Last week, under cover of wartime and paranoia about the safety of America's children, the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003, known in an earlier form as the RAVE Act, became law as a non sequitur tacked on to the PROTECT Act ("Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today").
It was a sneaky deal: After having failed to make it out of the U.S. Senate last fall, when it stood alone, the bill -- which applies the existing crack-house law to temporary venues and allows for civil penalties against club owners and promoters -- cleared Congress with no hearings and little debate. "It was very sudden," says William McColl, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, "but not entirely unexpected. It's the kind of thing that happens in Washington these days."
Underhanded as it was, the Illegal Drug Anti-Proliferation Act remains something of a victory for the electronic-dance community, which mobilized to fight the RAVE Act last fall. While the original bill, SB 2633, targeted "alcohol-free venues" that sell glow sticks, massage oils and bottles of water, those items were struck, along with the acronym, in direct response to political pressure from the Electronic Music Defense Fund (EMDEF), the ACLU and other organizations.
When Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.) re-introduced legislation last January, he acknowledged "legitimate reasons for selling water, having a room where people can cool down after dancing, or having an ambulance on hand," and confirmed that efforts to promote public safety could not be used against any promoter. "In no way is this bill aimed at stifling any type of music or expression," he insisted, borrowing EMDEF's language. "It is only trying to deter illicit drug use and protect kids."
"We can be proud that we took over the spin," says Susan Mainzer of the publicity firm Green Galactic, which promotes many of the events Biden finds threatening. "Last fall secondary sponsors were taking their names off after we educated them about how the bill might be applied. The electronic-music community was able to organize as quickly as the [evangelical] Christians do -- and we showed that you can't discount us as a political force."
Still, while the new bill is leaner and simpler, it is also more open to interpretation. "It's hard to imagine any district attorney going after the Dodgers for someone smoking marijuana in the stands," says McColl. "The question is, who is it going to target? Is it going to be applied selectively to African-Americans? To unpopular types of music, such as hip-hop? To gay and lesbian clubs? We don't know. We're watching it carefully."