In the past, when tens of thousands of stoners flocked to a major American city to catch a performance by a band unapologetically associated with the use of mind-altering substances, there has typically been a militant response on the part of law enforcement. It was not uncommon, during these types of events, to witness a rabid surge of wild-eyed coppers patrolling the streets and conducting roadside shakedowns on any vehicle branded with a Peace sign—not to mention, those standing guard along the front line of the stage, itching for some action.
Fortunately, times are changing, at least to some degree, and many police agencies have been forced to pull back the reins on hardcore enforcement tactics as they pertain to rock concerts and marijuana.
Over the weekend, a record-breaking crowd of more than 70,000 Deadheads gathered at Soldier Field in Chicago to catch the final performances of the Grateful Dead’s “Fare Thee Well” tour. However, unlike in years past, very few of those in attendance were busted for pot-related offenses. This despite the fact that the Chicago Sun Times reported “a pungent fog of marijuana smoke wafted throughout the arena…over three straight nights of concerts.”
According to the Chicago Police Department, officers only made one arrest and issued two citations throughout the course of the entire weekend for illegal possession of marijuana. Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the police agency, said officers had more important issues than marijuana to contend with, like the increasing murder rate that continues to plague the city.
“While in most cases cannabis possession is a ticketable offense, as residents would expect CPD’s primary focus was on fighting violent crime and addressing the illegal guns that threaten our communities,” Guglielmi said in a statement.
Although Chicago passed a flaky decriminalization ordinance several years ago aimed at giving police the discretion to issue citations to anyone caught in possession of less than 15 grams of weed, recent reports show that many officers simply opt to make the arrest because it is easier.
A study conducted last year by Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy found that although the Chicago Police Department has been arresting fewer people for weed, roughly 93 percent of these misdemeanor violations have resulted in arrest rather than a ticket. There are also concerns that racial disparity continues to play a heavy hand in the types of people who get arrested for marijuana, with police specifically targeting poor, minority neighborhoods.
Perhaps this is the reason the Chicago Police Department decided not to bother those in attendance at this past weekend’s shows—doing so could have proven fiscally irresponsible.
A recent report from Money.com indicated that the average ticket price to see the Grateful Dead’s Chicago performances was over $875, and online scalpers were asking as much as $100,000 per ticket.
Considering the inflated cost of admission, as well as headlines like, “Dead Fans Replace VW Vans With Jets and the Ritz Carlton” printed in the New York Times, there was destined to be a tremendous amount of economic gain for Chicago by hosting a legion of old stoners ready to wax nostalgic with weed and song.
Once the smoke finally clears, representatives from Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism bureau, project that as much as $100 million will have been poured into the city’s economy—not a bad haul from a group of people who were once referred to as lazy, pot-smoking hippies.