Congress Goes Stark RAVEing Mad
[August 15, 2002]
By S. M. Oliva
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
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
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
Government & Media Action Center.
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