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Phish Stoners’ Arrests Underscore Post-Electric Zoo Tensions

Phish, drug, arrests, Madison Square Garden

A rash of arrests during Phish’s four-night New Year’s Eve stand at New York’s Madison Square Garden drives home the more restrictive environment for drugs at music events after two concertgoers died during last year’s Electric Zoo festival.

The New York Times reports that 228 or more people were arrested or got summonses in Phish’s first three MSG nights alone. The Times notes, though, that New York police have cause for wariness: This past Labor Day weekend, Randalls Island-based Electric Zoo was forced to cancel its final day amid two ecstasy-related deaths and four hospitalizations. In other words, the crackdown could be a sign of the (only somewhat less high) times.

Phish, of course, have a Grateful Dead-like reputation for drawing a cultish, drug-using fan base. And it’s not as if Midtown Manhattan is lacking for law enforcement vigilance on an average evening. So some of the arrests sound like they involved a fair amount of recklessness: “Make sure you don’t get caught, cops are everywhere,” one man allegedly said, as an undercover cop bought psychedelic mushrooms from one of his partners.

It’s true, too, that a portion of arrests were for ticket scalping, public urination, and other non-drug offenses. According to the Times, though, a majority of the arrests involved selling or possessing narcotics. Officials said they seized, in our Paper of Record’s words, “marijuana, hash, psychedelic mushrooms, LSD, MDMA or ecstasy, amphetamine and prescription drugs like Oxycodone, OxyContin and Xanax.” Of the 228 people arrested or slapped with summonses, only 10 people faced felony charges as of the Times‘ report.

New York has decriminalized possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana, though pot in “public view” is still an arrestable offense. According to The Hollywood Reporter (and the commonsense guess of anyone who has been to a rock concert), concertgoers were smoking away freely during Phish’s New Year’s Eve set. Those in police custody rang in 2014 in a somewhat less festive type of way.