Tony Newman at 510-208-7711 or Josie Wulsin at 212-548-0383
What was seen as an easy legislative slam-dunk a few weeks ago is now becoming more of a challenge, as supporters of a Senate bill attacking all-night dance parties and other musical events face growing opposition from civil liberties groups, business groups, and voters. Once on a fast track, the bill is stalled for at least a month as the Senate goes into recess and co-sponsors work with opponents in an attempt to address their concerns.
A campaign by the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization working to promote a public health approach to drug abuse, has sent 30,000 faxes from angry voters to the Senate in opposition to the bill. Business interests recently delivered petitions with nearly 10,000 signatures to the Senate this week with the warning that, “this bill is a serious threat to civil liberties, freedom of speech and the right to dance.” Health advocates and business owners warn the bill will undermine public health and property rights.
The bill at the center of debate is the Reducing American’s Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act (RAVE Act). If enacted, business owners could face severe fines and long prison sentences if they fail to prevent customers from using or selling drugs on their premises or at their concerts or other events. The proposed law also potentially subjects homeowners to enormous fines and sentences if some of their guests use drugs at their party or barbecue. Introduced in the Senate on June 18th, the RAVE Act has already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee without a hearing or recorded vote and could face a full Senate vote as early as September.
“Using the acronym RAVE was designed to force the Senate to act and disguise the serious threat to property rights, free speech, and even the right to dance,” said Bill McColl, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Fortunately with the Senate going into recess, lawmakers can now take time to reconsider this dangerous bill.”
Health advocates fear that the bill will endanger our nation’s youth. If enacted, licensed and law-abiding business owners may stop hosting raves or other events that federal authorities don’t like, out of fear of massive fines and prison sentences. Thus, the law would drive raves and other musical events further underground and away from public health and safety regulations. It would also discourage business owners from enacting smart harm-reduction measures to protect their customers. By insinuating that selling bottled water and offering air-conditioned “cool off” rooms is proof that owners and promoters know drug use is occurring at their events, the bill may make business owners too afraid to implement such harm-reduction measures, and the safety of our kids will suffer.
“By scaring business owners with lawsuits and criminal sanctions this bill is endangering the safety of young people,” said Daniel Abrahamsom, Director of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Even widely-accepted, common sense safety steps, such as ensuring an adequate supply of water at a dance club or having ambulances available at large concert venues could be used as evidence against innocent businessmen.”
Opponents of the bill note that it has many concerning implications:
It is too broadly written and could subject innocent business owners to enormous fines or prison sentences. It also lowers the burden of proof that prosecutors must meet to punish suspected violators.
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. Anyone who used drugs in the privacy of their own home or threw a party or barbecue in which one or more guests used drugs could potentially face $500,000 in fines and up to 20-years in jail.
It endangers our nation’s youth by discouraging business owners from enacting harm-reduction measures and by driving raves and other musical events into underground markets.
It would effectively make it a federal crime to rent housing or office space to AIDS and cancer patients that use marijuana to relieve their pain and suffering, even in the eight states that have legalized its medicinal use.