A new law has been passed in America which is being used to stifle freedom of speech and shut down events which promote changes to the nation’s drug laws.
The legislation, crafted by Delaware Democrat Senator Joseph Biden, was originally introduced in 2001 as the RAVE Act (RAVE being a clever acronym standing for Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy). Free speech activists and civil libertarians originally managed to stop the bill from being passed, but Biden outmaneuvered his opponents.
Biden renamed his bill the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, and had a House-Senate conference committee attach it to the popular PROTECT Act, a bill ostensibly aimed at child-protection (Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today). Bush signed the bill into law on April 30, 2003.
Biden has denied the legislation would harm legitimate nightclubs or events. He claims the measure is aimed solely at unscrupulous event promoters or club owners who “knowingly” allow, encourage, or promote drug use and sales on their premises.
Yet those who analyzed the bill claim it is has a far broader reach. “All you have to do is prove drug use is going on at an establishment to go after the organizers,” said Bill Piper, spokesman for Drug Policy Alliance, which has analyzed the law. “In theory, they could go after you if one person smokes marijuana at your barbecue.”
Fundraiser shut down
The DEA’s first use of the new law extended the agency’s scope from anti-drugs to anti-freedoms.
On May 30, holding a copy of the new law in one hand, DEA agent Dan Dunlap shut down a fundraiser for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). The fundraiser, scheduled for later that night at the Eagles’ Hall in Billings, Montana, was to have featured local bands and performers.
Agent Dunlap warned hall owners that if even a single person lit a joint during the event, the hall owners could be charged, fined up to $250,000 and face 20 years in prison. He also told them that undercover DEA agents and cops would be on patrol to see what unfolded. Hall owners were suitably intimidated and canceled the event.
A storm of media outrage followed, but DEA Agent in Charge Jeff Sweetin staunchly defended his office’s actions, saying he feared the fundraiser might have broken into a round of marijuana use and ecstacy-popping. Agent Sweetin told the media he had saved himself having to “talk to the mother of some girl who was doped or raped or killed” at the event.
Running for cover
A number of activist groups, including the SSDP, NORML and the American Civil Liberties Union, have promised to fight the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act in court, and to try to have it repealed.
Meanwhile, organizers of upcoming hemp festivals and electronic music events are increasingly concerned, and some party promoters have already run for cover.
The Wisconsin Weedstock festival relocated to Canada, joining up with the Planetary Pride Hempfest in Ophir, Ontario for their annual August event. In California, the Sonoma Health and Harmony Festival canceled plans to have a medical marijuana smoking area.
The Denver radio station KTCL even held a contest to rename their local event, formerly called “Rave on the rocks” to exclude the “R-word.”
The first application of the new law showed that the DEA have been empowered as political and cultural police, to fine and jail any group that speaks against the status quo. They will use this law pre-emptively, to scare venue owners from hosting these kinds of events on their property.
Glow stick ban
The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act is an expansion of the so-called “crack-house law” passed in 1986, which applies to an indoor space used repeatedly for the use, sale or manufacturing of an illegal drug. In contrast, the new law can be applied to one-time events such as an outdoor concert, or a party at a private home.
Event promoters have been uncertain about their future since 2001, when the feds used the “crack-house law” to prosecute the owners of Barbecue of New Orleans, which promotes well-attended dance parties at a downtown theater.
The federal government sought to send the event promoter to jail even though there was no evidence he was involved in drugs, and he took active steps to keep illegal substances out of the club.
Barbecue of New Orleans organizers agreed to a plea bargain which included a $100,000 fine, five years probation, and a ban on glow sticks, pacifiers, mentholated inhalers and other such items from any future events. They also agreed to eliminate air-conditioned “chill out” rooms where patrons could cool off after dancing.
The ACLU challenged the ban on the legal items as unconstitutionally limiting freedom of expression, but prosecutors appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the ban was upheld in July 2003.