On April 30, 2003, the 108th Congress of the United
States passed the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003.
The bill changed the language of the so-called Crack House law of 1986. The
Crack House law was a new section added to Controlled Substances Act which
dealt with buildings or other structures used to make, distribute, or use
illicit substances. The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act changed the language
to incorporate single-night events and outdoor as well as indoor venues.
Though it seems that the changes were relatively minor, the implications were
In 2002, the Senators Joseph Biden and Charles
Grassley introduced the “Reducing Americans Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act” or
the RAVE Act of 2002.
This act was almost identical to the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act. Many
people saw this act as an attack on civil liberties because it could
potentially hold innocent promoters and venue owners responsible for the acts
of their patrons. Around the country, thousands of people sent emails, wrote
letters, and made phone calls to their senators to voice their opposition to
this bill. It did not pass.
In 2003, Biden and Grassley added the renamed
version of the RAVE Act to the “Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end
the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003” or the PROTECT Act.
The PROTECT Act looked at issues of kidnapping, child pornography, and child
molestation and changed the procedures and sentencing for dealing with these
cases. By adding the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act to the PROTECT Act,
its sponsors did more than ensure that it would pass on the coattails of the
far less controversial legislation. They also implied that drug use and
trafficking were on a par and somehow related to dangers to children such as
In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) became
federal law. The Act laid down much of the drug policy that remains today. It
classified both legal and illegal drugs within the scheduling system, created a
set of regulations for the manufacture and dispensing of legal controlled
substances (like pharmaceuticals), and set the standards for penalties and
civil and criminal forfeitures.
In the introduction to the 1994 version of the Controlled Substances Act, a
brief history is given, including the fact that several changes have been made
to the federal act, “particularly in 1984, 1986, and 1988,”
since 1970. In 1986, the act was modified and the “Crack House laws” were
added. The “Crack House Laws” were a new section added to the end of Part D of
the Controlled Substances Act. The addition made it illegal to:
The changes followed a national scare over the
The media pushed the ideas represented above and created a
national fear over the great dangers crack cocaine presented to American
Stories of the epidemic of crack babies appeared in
newspapers across the country making the problem seem very close and
threatening. The validity of these statistics and their implications has since
been questioned. Gary W. Potter writes of the physically addictive properties
of cocaine, “The preponderance of the evidence shows that cocaine, no matter
what the mode of administration (snorted, smoked, or injected) is not
especially addictive in human beings”.
Regarding crack or cocaine babies, “researchers from the Boston University
School of Medicine say that children prenatally exposed to cocaine are
developmentally similar to those exposed to tobacco, alcohol and marijuana”.
Despite these findings, the changes in the law remained.
The actual title of this section of
the Crack House law was “Manufacturing Operations.” It was a response to the
“Crack Epidemic” of the 1980s but has since been used to attempt to shut down
operations of certain licensed clubs and concert venues.
In December 2001, Senators Biden and Grassley held a hearing
at the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control,
of which they are both co-chairmen.
The focus, according Senator Biden, was “on the proliferation of Ecstasy and
other club drugs generally, and the role of some promoters of all-night dance
parties, known as ‘raves,’ in distributing Ecstasy to young people”.
A few months later, Senator Biden presented his proposed changes to the
Controlled Substances Act, the RAVE Act.
In his initial speech before the Senate, Biden
cited statistics much like those from the scare of the “Crack Epidemic” of the
1980s. At the beginning of his speech he said:
These statistics and the emphasis on the widespread
nature of the problem give the impression of a national crisis that threatens
every corner of America. In fact, it is likely that Ecstasy use will follow
the same trend as the “Crack Epidemic,” or any other drug trend. That is, as a
new drug reaches the market, there is a steep increase in the number of people
using it at first. These numbers will eventually level out and have small
spikes and dips as various societal circumstances change. This may be
supported by a statistic Senator Biden quoted when introducing the Illicit Drug
Anti-Proliferation Act to Senate. “Just last month we got some encouraging
news: after years of steady increase, Ecstasy use is finally beginning to
decrease among teens”.
The original RAVE Act was presented as an attack on
all-night dance parties that take place at either raves or clubs. Senator
Biden described raves in these terms:
I will discuss the validity
of these statements later in this paper. At this point, it is helpful to consider
the origin of this attack on raves and clubs. To do this, we will return to
the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
It is no coincidence that the CSA was passed in the
middle of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. The Cultural Revolution
threatened the puritanical values on which this country was founded. The
Puritans believed pleasure, whether through sexual encounters, dancing, or the
use of alcohol, was a distraction from God and therefore should not be indulged
Sex was, and is, necessary for the propagation of the species, but should not
be indulged in for other reasons. The Revolution was driven by a youth
counterculture rebelling both against the war in Vietnam and the physical
standards of this society, including sexuality and the use of mind altering
substances. Though the movement did make some lasting changes to many of the
standards of American culture, most of the people that actively participated in
the Revolution grew up and moved back into mainstream society. The result has
been that the next generation has been raised by people who have at least
somewhat returned to these puritanical values and yet have a “been there”
attitude. That is, those who participated in the Cultural Revolution, largely,
have not forgotten their experiences even if they no longer hold the values
that drove them.
This group of people has a unique perspective in
terms of the next generation of youth. Unlike their parents, much of this new
group of parents has experienced a drug culture. The return to puritanical
values made the possibility of a new drug culture seem all the more threatening
for their children. The dangers of drugs to youth became a hot issue on which
politicians could build entire campaigns. This new group of parents was a
portion of the Baby Boomers, who, in sheer numbers, outweighed any other block
of possible voters. If this block of voters was concerned about drugs and
their availability or use by their children, addressing these concerns was a
way for a politician to get into office.
The rave scene is a relatively new subculture. In
the Problem-Oriented Guides for Police Series, Michael S. Scott
describes the culture of raves:
Through this description we can see that, in many
respects, rave culture is similar to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and
70s. The values of the Revolution included those listed by Scott: peace, love,
unity, respect, happiness and tolerance.
Both the Revolution and rave culture include a drug culture, though this is not
the central focus of either. One similarity between rave culture and the
Revolution that Scott does not mention is an emphasis on freedom of expression,
especially in sexuality. This was embodied in the Revolution in “free love.”
In rave culture, this ideal offers a level of receptivity to gay, bisexual, and
transgender youth that is rarely seen in other youth cultures. Many rave scenes
include a solid population of drag
queens and, among several stylistic “looks” seen at raves, the gay raver is
certainly present. Add to this a strong emphasis on physical contact, for
example ravers of all sexes hug rather than shake hands, and it seems
homophobia is unusually low.
of both rave culture and the Cultural Revolution are in clear opposition to the
puritanical ideals upon which this country was built. Use of mind-altering
substances and engagement in non-marital sexual activity, especially with a
person of the same sex, are unacceptable within a puritanical moral structure.
Further, raves are dance parties. Dancing is one of the many activities
Puritans considered immoral.
Raves are very much about producing pleasure. Even
without drugs, raves are designed to create an environment, through the use of
loud music, lights, and decorations, which produces a complete sensory
experience. This can be overwhelming, but it is very pleasurable as well.
Scott writes, “Regular ravers appear to derive great pleasure from their
involvement in the rave scene, and are committed to it in spite of the risks
and the costs”.
In a puritanical value system, pleasures of this sort are considered an
indulgence and frowned upon.
I do not mean imply that parents of youth involved
in rave culture consciously think that their children are in danger of losing
their puritanical values. Instead, I would suggest that the great fear of the
effects of raves on youth has its roots in this history. There is an idea that
rave culture, and the drug culture that is associated with it, will corrupt
innocent youth and endanger them. In his speech to introduce the RAVE Act,
Senator Grassley said of Ecstasy use at raves, “Our future rests with the young
people of this great nation and America is at risk”.
It is this fear that has fueled the push for new legislation to protect this
For the past three years, I have been a volunteer
a group that works within the harm-reduction model to keep raves safe and
combat any problems, drug related or otherwise, that threaten the scene. The
harm reduction model recognizes that prohibition does not work. Young people
will make their own decisions and it offers them the tools and information to
make these decisions intelligently. I have also been an active participant in
rave culture since 1998 and have volunteered and engaged in the culture in
three states and three major cities, including New York, Columbus, and
Cleveland. Through my work with DanceSafe I have had the opportunity to speak
with many promoters about their concerns regarding the safety both of
themselves in a legal sense and of their patrons. For these reasons, I feel I
have some authority to speak from my own experience in response to the
statements of Senator Biden in his introduction and defense of the RAVE ACT and
the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act.
The RAVE Act and subsequent Illicit Drug
Anti-Proliferation Act are two attempts at implementing legislation that will
calm the fears of parents around the country. Through following the history of
these two bills, however, we will see that the focus has not remained
consistent. The information presented to support the bills was of questionable
validity and the purpose of the bill was changed as it moved through the legal
In his initial speech before the Senate, Senator
Biden worked to link Ecstasy use to raves. “Much of the abuse of Ecstasy and
other club drugs happens at all-night dance parties know as rave ”.
In making this statement and others like it, Biden shifted the focus off the
drug itself and attacked rave culture as a whole. Biden’s speech demonized
rave culture and belittled any of the attempts of promoters to make raves a
safer environment. He states,
This statement implies that
these steps are not valid ways to create a safe environment for youth.
The fact that raves are alcohol-free means that they
provide a valuable place for youth to congregate, where the focus is music and
dancing. In many rural areas of this country, a rave scene means an
alternative to spending weekends engaging in underage drinking. Most promoters
are aware of the legal risk they take on when throwing a rave. For this
reason, they will usually either hire private security from an established company
(i.e. Akal) or hire off-duty police officers. Some promoters prefer hiring
off-duty police officers because they feel it also helps to build healthy
relationships between rave culture and law enforcement. This is a relationship
that is also a focus of DanceSafe’s efforts.
Biden goes on to talk about the sale of “Ecstasy
paraphernalia such as baby pacifiers, glow sticks, or mentholated inhalers”.
The use of raves as a venue for selling items, other than food and beverages,
is a relatively new phenomenon and not the case in all parts of the country.
Regardless, it is true that these items are often found at raves. What the
Senator does not seem to understand is that raves are not just events, they
also represent an outlet for the stylistic expression of a specific group of
young people. The items cited by Biden are not drug paraphernalia. They are
icons of the image of those committed to rave culture. As Scott states,
“Younger ravers are sometimes called ‘candy ravers:’ they are more likely to
The term “candy raver” originally comes from the candy necklaces and bracelets
that these people would wear. Now, young ravers spend a great deal of time
outside of the actual raves making necklaces and bracelets from plastic beads,
reminiscent of the old candy ones, which they trade at raves. Raving is just
as much a style as an activity and, as is the case with any stylistic subset of
youth culture, ravers are very committed to it.
The demonization of raves and promoters continues
throughout the Senator’s speech. Biden describes party organizers selling
“bottles of water for $5 or $10 apiece. Some even shut off the water faucets
so club goers will be forced to buy water or pay admission to enter an
air-conditioned cool down room”.
As I stated before, most promoters are concerned about the safety of their
patrons and avoiding any legal liability they can. I have never seen promoters
shut off water or charge admission to any other sections of a party with the
exception of VIP rooms, which is not the same thing.
VIP rooms are generally only found at raves held in large clubs or
electronic music conferences. They can be private, in that only DJs and their
friends are admitted, or they can just be another section of a party that
requires a higher admission price. The prices cited above for water are
equally unheard of, although they would not seem at all out of place at many
concerts or sports stadiums.
Towards the end of Senator Biden’s speech he briefly
touched on the legal history of cases against raves.
Biden’s statement raises the question, what is the
purpose of the proposed legislation? His speech, as a whole, attacks raves as
and attempts to blur any lines between drug use and rave culture. The last
statement cited above implies an assumption that any case brought to court
against rave promoters deserves a guilty verdict. By suggesting that the loss
and draw of two of these cases mean stronger legislation is necessary, Biden
ignores the possibility that rave promoters may actually be innocent of
committing any crime.
It seemed clear
from Senator Biden’s introduction of the RAVE Act in June of 2002 that the act
was a response to raves in general and the drug culture associated with them.
The result was a flood of public response, through email, letters and phone
calls, urging senators in every state to speak out against this new
legislation. The ACLU got involved, as well as people from every level of participation
in rave culture. Many promoters and DJs spoke out against the bill. Ravers
circulated petitions asking their senators to fight it and many worked to get
their parents involved. The Drug Policy Alliance started an email campaign
that drew the support of people involved in other aspects of drug policy
reform, like the legalization of medical marijuana, who might not have
otherwise be interested. As a result, Senator Biden said that there had been
“a great deal of misinformation circulating about this legislation”
and gave another speech in October in order to “correct the record”.
In this speech, Biden limited his references to Ecstasy and introduced a new
term, “rogue promoters”.
This term distinguishes legitimate promoters from those who hold events for the
purpose of selling drugs. In discussing rogue promoters, the Senator moved the
focus away from raves and placed it on drug culture within the rave scene. He
stated, “I am confident that the overwhelming majority of promoters are decent,
law-abiding people who are going to discourage drug use, or any other illegal
activity, at their venues”.
This was not a sentiment that was apparent in his initial speech before the
Originally, Biden spoke before the Senate and
described raves in strong and ominous terms. His speech was reminiscent of the
public fear about the “Crack Epidemic,” but it did not bring the Senate, or the
American people, together behind his proposed legislation. Instead, various
groups mobilized to fight against it and raised enough concerns to be
acknowledged. In his October speech, the Senator recognized some of the fears
raised by the public and promised to make slight changes the purposed bill:
In his closing statement, the Senator stated that
the purpose of “the RAVE Act was not to ban dancing, kill the ‘rave scene’ or
silence electronic music”.
Despite these statements, the bill did not pass.
In January of
2003, Senators Biden and Grassley introduced the new bill to the Senate, the
Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003.
The bill was nearly identical to the RAVE Act of 2002. The only difference
between the two was the name. The change seemed to be the Senator’s one gesture
in acknowledgement of the previous public protest. This is indicated in his speech
introducing the new legislation:
The rest of Biden’s speech
was, to a large degree, comprised of excerpts from his previous two speeches
regarding the RAVE Act. Despite the name change, he had returned to his hard
line on raves and repeatedly made statements linking raves to Ecstasy and other
Grassley’s introductory speech, he emphasized the importance of not allowing
the law to impinge on legitimate businesses and events.
Even saying this, he goes on
to continue linking rave culture to drug culture. In introducing his
discussion of Ecstasy he calls it “an especially popular club drug that is all
too often being sold at all-night dance parties, or raves”.
introduction of the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, there was a renewed
public protest against the legislation. Several groups, including the Drug
Policy Alliance and the ACLU, called for mass petitions and email campaigns to
speak out against the legislation. The argument was that the changes proposed
to the Crack House law were too broad and could be used against any group that
law enforcement or government chose to target (i.e. raves, gay circuit scene,
hip hop shows). This time, however, the voice of the public went unheard.
On April 30,
2003, the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act was signed into law. It seemed
that the debate, both for and against the bill, had become irrelevant because,
in order to ensure its passage, it was slipped into the PROTECT Act. The
PROTECT Act was not controversial, but it was something that any senator,
hoping for reelection, would vote for. It changed the sentencing and procedure
for dealing with cases of a sexual nature involving children, including child
pornography and child molestation, as well as kidnapping. It would not look
good on any senator’s record to have voted against it. By adding the Illicit
Drug Anti-Proliferation Act to the PROTECT Act, its sponsors almost guaranteed
that it would be passed.
This had a second effect, however. It equated the
drug use at raves and clubs with violence against children. So far as I could
ascertain, it is also the only section of the PROTECT Act that is applicable
even when children are not involved in a case at all. All other sections
directly applied to violence against children, with subjects ranging from
kidnapping and murder to child molestation and child pornography. The Illicit
Drug Anti-Proliferation Act dealt with raves and clubs, many of which require
patrons to be over either 18 or 21.
all the public concern over the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act and the
troubling implications of adding it to the PROTECT Act, after actually
researching the bill I must wonder just how effective or relevant these changes
to the Crack House Law really are. Both Senators Biden and Grassley repeatedly
cited how high the standards of proof were. The tiny number of cases that had
been brought to trial against a club or rave promoter (four, according to
with any outcome, under the previous Crack House law brings to question the
importance of the changes. It seems unlikely that the bill could have the
far-reaching effects, including a severe erosion of rights, which were cited as
reasons to keep it from passing.
Throughout Senator Grassley’s and Senator Biden’s
speeches on both the RAVE Act and the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act,
there was an emphasis on the “high standard that should protect event promoters
from casual application of this statute”.
To quote Senator Biden:
This brings to light the question of why this
legislation was so important. The Senators worked for two years to pass a bill
that seems to have a very limited application. The high standard of proof and
the tiny number of cases being brought to trial can lead to two conclusions.
The Senators could either be using this legislation as a stepping stone for
future, more meaningful legislation or as a tool for reelection. As it turns
out, both cases may be true. I will discuss pending legislation later in this
The passage of the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation
Act allowed Senator Grassley and Biden to appear tough on drugs and concerned
about youth. In actuality, research has shown that actions such as this
legislation would allow do little to combat drug use among young people. This
is illustrated by the research of Michael S. Scott.
Michael S. Scott
is a former police chief who now works as an independent police consultant.
His handbook on “Rave Parties” provides problem oriented solutions for “how
police can reduce harm”
caused by raves. The handbook looks at some of the exact same issues,
including drugs, presented by Senators Biden and Grassley but comes up with
very different solutions to them. The handbook also follows a harm reduction
model and provides reasons to support this model.
Scott takes a
stance on dealing with raves that stands in stark contrast with the
prohibition-like attitude represented in some of the comments made by the
It is arguable that the Senators’ main concern is
with the mainstream society that Scott mentions; this is the likely voting
block. Teenagers cannot vote and most young adults do not. Pressure exerted
on police by the mainstream, i.e. parents, is likely to be felt by Senators as
well. While we shall see that a strict prohibition imposition is ineffective,
the implementation of such of such legislation could be quite popular.
the use of a harm reduction model in dealing with raves, rather than
prohibition. He describes the harm reduction model as “acknowledging that some
illegal drug use and raves are inevitable, and trying to minimize the harms
that can occur to drug users and ravers”.
This is not a popular public view, especially when presented to parents who
certainly do not want to acknowledge that any drug use by their children is
inevitable. Yet under the section listed as “Responses with limited
effectiveness,” Scott has listed “Banning all raves:”
As an alternative, Scott
lists such strategies as “Regulating rave venues to ensure basic health and
“Prohibiting juveniles and adults from being admitted to the same raves,”
and “Educating ravers about the risks of drug use and overexertion”.
Scott makes it
clear that a prohibition model will not work as a solution to any danger raves
can pose to young people. In fact, he argues that prohibition will actually
aggravate the potential risks because the scene will simply go “underground”.
One of my experiences in New York City supports this. I attended a rave in the
Spring of 2004 in New York. A young man who had clearly taken Ecstasy was
showing signs of a bad reaction. He was overheated and acting erratically.
The party was illegal,
so the promoters did not have an EMT on duty for fear of being reported. At
almost all of the legal parties I have attended there has been an EMT on hand
in case of emergencies. The promoters were terrified to let the man leave
because they did not want any possible legal ramifications. Though he
eventually cooled off and was calmed down, the situation was a clear testament
of the problems of prohibition. Whether it be a bad reaction to drugs or an
accident on the dance floor, having medical help available is essential in a
large crowd of people.
public pressure has all but obliterated the possibility for harm reduction
strategies in most parts of the country. Though the Illicit Drug
Anti-Proliferation Act may be very effective in prosecuting cases, promoters
are very aware of it and the scene has already begun to move into less legal,
and less safe, environments. Promoters are less willing to work with law
enforcement to secure safe and permitted venues. There are two pending
legislations which could make the situation much worse.
2003, while the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act was still a pending
legislation, a new bill was introduced, the Clean, Learn, Educate, Abolish,
Neutralize and Undermine Production (CLEAN-UP) of Methamphetamines Act of 2003.
It was shortly followed, in July, by the Ecstasy Awareness Act of 2003.
Neither bill has yet made their way through the Congressional process. That
is, they have neither passed nor been defeated, at least partly because of the
public objection, much like that around the RAVE Act and the Illicit Drug
Anti-Proliferation Act, which made these highly controversial. While these may
draw the votes of Baby Boomers with children, they also greatly upset groups
such as the ACLU concerned about public rights. Still, the CLEAN-UP Act has
drawn 126 cosponsors, the most recent, Rep. Mark Kennedy of Minnesota, in July
so it has definitely not been forgotten.
The CLEAN-UP of
Methamphetamines Act is similar to the PROTECT Act in that most of the
legislation has nothing to do with raves at all. Instead, the CLEAN-UP Act
mainly deals with new funding for combating the wave of methamphetamine labs
springing up around the country. It also authorizes grants to fund a variety
of studies on the environmental impact of methamphetamine labs.
Towards the end of the act, however, is a small section that relates directly
to raves. Section 305, “Liability of Promoters of Commercial Drug-Oriented
Entertainment,” inserts a new section after section 416 of the Controlled
here is clearly far more open ended than that of the Illicit Drug
Anti-Proliferation Act. The phrase “reasonably ought to know” is a far cry
from the high standard of proof the Senators Biden and Grassley spoke so much
about. It is questionable how this act would be applied, but it certainly has
the potential to make legitimate event promoters criminals in the eyes of the
This presents us with another problem. It is highly unlikely
that the CLEAN-UP Act would be applied to all entertainment events where the
promoter “reasonably ought to know” that drugs will be used and/or
distributed. For example, large venues that hold rock concerts are far less
likely to be targeted than raves or underground hip-hop shows, though it is
just as likely that drug will be used at any of these types of events. The
difference is that there is a perception of larger, more mainstream venues
being legitimate, that the drug use at these events is entirely incidental and
not connected in anyway to the event itself. Raves are seen as a public
hazard. Therefore, any drug use that takes place at a rave is perceived as
being inherent to the event, regardless of how careful the promoters were to
ensure the legitimacy and safety of the party (i.e. by securing proper permits,
hiring security, having an EMT on duty, etc.). Regardless of how legitimate
these perceptions may be, they will undoubtedly lead to biased implementation
of the CLEAN-UP Act, should it pass.
The Ecstasy Awareness Act
of 2003 is also still pending. The act has three applications. Section 3 of
the Ecstasy Awareness Act appropriates $10,000,000 “to make grants to provide training to
State and local prosecutors and law enforcement agents for prosecution of ecstasy
Section 4 makes some minor changes to the language of the Elementary and
Secondary Education Act of 1965. Neither of these sections are particularly
controversial. The reason that the act has still not passed is section 2,
entitled “Profiting from Raves”.
Again, this section would be added to the end of section 416 of the Controlled
This is even more clearly targeted at
raves than either the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act or the section of the
CLEAN-UP Act discussed above. It is arguable that the language “having reason
to know” is less ambiguous than “reasonably ought to know,” but both have the
potential to make innocent people responsible for the actions of others. The
title of this section of the act, “Profiting from Raves,” suggests that this is
a direct attempt to implement legislation that would impose a strict
prohibition policy on raves. As previously discussed, this policy would not
end raves. It would simply push them farther “underground” and make them less
safe and harder to regulate.
Though the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act is
unlikely to put an end to raves, it is equally unlikely that new legislation,
like the Ecstasy Awareness Act and the CLEAN-UP of Methamphetamines Act, will
stop being introduced. The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act was preceded by
the RAVE Act of 2002 and, as we see from the pending legislation, certainly did
not put an end to the legal attack on raves. The drug war has long been a
favorite of politicians trying to get reelected.
In the 1980s, stories of the “Crack Epidemic,”
fueled by a media craze, terrified Americans into believing that crack was a
grave danger present in every corner of the country. The tragic stories of
crack babies electrified America and a call for action drove politicians to
institute Crack House Law.
A similar fear has arisen around raves. As Scott
says, “To be sure, raves can pose genuine risks, but those risks are frequently
exaggerated in the public’s mind”.
The perception of the risks posed by raves was something easily capitalized on
by politicians. Senators Biden and Grassley introduced the RAVE Act of 2002 in
response to a growing public fear surrounding raves and rave culture.
This fear has its roots in the
puritanical ethics upon which this country was founded. At the most basic
level, raves are dance parties and dancing has always been frowned upon within
a puritanical moral code. In a broader sense, raves are all about pleasure.
The environment of a rave is one filled with bright lights, loud music, and
decorations. Often there is a “chill room” filled with pillows and other soft
things where participants can go cool off after dancing and relax. The
environment is designed to be a complete sensory experience that produces
pleasure whether the participant is intoxicated or not. This type of
experience is not acceptable within a puritanical value system, as it can be
seen as an indulgence.
Many parents of the generation of ravers broke
away from puritan morals in the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. As they grew
older, however, they returned to this value system but did not lose their
memories. The idea of their children breaking out of these social codes and
being involved in something so wild as a rave is doubtless quite uncomfortable
for many of them. These parents, the Baby Boomers, constitute enough of a
voting block as to have a huge influence on public policy.
Still, it seems that policy must be sold to
voters. The issue of raves was one of public concern before Senators Biden and
Grassley brought them into the legislative circle, but one that was largely
dealt with locally, i.e. local law enforcement, or within individual families.
In order to get their bill passed, the Senators had to use questionable
information, like the sale of ten-dollar bottles of water, to demonize rave
culture and the promoters largely responsible for it. Even after several
riling speeches, the RAVE Act of 2002 did not pass. Instead, Senators
experienced a flood of concerned emails, phone calls, and letters from citizens
who felt the RAVE Act endangered their rights. When it finally did pass, as
the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, it was on the coattails of the PROTECT
Act, which was almost guaranteed an easy way into law.
The actual ramifications of the Illicit Drug
Anti-Proliferation Act seem hardly worth the effort Senators Biden and Grassley
put into its passage. It affects a tiny number of cases, for, as the Senators
pointed out so many times, the standards of proof are very high. In fact, so
far as I could find, it has not yet been used in a single case. Still, it
looked good to concerned parents, especially because it was sold to the public
(even those fighting to keep it from passing) as a tough law that could put an
end to raves.
If raves really are to be viewed as a serious
problem, it seems that such legislation as the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation
Act does not offer a real solution. Even if the new legislation did have far
reaching effects, former police chief Michael Scott would argue that this would
just push raves further underground. They would not stop. Instead they would
become less safe. The alternatives he offers are not easily marketable as
reasons for reelecting a politician. Scott offers up a harm reduction model as
a way to help reduce the risks of raves without alienating those involved in
In a culture that offered “Just Say No” as a
solution to drug use for its youth, a harm reduction model is not a popular
concept. When medical marijuana was on the ballot in California, a flood of
articles discussed the implications of its passage. It meant that there had to
be a dialogue. This country is not very receptive to dialogue. “Just Say No”
is a much easier solution, though not very effective.
So rather than implementing a nationwide harm
reduction policy, it never even made it into the debate. Instead, the Illicit
Drug Anti Proliferation Act passed and opened the door for new legislation that
will be the equivalent to “Just Say No”. If they pass, the rave scene will
move further underground and be less safe. It is likely that any previous
efforts of promoters to build healthy relations with law enforcement will be
shut down. It will just no longer be in the best interests of a promoter to
have any relations with law enforcement.
Notes and References
“Bill Summary and Status for the 108th
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Congressional Record-Senate, October 9, 2002, 148 Cong
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Congressional Record-Senate, Jan. 28, 2003, 149 Cong
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“The Crack Epidemic,” DEA History Book 1985-1990,
Del Banco, Andrew. The Puritan Ordeal.
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 1989.
Drug Policy Alliance, http://www.drugpolicy.org/docUploads/The_CLEAN_UP_Act_HR_834.pdf.
The Orator, http://www.theorator.com/bills108/hr2962.html.
Potter, Gary W. “The Failure of Drug Control
Policies: Drug War Cowboys.” Crime and Public Policy. Department of
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(1990),” Uniform Controlled Substances Act (1994).
Public Law 108-21 [S. 151], April 30, 2003.
Michael S. Scott, “Rave Parties,” Problem-Oriented
Guides for Police Series No. 14, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of
Community Oriented Policing Services, 2002. http://www.popcenter.org/Problems/problem-rave_parties.htm
“Researchers debunk stigma of ‘crack babies’. (study
shows that children who were prenatally exposed to cocaine do not have any
unique negative developmental disorders).” The Brown University Digest of
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Sec. 1841. “Manufacturing Operations.” Subtitle P,
Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. United States Code Congressional and
Administrative News: 99th Congress- Second Session 1986.. Vol.
2. West Publishing Co. St. Paul, MN. 1987.
Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, http://www.drugcaucus.senate.gov.
Uniform Controlled Substances Act (1994), National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform
State Laws, 1994.