Wakarusa Music Festival: A Legal Guide
This brief guide provides tips for anyone who plans on attending the annual Wakarusa Music Festival and wishing to avoid legal trouble.
What is Wakarusa?Though most people reading this probably already know, Wakarusa is an annual music festival held on Mulberry Mountain in rural Arkansas near the town of Ozark. The event features four days of performance by dozens of artists on private land on which visitors are permitted to camp for the duration of the event. As might be imagined, illegal drug use is widespread at Wakarusa, though its possession and distribution is just as much a crime here as anywhere else in the state. This guide is intended for anyone planning to attend and wanting to avoid drug related criminal charges.
Arkansas Drug LawsWhile anyone attending Wakarusa is strongly advised to refrain from any illegal activities, each year a large number of attendees are arrested on drug charges--both at Wakarusa and traveling to and from the event--so a brief discussion of Arkansas drug laws is appropriate. Possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor, provided the person charged has less than four ounces and no more than one prior drug conviction. Otherwise marijuana carries a felony charge. With the exception of certain prescription drugs, a person caught with anything other than marijuana should expect be charged as a felon.
Why Possessing Drugs at Wakarusa is Especially DangerousBecause Wakarusa is held on private land standard constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure do not apply at the festival. Generally uniformed police are not at the festival, but off duty police officers often moonlight as security officers there. In the absence of constitutional protection, these officers can and will search vehicles, purses, backpacks, tents, etc. without probable cause and without search warrants. Further, the fruits of these searches are admissible in court even if normal constitutional protections would otherwise exclude them.
About Travel to and from WakarusaMost of the drug busts associated with Wakarusa do not occur at the festival itself, but on the roads and highways leading to and from. Law enforcement throughout Arkansas is well aware the event brings a spike in illegal drug traffic. They are on heightened alert for vehicles with out of state plates headed in that direction. So if you're from another state and have anything illegal in your vehicle, use common sense. Rigorously obey speed limits and other traffic laws. In addition, vans sporting Grateful Dead decals, peace signs, or other counterculture emblems stand out like sore thumbs. If you choose such a mode of travel and aren't completely clean you're a damned fool.