Electronic music community to protest bill:
- A coalition of members of the music community have come together to protest the unconstitutional R.A.V.E act now being considered by the US Senate. The R.A.V.E. (Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy) Act, bill number S.2633 would expand the federal “crackhouse” statute. Water Bottles, Glowsticks and chill out rooms could be classified as “drug promotion.” Business people, promoters, venue owners and even homeowners will be liable for any drugs used on their premises.
Clearly such a sweeping change in the law requires a response. The Los Angeles protest will take place September 6th from 3pm – 8pm on the Northwest Lawn of the Westwood Federal Building at 11000 Wilshire Blvd.
Numerous luminaries of the LA and international DJ community including Doc
Martin, Richard Humpty Vission, Garth Trinidad, Colette, Curious, Daniel, Kid Dragon, Freddy B and others will DJ. The event has been organized through a coalition of organizations in LA’s world renown electronic music community including: Hi-Roller, Rock The Vote, Green Galactic, EM:DEF, V Squared Labs, Project Sweatshop, PAS, WAX, Sound Lessons, Insomnia, Good Stuff, Junglist Platoon, B3 Cande, eventvisuals.com, and Solid.
The R.A.V.E. Act was introduced in the Senate on June 18th and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee a week later, without a public hearing or recorded vote. It has been placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar and could come up for a full Senate vote in September. A number of organizations including civil liberties groups, business associations, and groups associated with the rave community, are working to defeat the RAVE Act or amend it to better protect innocent business owners, free speech, and public health. Tens of thousands of voters have signed petitions, and faxed or called their Senators to oppose this Act. Protests in opposition to the RAVE Act will be held simultaneously in cities around the country, including a rave and protest on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol on September 6th.
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) is the primary sponsor of the bill, but it is also being co-sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The R.A.V.E. Act expands the federal “crack house statute” to make it easier for the federal government to fine or imprison businessmen up to 20 years in federal prison if they fail to prevent customers or tenants from selling or using drugs on their premises or at their events. The RAVE Act increases the civil and criminal liability that business owners and event promoters could face if customers commit drug offenses on their property.
The RAVE Act is not just about Ecstasy and Raves. While proponents of the RAVE Act are trying to target the electronic music community, the RAVE Act would allow federal prosecutors to target other events, such as Rock or Hip Hop concerts, country music events, and world music festivals. It could apply to hotel and motel owners, cruise ship operators, stadium owners, landlords, real estate managers, and event promoters. The bill is so broadly written that individuals could potentially face 20-year sentences for using drugs at home. Anyone who used drugs in their own home or threw an event (such as a party or barbecue) in which one or more of their guests used drugs could potentially face a $500,000 fine and up to twenty years in federal prison. If the offense occurred in a hotel room or on a cruise ship, the owner of the property could also be potentially liable.
For those unable to attend the protest in person we strongly recommend writing (preferable), faxing or calling your Senator on September 6th. A fax form, sample letter and senator info is available here.
A link to the petition, the Drug Policy Alliance’s analysis of the bill along with the full text of the bill and the introductory statements for the bill from the Congressional Record are also available at that link.
- Bipartisan stupidity is alive and well in Washington. On June 27, just nine days after its introduction, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out S. 2633, the “Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act,” or the “RAVE Act.” The cute acronym alone should earn this bill a one-way ticket to the legislative dustbin. But when the Senate reconvenes in September, the odds favor consideration and passage of this bill, which should be properly called the “Increasing Americans’ Vulnerability to Prosecutorial Abuse Act.” Sadly, IAVPA just doesn’t sound snappy enough.
The Rave Act is designed to expand the federal “crack-house” statute to cover certain kinds of electronic music concerts, known as raves, on the dubious ground that these particular concerts are prone to drug use among patrons. The bill would make it a federal crime to “knowingly” operate or lease property “permanently or temporarily…for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using a controlled substance.”
That may sound innocent enough, but the purpose of the bill is manifestly clear: Concert promoters will be held criminally and civilly liable for any drug use that may occur on premises they are operating. The RAVE Act has nothing to do with reducing drug use, and everything to do with giving politically motivated prosecutors a tool to go after innocent businessmen who have no ties to the drug trade.
Right off the bat, the RAVE Act creates a non-objective law. What does that mean? It means that the language is so vague as to render it impossible for anyone to know what specific conduct will actually make them liable under the law. For example, unlike the current crack-house law, the RAVE Act says an owner is liable if his premises are “temporarily” used for drug purposes. This one word actually negates the entire purpose of the crack-house law in the first place! A crack-house is supposed to be a building or property whose purpose is to facilitate drug use. The purpose of a concert is to, well, entertain people with musical performances. That’s not illegal. But under the RAVE Act, if even one person is using drugs at a show, that can technically create civil and criminal liability for the owner.
Of course, it’s doubtful that many raves will actually be prosecuted nationally. What will more likely happen is a few jurisdictions—fueled by misleading news reports about the dangers of ecstasy—will take the opportunity to enforce the law in a very draconian fashion. New York City will probably have a field day, as under former mayor Rudolph Giuliani the city engaged in a massive “crackdown” on dance clubs in the name of preventing drug use.
Not only does the RAVE act attack the rights of concert promoters, it directly assaults the property rights of individuals who rent buildings and other spaces to promoters. If you rent a theater to a promoter, and there is drug use of any kind found at the concert subsequently held, both the promoter and property owner can be held liable. And since the bill allows the government to charge the property owner civilly, prosecutors will be held to a lower burden of proof than in a criminal case. But the results will be just as bad for defendants, since the law provides a $250,000 penalty for violation.
On top of all this, the RAVE Act is a violation of the First Amendment, because it deliberately targets a particular form of musical expression for prosecution based on content. The bill presumes raves are more prone to drug use than other concerts, which is not true (or at least, it hasn’t been proven by anyone.) The bill amounts to libel against the thousands of Americans who peacefully enjoy and participate in electronic music concerts without ever using drugs—a group that is clearly a majority of ravegoers. In what other context would we ever permit the government to label the majority based on the actions of a minority?
Finally, this bill will probably exacerbate the very “drug problem” that it’s supposed to prevent. Because concert promoters are liable if they “knowingly” permit drug use to occur, a promoter is left with two options. He can try and eliminate all potential drug use from his concerts, which would probably mean full-body strip and cavity searches of all patrons and performers (and see how long he’d stay in business for doing that.) Or, the promoter can pretend there is no drug problem, search nobody, or even worse, refuse to take any measures which might anticipate drug use. For example, he can refuse to have medical personnel on hand or not sell bottled water (yes, the bill consider the sale of bottled water to be a telltale sign of illegal drug activity.) In either case, you either force ecstasy users further underground or you risk their lives.
CAC calls on the Senate to reject this nonsensical attack on businessmen and individual rights. You can write to Congress on this matter through CAC’s Government & Media Action Center.
Thoughtful post from blogger Mark Kleiman on the Ecstasy phenomenon from a different perspective:
- MDMA use has been soaring, as measured both by surveys and by emergency-room visits. My reading of the current evidence does not suggest that the drug’s effects are nearly as bad as the drug warriors would like us to believe, and last year’s Congressionally-ordered toughening of the sentencing guidelines in MDMA distribution cases seemed way out of proportion to the known risks.
But it’s also the case that the pattern of MDMA consumption has changed significantly for the worse over the last decade, with a substantial incidence of the sort of high-dose, frequent use that no one thinks is safe. That pattern of use is associated with raves; the drug’s powers as a pure stimulant, which remain even after repeated use has dulled its more subtle effects, are greatly valued by people who want to stay up all night dancing, three nights every weekend.
One line of thinking about raves is that they are good places to spread information about safer drug use. But if they are also places where social setting encourages less safe drug use, it might well be the case that shutting them down would, on balance, reduce the aggregate damage done by the drug.
In some ways, this is a reprise of the argument about the gay bathhouses early in the AIDS epidemic. (See Randy Shilt’s account in And the Band Played On.) I think it’s now reasonably clear that shutting them down would have saved thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of lives. Now analogy is not identity, and it’s quite possible that, even if raves are A Bad Thing, trying to shut them down by legislation will prove futile or counterproductive. But, as always, I’m troubled by the extent to which the reflexive authoritarianism of the drug warriors is matched by reflexive libertarianism on the other side, with no one very interested in the likely actual results of the policies being debated.
MDMA policy is a hard, high-stakes question: too hard, and too important, to be dealt with by the usual round of sloganeering by the warriors and their opponents.