PORTLAND – The U.S. government has sent federal prosecutors to a “pop-up” court in Eastern Oregon to process citations against people attending a massive counter-culture peace gathering on public land that could draw up to 20,000 people.
Several assistant U.S. attorneys are staffing a make-shift office within walking distance of the festival in Malheur National Forest, said Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Oregon.
Those who don’t want to negotiate a deal with prosecutors can appear before a federal judge by satellite, he said.
The court was in session Tuesday and will be running again on Friday. A federal magistrate will be available by remote camera on July 6, he said.
Sonoff declined to say how prosecutors will handle marijuana use at the event except to say they law enforcement is taking a “measured approach.”
Voters in Oregon legalized recreational marijuana in 2014 but it remains illegal under federal law. The gathering takes place on federal forest land in Grant County, a remote area with just 7,500 people.
As of Tuesday, about 2,700 early birds had shown up for the Rainbow Family gathering that runs from July 1 to July 7, said Kyle Johnson, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.
Greater numbers of people are expected to arrive later this week. The annual event peaks on July 4, when attendees gather for an hours-long group prayer for peace.
Eight arrests have been made and nearly 50 people have received violation notices, the Forest Service said. Nearly 200 warnings have also been issued.
The Rainbow Family gathering began in 1972 and occurs each year in a different national forest. Last year, it was held in Vermont.
The group has declined to apply for a permit to gather in Malheur National Forest, as is required for groups of 75 or more, Johnson said. The Forest Service instead created a guide listing regulations and shared it with the Rainbow Family group while making it clear the agency will enforce its provisions.
Johnson said the Forest Service is concerned about damage to sensitive habitat from having so many people there at once.
“You can’t even calculate what could happen to sensitive cultural sites, species, water resources, invasive plants. All of these are very high concerns for us,” he said.
A community meeting was planned Tuesday to allay residents’ concerns about the large crowds in the area.
A meeting last week between Rainbow Family participants and residents grew heated as locals expressed concerns about the campers using up all the food and fuel in the rural community, according to the Blue Mountain Eagle newspaper.
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