Tell Ashcroft Not to Abuse the RAVE Act

The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act (also called the "RAVE Act"), which was attached to the AMBER Alert bill, passed both the House and Senate late yesterday (April 10).

The RAVE Act threatens free speech and musical expression while placing at risk any hotel/motel owner, concert promoter, event organizer, nightclub owner or arena/stadium owner for the drug violations of third parties -- real or alleged -- even if the event promoter and/or property owner made a good-faith effort to keep their event drug-free. It applies not just to electronic-music parties, but to any type of public gathering, including theatrical productions, rock concerts, DJ nights at local bars, and potentially even political rallies. It gives heightened powers and discretion to prosecutors, who may use it to target events they personally don't like -- such as Hip-Hop events or gay and lesbian fundraisers.

Sadly, the RAVE Act was added to the AMBER Alert bill conference report at the very last minute by Senator Biden (D-DE), its original sponsor. The AMBER Alert bill creates a system for responding to child abduction. It has nothing to do with drug policy. The RAVE Act had not passed even a single committee in the House or Senate this year. One senator's pet issue made a mockery of the Democratic process -- becoming law without any public hearing or opportunity for input whatsoever.

You should be aware that your letters and faxes clearly had an effect. (FYI -- you sent Congress 13,000 faxes this week alone!!) For example, the word "rave" was removed from the version of the bill that passed. Eliminating such blatant discrimination is a victory for our continued freedom of speech. Also, the original bill suggested that prosecutors should view the sale of water and the presence of glowsticks or massage oil as evidence of drug use. These ludicrous "findings" were completely removed thanks to you.

President Bush will sign this child abduction bill, which means the RAVE Act will become law as well. We will be working with the legislators who opposed this provision -- such as Senators Durbin, Kennedy and Leahy and Representatives Conyers and Scott -- for its repeal. In the meantime, however, it is up to all of us to be the watchdogs of its enforcement.

Attorney General John Ashcroft will have to make decisions about its enforcement priority among the many public safety issues the Department of Justice handles. He must be held responsible when he implements this scheme. We want him to know that he is not free to shut down our dance clubs, our festivals and our freedoms. We will be watching the activities of law enforcement and prosecutors, and we will act when our rights are violated. You can help us by faxing Attorney General Ashcroft.

We thank our many partners in this effort for your hard work: EM:DEF, ROAR, Buzzlife Productions, Davey D., electronic dance and music organizations throughout the U.S., club owners, hotel organizations, beverage and licensing groups, the ACLU and many, many others. But most of all, I want to say thank you personally to our members and supporters.

You truly deserve credit for reacting so quickly and so forcefully. It has really been amazing. When Bill McColl, our Director of National Affairs, told me about this issue last June he said that he thought the RAVE Act would pass in about two weeks. You proved us wrong. It took 10 months, a change in control of the Senate, backroom maneuverings and substantial changes to the bill. I'm proud of the hard work of our members, friends and our coalition. Rest assured we will continue to work together to mobilize opposition and advocate to fix this dangerous law.

Ethan Nadelmann is Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.


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