4 APRIL 18, 2003
www.houston voice.com HOUSTON VOICE
Congress passes bill targeting rave scene
"Chilling effect' on circuit
parties feared, opponent says
By LOU CHIBBARO JR.
WASHINGTON — An antr-drug bill
that gay and straight event promoters say
could subject them to criminal prosecution
for drug offenses committed by their customers passed in the House and Senate on
April 10 by overwhelming margins.
The legislation, formerly known as the
RAVE Act and later renamed the Illicit
Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, sailed
through Congress with little public notice
and almost no debate after a House-Senate
conference committee on April 8 attached
the bill to the popular Child Abduction
President Bush said he plans to sign the
Gay event promoters, including organizers of gay circuit parties, have warned
that the anti-drug bill could subject them
to criminal penalties and stiff civil fines, a
development, they said, that could prompt
them to consider discontinuing the popular circuit parties.
Circuit events have long served as fundraisers for gay civil rights causes and
The bill broadens the scope of an existing federal law, known as the Crack House
Act, which gives the federal government
authority to criminally prosecute owners
of properties in which drug use and distribution occurs.
The new legislation authorizes federal
prosecution of organizers or promoters of
one-time events, such as circuit parties or
rave events, in which alleged drug use or
distribution occurs. The bill also allows
federal authorities to file civil charges
against event promoters who allegedly
allow drug activity at their events.
Critics have said the civil offense
Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) said the bill is aimed at
unscrupulous event promoters or club owners who
'knowingly' allow, encourage or promote drug use
and sales on their premises. (Photo by AP)
clause in the bill could be used to
bankrupt promoters because they could
be ordered to pay a $250,000 fine for each
charge filed against them. Civil charges
require a lower threshold of evidence
than criminal charges, making it easier
for prosecutors to obtain a conviction.
"It is important to remember that
this legislation punishes business owners and event producers and sponsors
for the actions of event attendees,
despite their efforts to discourage or
prevent illegal drug use," said gay event
promoter Mark Lee.
"Essentially there is no way for special
event producers or circuit events to adequately protect themselves or their events
from possible prosecution under the terms
of the law," he said.
Lee said he was especially concerned
that the law allows authorities to use
"harm-reduction" efforts by circuit party
promoters as evidence of the promoter's
"knowledge" that drug use is occurring at
these events. Promoters of the D.C. Cherry
Party, for example, have provided medical
services and drug information literature
for their patrons, services that Lee fears
could be used against event promoters by
an overzealous prosecutor.
This legislation punishes business
owners and event producers and
sponsors for the actions of event
attendees, despite their efforts to
discourage or prevent illegal drug use.'
-Gay event promoter Mark Lee
Unscrupulous promoters targeted
Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DeL), the author
and chief sponsor of the Illicit Drug Anti-
Proliferation Act, has denied the legislation would harm legitimate nightclubs or
events. Biden said the measure is aimed at
unscrupulous event promoters or club
owners who "knowingly" allow, encourage or promote drug use and sales on
their premises. .
Biden noted that the club drug ecstasy
is widely used in nightclubs that offer rave
music as well as at one-time events that bill
themselves as rave parties.
While disputing assertions by the
ACLU and rave party enthusiasts that his
bill would violate First Amendment protection of free expression by singling out
a specific type of music, Biden nevertheless agreed to remove the term "RAVE"
from the bill's title, which was an
acronym for Reducing Americans'
Vulnerability to Ecstasy.
Biden also deleted from the bill a
preamble or "findings" section that linked
the distribution of glow sticks, the sale of
bottled water, and the offering of air conditioned "chill rooms" by event promoters
as potential evidence that the events were
encouraging the use or sale of ecstasy on
William McColl, national affairs director of the
Drug Policy Alliance, which lobbied against the
RAVE Act, said the legislation could embolden federal prosecutors to target gay circuit parties as
well as rave music events for drug investigations,
creating a 'chilling effect' for party organizers.
The ACLU and a coalition of disc jockeys, musicians, rave enthusiasts, and club
and event promoters that opposed the legislation argued that the "findings" section
was especially unfair because it stigmatized what they called a legitimate form of
music and entertainment enjoyed by large
numbers of Americans.
The child abduction measure, known as
the Amber Alert bill, establishes a national, federally funded alert system to help
local law enforcement agencies and the
FBI rescue abducted children.
The bill received overwhelming bipartisan support, making it difficult for opponents of the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation
Act to persuade colleagues to vote against
the combined legislation.
The Senate passed the combined measure by a vote of 98 to 0. The House passed
the legislation by a vote of 400 to 25, with
eight members not voting and two members voting "present."
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who
is gay, was among 25 House members to
vote against the Amber Alert bill. Frank,
who voted for an earlier version of the alert
measure, said the Republican-controlled
conference committee's decision to add the
RAVE Act to the bill prompted him to vote
against it last week.
Frank called the former RAVE Act
and its new incarnation another example of the nation's "overly punitive
approach to drug use," which he dubbed
Opponents would have been able to
line up many more votes against the mea
sure had Republican leaders allowed it to
reach the House floor as a freestanding
bill, Frank said.
The other two openly gay members of
the House — Reps. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and
Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) — voted for the
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who also
voted against the Amber Alert bill,
opposed a decision by the conference
committee to attach several unrelated
bills to the measure, in addition to the
RAVE Act, turning the measure into a
"Christmas tree" bill for ultra conservative causes, according to a Nadler
William McColl, director of national
affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a
group that lobbied against the RAVE
Act, said the version that Congress
passed last week is broadly worded. He
said the legislation will likely embolden
federal prosecutors to cite the use of
glow sticks and chill rooms as grounds
for launching a drug investigation into
rave or circuit parties.
McColl added that prosecutors might
also consider the practice of circuit party
organizers to arrange for paramedics and
private ambulances to be present outside
circuit party locations as evidence that the
organizers are aware of and condone the
use of illegal drugs at such events.
Circuit party organizers have said they
do not approve of drug use but feel duty-
bound to have emergency medical teams
available in case patrons of the events
become seriously ill from a drug overdose,
a development that sometimes occurs at
The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act,
as passed by Congress, prohibits "an individual from knowingly opening, maintaining, managing, controlling, renting, leasing, making available for use, or profiting
from any place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance."
McColl credited Reps. Robert Scott (D-
Va.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) with
strongly opposing efforts by the conference
committee to add the illicit drug measure
to the Amber alert bill.
"Unfortunately, they were outvoted and
RAVE Act provisions did become part of
the bill," McColl said.
The Amber Alert system is named after
9-year-old Amber Hagerman of Arlington,
Texas, who was kidnapped and murdered
in 1996. The system, which has already
been adopted in various forms by 39 states,
uses media broadcasts, highway road
signs, and law enforcement announcements to instantly disseminate information about child abductions.
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Washington, D.C. 20005