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The Law Won

The RAVE Act's first cousin is now club owners' worst enemy.



Last fall, the RAVE Act looked as dead as the rave scene itself. The dubious bill, aimed at making owners and promoters of music venues responsible for drug activity at their events, went so far as to classify glowsticks, bottled water, and pacifiers as drug paraphernalia. The proposed RAVE Act (which stood for "Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy") was tabled in November, after more than 50,000 people faxed letters of protest to Washington and two senators withdrew their support.

But thanks to plucky Massachusetts Senator Joe Biden, many of the original provisions have become law anyway. On April 8, Biden tacked a new version of the legislation onto the AMBER Alert Bill, the goal of which is the creation of a national database of missing children.

By attaching elements of the more controversial RAVE Act onto a universally popular piece of legislation, Biden made the act difficult to oppose. Two days later, the AMBER Alert was signed into law. Thus, without passing a single committee or being subject to any debate, a reconstituted RAVE Act (now known as the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act) is on the books.

"One of my colleagues spoke on the floor against the bill, then voted for it," says Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, of Ohio's 11th District. "They said they did it because, when the news gets back to their hometown, people will say they voted against the AMBER Alert. They said they couldn't take that kind of hit." Tubbs Jones, who disagreed with the anti-drug bill's mandatory sentencing stipulation, was one of 25 representatives who voted against the legislation.

Fellow Representative Sherrod Brown voted for the bill. "I supported the AMBER Alert legislation, as did my constituents and law enforcement officials. This vote represented the only way for us to get it passed," Brown explained in an e-mail, in which he also expressed his concern about Ecstasy use among school-age kids.

Spokespeople for Ohio Senator Michael Dewine didn't seem familiar with the drug-related portion of AMBER Alert; similarly, Soundbites' call to the office of Senator George Voinovich last summer for comment on the proposed RAVE Act yielded this response from his press secretary: "I'd love to explain to him what a rave is." Both Dewine and Voinovich voted in favor of the AMBER Alert Act.

The good news is, the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act does away with some of the more outlandish aspects of the original RAVE proposal: Your bottled water no longer proves you're a dopehead, and glowsticks and pacifiers also are not considered drug paraphernalia under the new law. But a few troublesome quirks remain: Club owners and/or concert promoters are now responsible for any drug use at their venues, regardless of whether they hire security guards to conduct searches of concertgoers or post signs prohibiting illegal substances at their shows. Violators are subject to as much as 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

On the surface, making club owners and promoters responsible for drug use at their events seems a reasonable requirement. But what makes the law dangerous is how open to interpretation its wording is. The burden of proof for prosecutors is to demonstrate that the presenter of the show knowingly allowed drug use to occur. But some law-enforcement officials undoubtedly see electronic music shows as being synonymous with drug use, so merely hosting such an event could imply the promoter's awareness of drug use.

"How are they are going to choose who to go after? It could be very arbitrary," says Susan Mainzer, a spokesperson for the Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund, a national organization that defends the rights of clubgoers. "If you are throwing a Bob Marley Day, as the promoter, do you reasonably know that people will be smoking pot?"

Then there's the sticky issue of making business owners culpable because of the actions of their customers.

"I don't understand how they're trying to hold somebody responsible who's just running a business, who's not selling drugs. That doesn't make sense," says George "Pooh Man Chew" Goins, an area hip-hop promoter. "If someone went in the club and got drunk, drove home, and crashed, is that my fault? People are going to do what they want to do."

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