BY DAN GARCIA
The city of Chicago took a step towards public health and wellness Wednesday by banning smoking in public parks, a city where restaurants and bars have been smoke free for several years. Although this is the next step to making the citizens of Chicago curb their unhealthy smoking habits, will there be a negative health effect for music festival goers?
Chicago is home to many great music festivals, including Riot Fest, Pitchfork, North Coast Music Festival, AAHH! Fest, and Lollapalooza. These festivals take place throughout city parks from Humboldt Park to Grant Park and Union Park. While smoking was originally allowed in these parks for many years, Wednesday officials from the Chicago Park District board passed a resolution (without any opposition), making parks and harbors in the district smoke free. The measure has been described as “a breath of fresh air”, by Joel Africk, president of the Respiratory Health Association.
Generally, we cannot disagree. This measure is indeed a breath of fresh air and a great step into saving smokers from themselves. However its potential negative effect on music festivals may have gone unnoticed in the floor debates. Of course there are the economic effects in banning smoking in music festivals, such as reduced cigarette sales in the city for cigarettes that otherwise would have been purchased and smoked inside the festivals. However, our focus will not be on this side of things and we will not suggest that less people will attend these highly attended music festivals because they can’t smoke anymore. The real risk is the substitution to more deadly drugs.
If you have never smelled weed at a music festival, then you likely have never been to a music festival. I personally have never smoked weed or a cigarette in my life, but you cannot avoid an occasional ‘wiff’ while in the crowd. In fact, I would even say that marijuana use is decently unenforced at music festivals (and for good reason). Security and police officers have public safety on their mind and are not there to be the ‘fun police’. At most a security guard will usually tell someone, “I don’t care if you smoke, but don’t let me see it and don’t do it in open.” In fact, I have personally witnessed such conversations and I can’t blame them for this approach. When you get patted down arriving a festival, they are looking for guns and knives, not weed. These festivals do not encourage smoking weed, but there simply are bigger problems to deal with.
Of course, weed is already illegal in Chicago and directly this smoking ban should not affect weed use. However, in practice, if you cannot even smoke cigarettes, a cloud of smoke (that may or may not be from marijuana) will be a major red flag and encourage many to not smoke anything. These music festivals, while worth the money, are very expensive and many may find that with this new smoking ban, it is not worth the risk to roll up. But this begs the question of whether such music lovers, will find the desire to substitute their high for other illegal drugs. While electronic music is at the peak of its popularity, so is the use of drugs like MDMA (commonly known as Molly).
MDMA use has been such a problem and liability in Chicago, that some Chicago concert venues (as encouraged by the city of Chicago) have already banned EDM concerts because of the drugs and risks that their fans bring along. While I cannot put myself in the shoes of a smoker, it is not at all unrealistic to think that many will substitute marijuana for MDMA and other more deadily drugs. In fact, I would even suggest that come Summer 2015, you will see more MDMA use at these festivals and the negative results that come with its usage. Making Chicago smoke free is a great idea, and I can’t even say I disagree with their decision, but the obvious and negative effects that will take place at music festivals may have not been imagined by Park District.
So if you plan on going to one of Chicago’s great music festivals, be safe. But if you don’t take that advice, as Officer Ternard of the Chicago Police Department told me, while working at Lollapalooza, “If you OD at a music festival, get help, the police are there to help and not to get people in trouble.”