The War on Raves

Forget terrorists; let's fight the dancers

You can dance if you want to -- well, no, you can'tThe government doesn't want you to dance. Actually, the government doesn't want you to take drugs, and it thinks that getting you to stop dancing -- or buying plastic tubes of neon to wave in the air -- will cut down on your drug intake. Nothing, and I mean nothing, should ever stop you from exercising your right to wave a glow stick. It's right there in the Constitution, sort of.

Let's backtrack a bit. Last year, the Department of Justice sent out a painfully funny memo (found at www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs/656) to law enforcement bodies throughout the country about raves and "club drugs." Among other incorrect assumptions, the missive suggested that rave organizers were condoning drug usage by providing free water, allowing on-site testing of Ecstasy purity, and making party fliers that emphasize the letter "e," which we all know spells trouble (or at least helps spell it).

But the least amusing part of the memo concerned a "methodology for the potential prosecution of rave promoters who [allow] open, unabated drug use." The bulletin explained how certain prosecutors were shutting down nightclubs by using a 1986 law designed to rid cities of crack houses. This statute says that any building manager with knowledge of drug use on the premises can be sent to prison for up to 20 years and/or fined $500,000. In other words, if one guy's doing Ecstasy at a rave, the organizer of the party can be held responsible. If this law had been in effect in the '60s, Bill Graham would've been up shit creek.

In 2001, federal prosecutors used the "crack house" law to arrest the owners of two dance clubs -- Club La Vela in Tallahassee and the State Palace Theater in New Orleans. Neither case stuck: In Tallahassee the jury returned a not guilty verdict in only 75 minutes, while in New Orleans the feds merely got a plea bargain, which stipulated that glow sticks, pacifiers, and face masks would be forbidden in the State Palace Theater. But the American Civil Liberties Union appealed the Louisiana case, and in February of this year, in what the ACLU called "a major victory" for free speech, U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous ruled that "the government cannot ban inherently legal objects that are used in expressive communication because a few people use the same legal item to enhance the effects of an illegal substance."

But don't lace up your dancing shoes just yet. Recently, federal lawmakers sneaked a little provision into the proposed bill HR 3782, the so-called "CLEAN-UP of Methamphetamines Act of 2002," that expresses similar ideas to the "crack house" statute. Section 416A, a one-paragraph addition to the bill, says that a promoter who handles "any rave, dance, music, or other entertainment event ... where the promoter knows or reasonably ought to know that a controlled substance will be used or distributed" can be fined or imprisoned for up to nine years. The wording is incredibly vague, not to mention ridiculous. As Turner Madden, general counsel for the International Association of Assembly Managers Inc., writes in a letter to the chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), "businesses are generally not liable for the criminal acts of third parties." To prove his point, he brings up a 1985 decision in which a judge ruled that a Los Angeles Dodgers fan who got mugged in the parking lot after a game couldn't hold the team financially responsible.

Not to be outdone, the California Narcotic Officers' Association is sponsoring a statewide anti-rave bill, AB 1941. The legislation requires that promoters of raves -- defined as all-night parties where "repetitive electronic music" is played -- jump through extensive permit hoops, acknowledge in writing their sufficient knowledge of drugs (what, show off their bongs?), and promise cross-your-heart style not to condone violations of drug laws. Both the ACLU and the Center for Policy Reform have submitted letters opposing the bill, on the grounds that it is discriminatory, arbitrary, and draconian. Unfortunately, the California Assembly passed the measure by a vote of 79-0, so we may have to hope the courts will strike it down. Still, it couldn't hurt to send your state senators a letter saying how strongly you oppose the legislation. Maybe include a glow stick as well.

For more information on both bills, go to www.emdef.org.

 
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