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Every now and then I volunteer for an association, organizing big role play events in my country (by big I mean several days with between several hundred people, so nothing at the national scale, but big enough nonetheless).

There I act as one of many game masters, creating the game to entertain people,... but I'm also meant to make people apply the rules whenever I can, be sure there are no cheaters etc...

The association has a responsibility towards the players somehow, and even though as a volunteer I risk nothing (legally speaking) if rules are not respected, it's part of our duty to make sure everyone is safe, and to some extent that the law is applied. I'm not there to play the police, yet I can't let people commit small (or not-so-small) crimes without doing anything, because the association might suffer from it.

This year, I eavesdropped a little while waiting for someone, and heard people talking about what they were smoking. They were absolutely not trying to hide they were having fun with good old cannabis, and to the smell of it, indeed it was drugs they were smoking.

Here lies my problem. Smoking this is forbidden in my country. If many people are doing it, it will be very bad press for the event. Moreover, I'm talking about an event with childrens of all ages, pregnant women sometimes etc... thus people who must not be impacted by passive smoking from this drug.

So, I think I should step in and stop these people from taking drugs, right? But here comes the tricky part. It is a well known fact in my country that a large majority, especially for people of my age, is in favor of the decriminalization of cannabis. So, should I step in and stop this, I can be a hundred percent sure a lot of people will see it very negatively.

I was told in such case I could ask people to stop smoking, and in case of repeated offence, to seize their "cigarette", or even exclude them from the area of play (which is a private property rented by the association).

My problem is: I have a duty to perform, yet I'm absolutely not a member of law enforcement, thus the only authority I got comes from the respect players have for their game master. Nothing more.

How can I approach these people to stop smoking drugs in the event area without causing a drama?

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    You say smokig weed is forbidden in your country and people is pushing to make it legal... but what about the events? is smoking "in general" allowed or forbidden in those events? – Josh Part Aug 3 '18 at 14:38
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    Does your association have a public stance on this? Whether you have the support of the event organisers makes a difference on how/if you should attempt to handle this. – littlefeltfangs Aug 3 '18 at 14:59
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    @JoshPart smoking is legal at the event yes, it is in open ground so no trouble with smoking something else. – Kaël Aug 4 '18 at 16:32
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    @littlefeltfangs I don't know the public stance at all. My senior friend, who's been volunteering for a longer time told me it is forbbiden, and shouldn't happen during the event. Yet that's not the same thing as a formal declaration on the event website – Kaël Aug 4 '18 at 16:34
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    "...it's part of our duty to make sure everyone is safe..." This is usually done by observing participants, advising them and ultimately informing superiors. Have you tried the later? – Trilarion Aug 6 '18 at 12:22
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Something that I found very effective when attending music festivals, and even while helping out as a doorman at a local club when I was younger, was a simple request for discretion.

Something along the lines of:

Hey, would you all mind being a little more discreet? If we want this event to continue at this venue, and keep the cops out, we need to keep that stuff low key.

Or:

Can you please keep that behind closed doors? Finish up in your car or campsite. If this event gains a reputation for open drug use we may get shut down.

This reminds people that they're out in public, and that they're putting the event at risk. Most casual drug users will tend to respect that it's not about your personal objections, but rather that you're doing your part to protect the event.

Things like "think of the children" or "what about second hand smoke" are likely to be scoffed at. Many cannabis users believe that the only risks are the legal consequences, so there's not much point in inviting that debate. Making points about being able to use the venue in the future, and avoiding a heavier police presence aren't things they can really argue with.

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    Agreed. When I was a ski instructor I came across a group of guys (early 20's) smoking weed in the glades - it is strictly against the mountain rules to do so. A simple "hey guys, would you mind not doing that on the hill?" got great results. They apologized, put out their joint and skied down. What helped was that (as you mentioned in your answer) I wasn't telling them to stop smoking pot, just asking them to not smoke it here. A judgmental "Stop! You're not allowed to do that!" would not have been received nearly as well. – Alexandre Aubrey Aug 3 '18 at 17:54
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In my experience, being polite actually works pretty well. I would approach with something like:

Hey guys, please don't smoke that here, there are kids participating in the event as well.

Chances are they know they are doing something they shouldn't and would just stop.

I advise against being judgmental or bringing legality into the conversation to avoid conflict.

Of course if that doesn't help you can do what every low level employee should do when handling issues at their workplace - Call your manager.

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    I would assume there are security guards hired for such a large event, in this case, if the OP is uncomfortable asking the offenders to leave, or has asked and they refuse, they should ask the security guards to handle this. – Matthieu M. Aug 3 '18 at 14:45
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    I agree with the general idea of being polite, but as @apaul pointed out in his answer "Things like 'think of the children' [...] are likely to be scoffed at. Many cannabis users believe that the only risks are the legal consequences". I'd keep the start of the phrase but would suggest finding something other than "there are kids participating in the event as well" to convince them. – Alexandre Aubrey Aug 3 '18 at 17:38
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    Addendum to previous comment: maybe use OP's mention that it would be bad press and say something along the lines of "it's just not the image that the organization wants to project". It's not a personal opinion statement, doesn't bring up legality, it's still a respectful thing to tell them and I think it's more likely to be effective. – Alexandre Aubrey Aug 3 '18 at 17:43
  • @AlexandreAubrey the risks of cannabis maybe, but you're still smoking them with tobacco, which is bad for kids (and everyone else) – Erik Aug 4 '18 at 13:18
  • Thanks for sharing your experience, that's a classic advice that will work well. I'll try as much as I can to avoid the trap of "being judgmental or bringing legality" there :) – Kaël Aug 4 '18 at 16:40
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You're right to say you have a problem.

It seems you understand your role, "creating the game to entertain people," to help everybody have fun.

If the police swoop in and arrest a lot of people for smoking weed, nobody will have fun. If families with children--or other people--have to leave your event or always be on the lookout, they won't have fun.

Your question doesn't mention whether you are expected to care for minors. So, I guess you are not; it's up to their parents to do that. If parents are giving their children into your care, that's a different situation entirely; ask another question.

It's not your job to enforce laws; you know that. You don't have the power to confiscate contraband. So don't use legality as your motivation for dealing with this problem. Instead think about having fun.

You can nudge people to avoid smoking weed by saying things like

"This is a family event. Please don't smoke weed inside the event."

or even

"Hey, be cool! Do that outside!"

You should consider getting your organization to adopt a code of conduct, and setting expectations before the next event.

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    FWIW: In a place where the activity is illegal, there can be nothing on a code of conduct except "Don't do this," even if in reality the culture of the event tolerates or even welcomes this behavior, so this section of a code of conduct is generally ignored by those relevant to this problem. – spiral succulent Aug 3 '18 at 17:49
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    @spiralsucculent, the code could apply to all smoking, including tobacco. Covers the ground, and goes beyond. All the better if there's a specific note re: where smokers can go to be outside the bounds where the hosting organization's rules apply. – Charles Duffy Aug 3 '18 at 20:39
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    @CharlesDuffy good point, I think that a code of conduct specifying "no smoking" would discourage pot smoking much more than "no illegal substances" – spiral succulent Aug 3 '18 at 20:40
  • @spiralsucculent Well, considering that it's already illegal how would it help? – mbomb007 Aug 3 '18 at 20:55
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    @mbomb007 see my first comment on this post, people who choose to consume an illegal drug know that its illegal. Any event with a code of conduct generally has a line prohibiting their use, because they couldn't very well say "We support you violating the law." If tobacco is allowed when weed is not, then the problem is the legality, which a pot smoker is used to violating. If smoking legal and illegal substances are equally prohibited, the problem is the smoke generated, which is something that all smokers are expected to be respectful of others about, no matter what they're consuming. – spiral succulent Aug 3 '18 at 21:04
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I'm not there to play the police, yet I can't let people commit small (or not-so-small) crimes without doing anything, because the association might suffer from it.

This is exactly what you should say.

They will understand.

And if they don't understand (or pretend not to understand) and get nasty about it, you can ask them to leave your event just like you would any troublemaker. It is not likely to come to this if you are polite, persisent and persuasive.

You can apologize, you can be polite about it, but this is the real truth—if you condone their currently illegal acts, you place the entire event and the entire association at legal risk of being shut down by the police.

You can absolutely hold the line on this. Depending on your own personal stance, and how argumentative they are about this, you might add something like:

Look, I'm not here to judge, and I'm not here to play cop. I just need to keep this event safe, family friendly, and also keep it on a legal footing. Let's take care of it ourselves before some local resident complains and it turns into "no fun" for everybody. None of us wants that to happen.

Or you could approach it more casually:

Hey guys, I overheard you about your smoking choices—I've got no problem with that, but we really need to keep it clean here at the venue. It's a privately rented space and there's rental agreements and all that, so can you please hold off on that stuff until you get home?

(There's a difference between confronting someone currently smoking an illegal drug, and confronting someone who you merely heard talking and planning to smoke one later.)

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I've recently learned about NonViolent Communication (NVC for short), which helped me since to express my concerns and feelings in really different matters.

It basically is about expressing what you feel and why, to non judgmentally and non violently reach a compromise.

I guess you could try something along the lines of

Hello. I have recently found out you are taking drugs during the event. While I generally do not have any issues with drugs, I am anxious, because I need that people that come to the event and their family are satisfied and feel safe. I also fear I will be held responsible for any mishap, and that I would not be able to come again in future events. Do you think you could not display or talk about your drug use in public?

While they may not agree, it will open up the conversation, without sounding judgmental.

I really suggest you learn a bit about NVC if you want to use that way of communicating your concerns.

  • How would you recommend responding if they take offense at having weed associated with other drugs, or at the implication that they're making people feel unsafe or they'll do something irresponsible? – NotThatGuy Aug 3 '18 at 12:25
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    It seems reasonable to not want to be accused of something bad (being irresponsible). I can't imagine "Is it because you need to be recognized as responsible?" will go well. – NotThatGuy Aug 3 '18 at 13:35
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    I would maybe switch to "some kind of unauthorized substance" instead of "drugs". Because it brings the legal aspect without saying it, and it's less "aggressive". Ask them as a favor also helps, I believe – OldPadawan Aug 3 '18 at 14:13
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    I heard of NVC before, and the kind of speech you are supposed to give, and if you talked to me (or a less relaxed and peaceful version of myself) like that, I would likely react very badly. The language is manipulative, and it doesn't even try to hide it. Many people will take a strong dislike to this. And remember you are talking to drug users here. apaul's reply has a much much higher chance to stop them, and a much much lower chance to get him into trouble. – gnasher729 Aug 4 '18 at 19:46
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    NVC is great but it has its limits. It would be better if they had some kind of personal or professional relationship, but they don't. This would be more akin to walking up to a complete stranger and asking them to consider your feelings. While many people will try to be considerate of the feelings of a stranger, it could come across as self-centered to start with that assumption. – Patrick Parker Aug 5 '18 at 12:58

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