has worked successfully at other events like Burning Man and Portugal's Boom Festival, where psychedelic drug use is popular among thousands of people. MAPS
(Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) has led the way in providing and training Psychedelic Emergency Services
at these events. Portugal has decriminalized the personal use of all drugs
, making the implementation of such services much easier without fear of prosecution. Boom festival has even had a drug testing facility where most of the drugs being sold there were tested and the results compiled into a slideshow that described what drugs were being sold and what the drugs actually contained.
In the U.S. it's generally considered difficult to implement harm reduction strategies at live music events because of the RAVE Act, a law that holds venue owners responsible for any drug use that occurs on their property. This created a particular problem for the rave and electronic music scene where MDMA use is common. Many venue owners refused to allow any type of information about the harms associated with using ecstasy or to even provide free water for fear of being viewed as encouraging drug use and losing their business.
The trip tent idea seems to be catching on. They exist at a more festivals than you think, but often try to fly under the radar by avoiding any promotion other than word of mouth. Seeing one take place openly at the Telluride shows is more than just an embracing of harm reduction values - it is ultimately engaging in the larger scale debate of how to address non-violent drug offenders and providing a way to separate those who create trouble for themselves from those making trouble for others.
In other words, Telluride has bigger phish to fry.