Antirave new world
By The Miami Herrald – Sept 18 2002
Copyright: The Miami Herrald
A bill expected to pass the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent this fall could have a chilling effect on Florida’s nightclub industry. Senate bill S. 2633, a k a the Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act of 2002, or the RAVE Act, would broaden federal standards for prosecuting venues under the so-called crack-house laws, which were designed to stamp out crack cocaine dealers. It would also add stiff civil penalties.
The bill specifically targets dance-music venues, whether they are temporary outdoor raves or established nightclubs. The RAVE Act has raised the ire of the electronic music industry, which brings tens of thousands of professionals and partyers to Miami every year for the Winter Music Conference.
”A lot of venues are going to be afraid to even rent to someone doing a rave-type party,” said Gary Blitz, coordinator of the Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund. “The law equates raves with drugs. The crack-house statute should be for crack houses, not for concerts or venues.”
Supporters of the RAVE Act say it is necessary to stop pervasive and dangerous use of drugs at raves.
”There’s no question that drug use at rave clubs is widespread,” said Jim McDonough, director of the Florida Office of Drug Control. “And drugs are fatal far too often.”
In 1999, Florida conducted operation Heat Rave, in which 57 Florida clubs were raided by police. Tens of thousands of doses of drugs were confiscated. According to McDonough, a survey of state medical examiners found 59 MDMA (Ecstasy) related deaths in 2000, and 147 in 2001. McDonough said that clamping down on Ecstasy is one of his office’s priorities.
”With or without this bill, any club that wantonly allows illegal drug use on their premises will be prosecuted,” McDonough said.
Both sides agree that the bill’s specific changes to current drug-enforcement laws are minor, as it expands the controlled substances act to allow prosecution of temporary and outdoor venues that exist “for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using a controlled substance.”
”It tailors the federal crack-house statute,” said Chip Unruh, spokesman for Sen. Joseph Biden, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s not a revolutionary new law.”
But the rhetoric surrounding the act has hardly been low-key. ‘Each year tens of thousands of young people are initiated into the drug culture at `rave’ parties or events (all-night, alcohol-free dance parties typically featuring loud, pounding dance music),” states the Findings section of the RAVE Act.
A video released by McDonough’s office depicts raves as lurid places where young, stoned girls are raped and fights are frequent.
Opponents of the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union, decry the Reefer Madness-style hyperbole surrounding the law. They say that by targeting a specific form of youth culture and music, and citing such common rave accessories as glow sticks, massage oils and pacifiers as evidence of Ecstasy use, the bill censors free expression.
Some also predict the bill will have an impact far beyond the rave scene. Just as laws originally created to prosecute crack houses are now being used against raves, critics say the RAVE Act could be used against any music event where drugs are consumed.
”It’s going to destroy the concert industry,” said Broward-based music promoter Justin Moss who used to promote raves and co-organized the Beyond 2002 music and sports festival at Bicentennial Park earlier this year. “Raves are just concerts with a different kind of music. At every concert, there’s drugs. Every concert is going to fall under this act.”
McDonough denies such charges.
”Rave laws are no more antimusic than anticrack house laws are antihouse,” he said.
Existing crack-house laws have already been used against raves, to mixed effect. While the government successfully prosecuted promoters in Little Rock and Boise, a case in New Orleans ended in a plea bargain. A lengthy investigation of Club La Vela in Panama City was quickly rejected by a jury. Those uncertain results in part prompted the RAVE Act.
The bill flew through the Judiciary Committee without opposition. Aides to Sen. Biden say they expect it to pass the Senate by unanimous consent and move quickly through the House of Representatives.
The bill has raised mixed levels of public concern among South Florida nightclub owners and rave promoters.
”They’ve been trying to get rid of raves forever,” said Moss. “This isn’t going to hurt the major concert promoters who are politically connected. But it is going to hurt the little guy like me. If a promoter’s not politically in, you’re dead.”
Club Level manager Gerry Kelly, who serves on Miami Beach’s Nightlife Task Force and has hosted events for Janet Reno and President Bill Clinton, affirms that he does not feel threatened by the RAVE Act.
”We have a zero-tolerance drug policy,” said Kelly. “We have a rigorous training with our security team to spot any sort of illegal activity at the club. If we ever found anyone with illegal drugs, they would be immediately taken out of the club.”
McDonough says those are precisely the steps clubs must take to avoid prosecution.
”They have to set a standard that it’s not a drug haven, it’s a club,” he said. “There have to be checks at the door. Security has to be observant while people are there. It’s like underage people who drink in bars: The owner has a responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
But supporters of the bill vary about how it will be implemented. McDonough said drugs would have to be ”wantonly” consumed at a venue. Unruh said only promoters who blatantly encourage drug use in fliers, for example, would be prosecuted.
”The RAVE Act just targets unscrupulous promoters who are promoting for the purpose of drug use,” Unruh said.
But according to EMDEF’s Blitz, the standards for actual prosecutions in cities such as Panama City have been much slacker — even before the RAVE Act.
”Anybody who knows anything about that case [La Vela] knows those guys did everything possible to try to keep drugs out of their place,” Blitz said. “To think this law is needed to address the fact these guys didn’t get convicted, that spells trouble for any club owner.”