R.A.V.E. Review

The R.A.V.E. Act could mean trouble for even legitimate promoters.

As darkness fell on the KROQ 106.7 Weenie Roast and Blink-182 finished its goof-rock set, I waded through 50,000 drunk and disorderly concert-goers toward the dozens of bonfires dotting the lawn area of the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion, about an hour's drive from Los Angeles. Plumes of toxic black smoke scorched my lungs. Passing scores of fistfights, I stepped over piles of trash and passed-out teenagers slumped in the aisles and against the walls of bathrooms and concession stands. When I reached the fires, I realized why they smelled so bad: In addition to tearing down trees to toss on their vulgar displays of firepower, the moshing hordes were using plastic cups, wrappers and any other petrochemical products they could lay their hands on to fuel the flames.

This pissed me off mightily, because a few months earlier, I'd received the following e-mail from the Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund summarizing the thrust of a new piece of legislation called the R.A.V.E. Act (short for Reducing American's Vulnerability to Ecstasy):

"Legislation has been introduced in the Senate that would modify Title 21 U.S. Code Section 856 (aka the 'crack house law') so that prosecutors could more readily use the statute against venue owners, managers, promoters, and others.... Senator Biden introduced S.2633 'to tailor [the crack house] statute more precisely to the problem at hand' (i.e., target raves). Biden's legislation would expand the definition of what is considered a criminal act under 21 U.S.C. 856 and add civil liability damages ($250,000 minimum) to the existing criminal penalties (up to 20 years in prison and/or $500,000 fine). This legislation could have a devastating effect on the electronic dance-music scene."

While politicians in Washington, D.C., sought to equate the promotion of electronic-music events with drug trafficking, blatantly drug-fueled festivities such as the 106.7 Weenie Roast received no extra attention from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the media, the Justice Department or grandstanding politicians. Rock music was something that white-haired, gin-blossomed, turkey-necked legislators could relate to. They'd grown up listening to it. Rock, in their minds, was safe. More important, its link to corporate America -- and corporate America's deep pockets -- was total and, therefore, beyond reproach.

The R.A.V.E. Act seemed unfair. It seemed like bullshit. It seemed like a culture war. Reality was mirroring the plot of Footloose.

It seemed that if this bill became law, the mainstream music industry, Madison Avenue and major concert promoters -- entities that had hopped on the electronic-music bandwagon and reaped the rewards of its cultural popularity -- all stood to lose much more than the average outraged electronic-music fan. Yet while groups including EMDEF, Dance Safe, Dance for Peace, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and others got busy fighting the R.A.V.E. Act with grassroots campaigns that swiftly reached people like me -- i.e., the choir -- the mainstream remoras that glommed on to our subculture watched passively. And given that Ecstasy is a drug of choice in both the hip-hop and gay communities, it was surprising that these two powerful groups remained silent as well. While not explicitly targeted in the bill, they seemed prime targets for persecution.

Where was our Kevin Bacon? Where had all the cowboys gone?

To the Weenie Roast, apparently, to smoke weed, get drunk, beat the shit out of each other and start fires -- all with the implicit blessing of the federal government, major concert promoters and the biggest, most powerful and influential radio station in Los Angeles (and maybe the nation).

When the R.A.V.E. Act first went before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, it passed by a vote of 19-0 -- unanimous consent. When a bill is UC'd, it is generally assured swift passage into law. But the GOP majority spiked the bill to spite its Democratic sponsor, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware. Electronic-music fans were spared the passage of the act last year, not because of their activism, but because of their Republican friends in Congress.

In the meantime, a great deal of misinformation has spread among DJs, promoters, electronic-music fans and activists about what exactly the R.A.V.E. Act is, why it died last year, and how it was resuscitated with Republican defibrillating paddles earlier this year as the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act.

Take, for example, this quote often circulated in anti-R.A.V.E. Act propaganda:

"The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act will subject to prosecution anyone who 'knowingly promotes any rave, dance, music, or other entertainment event that takes place under circumstances where the promoter knows or reasonably ought to know that a controlled substance will be used or distributed.'"

This language is not and never was a part of the R.A.V.E. Act. It comes from a bill called the C.L.E.A.N. U.P. Act -- shorthand for the Clean, Learn, Educate, Abolish, and Undermine Production of Methamphetamines Act -- that was fruitlessly introduced by Representative Doug Ose, a Republican from California, and that Biden never supported. But less than a year after the specter of the R.A.V.E. Act first arose, a slightly modified version of the bill, the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, was passed into law in the Amber Alert Bill under a provision called the P.R.O.T.E.C.T. Act -- shorthand for Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today.

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