RAVE Is On -- Again

It's baaaack. The proposed, and extremely draconian, Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act has reemerged this Congressional session -- although it no longer bears that catchy little moniker. The bill was filed last session by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and proposed extending the nets of the infamous Biden-sponsored Eighties "crack house laws" by broadening their definition to include any businessperson, club owner, or promoter on whose property or at whose events illicit drugs are used or sold.

The legislation was clearly aimed at squashing the rave scene, but drug reformers and civil libertarians quickly cried foul at the law's broad language, which could apply to any use of property, no matter how "temporary," potentially including citizens who use drugs in their own homes. Representatives from the ACLU, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and other reformers took their ire to Capitol Hill last fall when they staged a rave dance-rally in the halls of Congress. Shortly thereafter, the bill began to hemorrhage sponsors and then quietly disappeared.

That is, until this month, when it cropped up again attached to an omnibus domestic-security bill -- the Justice Enhancement and Domestic Security Act of 2003, sponsored by Tom Daschle, D-S.D. -- in a section on "Crack-House Statute Amendments." The ploy -- attaching a controversial provision to a fuzzy-bunny bill that no one is likely to vote against -- is common. Indeed, the revamped RAVE Act has been dumped into legislation whose other provisions would help protect missing and exploited children, senior citizens, and rape victims, and would combat telemarketing fraud and identity theft. But RAVE wasn't hidden well enough to evade the eyes of drug reformers, who are planning once again to protest.

Drug Policy Alliance Fact Sheet: What is Wrong with this Legislation?

  • It unfairly punishes businessmen and women for the actions of their customers. It is too broadly written and could subject innocent business owners to enormous fines and prison sentences, especially restaurant and nightclub owners, concert promoters, landlords, and real estate managers. Business owners could be prosecuted even if they were not involved in drugs, and even if they took steps to stop drug use on their property. In recent cases under existing law nightclub owners were prosecuted despite the fact that they had a history of working with the police to stop drug offenses on their property, including holding suspected drug offenders until the police arrived. This legislation could put many innocent business owners out of business.

  • It does not offer enough protection for innocent business owners. The bill's addition of the word "temporarily" undermines the very purpose of the "crack house statute" which was targeting owners of property that was being used primarily for drug offenses, not making property owners liable for isolated actions that occur on their property, whether they are there or not. The legislation even goes so far as to allow the federal government to charge property owners civilly, thus allowing prosecutors to fine property owners $250,000 (and put them out of business) without having to meet the high standard of proof in criminal cases that is needed to protect innocent people.

  • It is a threat to free speech and the right to dance. Property owners, promoters, and event coordinators could be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars and face up to twenty years in federal prison if they hold concerts or other events on their property and police make drug arrests. If the legislation becomes law, property owners may become too afraid to rent or lease their property to groups holding all-night dance parties, rock or Hip-Hop concerts, gay circuit parties, protest rallies or any other event rightly or wrongly perceived as attracting drug users (essentially any event that attracts a young crowd.) Federal prosecutors are already punishing business owners that allow certain non-profit groups on their property or allow their customers to dance with glow sticks or other legal items. This bill will make it easier for the federal government to coerce business owners with threats of $250,000 fines into not playing certain kinds of music, allowing certain types of guests onto their property, and not allowing certain kind of clothes or other legal items.

  • It will endanger our nation's youth. If enacted, licensed and law-abiding business owners may stop hosting raves and other musical events out of fear of massive fines and prison sentences -- driving raves and other musical events further underground and away from public health and safety regulations. It would also discourage business owners from enacting important safety measures to protect their customers. Federal prosecutors are already insinuating that selling bottled water, having paramedics on call, and offering air-conditioned rooms is proof that owners and promoters are encouraging drug use at their events. This legislation may make business owners too afraid to implement such commonsense public safety measures, and the safety of our nation's youth will suffer.

  • It is so broadly written that homeowners could potentially face 20-year sentences if their guests use drugs at their party or barbecue. As currently written, the proposed law would make it a federal crime to temporarily use a place for the purpose of using any illegal drug. Thus, 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 at a hotel room or on a cruise ship, the owner of the property could also be potentially liable.

  • It punishes property owners that rent to people following state law. The legislation effectively makes it a federal crime to rent property to medical marijuana patients and their caregivers. While those using or providing marijuana are prosecutable under federal law, this legislation would make any property owner who leased or rented property to such people also liable for their offenses - even in states where it is legal under state and local law.

  • This article was originally published by the Austin Chronicle.

    Fact sheet produced by Drug Policy Alliance.

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