DEA Must Not Be Allowed to Chill Speech or Shut Down Electronic Music Events

Document Date: September 11, 2003


What is the RAVE Act? The RAVE Act makes it easier for prosecutors to fine and imprison business owners, property owners, and rave promoters not for their own wrong doing, but for failing to prevent drug-related offenses committed by customers, employees, tenants, or other persons on their property. When the law was first proposed, the electronic music community organized sustained opposition to the bill and it died in Congress. Then in April 2003, the RAVE Act, renamed the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003, snuck through Congress as an attachment to the Amber Alert Bill. While the official name has changed, it’s still the same old RAVE Act, with the same original problems.

What’s Wrong with the RAVE Act? *The RAVE Act unfairly punishes businesses for the crimes of their customers. Businesses can be prosecuted even if they were not involved in drugs in any way – and even if they took steps to stop drug use on their property. The RAVE Act allows the government to impose a quarter million dollar fine by showing merely a “preponderance of the evidence” instead of the familiar, and much more protective, “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that applies in criminal cases. The government can’t even keep drugs out of its own prisons, yet it’s seeking to punish business owners that can’t stop their customers from using drugs.
*The RAVE Act threatens musical expression, free speech and the right to dance. Property owners, promoters, and event coordinators can be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars or face up to twenty years in federal prison if they hold raves or other events on their property. The RAVE Act chills free speech because promoters and venue-owners may cancel events for fear of prosecution. This has already happened in Billings, Montana, and reports of similar incidents have come from Alabama, California, Florida and New Mexico. Because of the RAVE Act, promoters and venue-owners may hesitate to hold hemp festivals, all-night dance parties, rock or Hip-Hop concerts, or any other event perceived as attracting drug users.
* The RAVE Act harms the very people it’s meant to help. Fear of massive fines and prison sentences will drive raves and other musical events underground and away from public health and safety regulations. If selling bottled water and offering “cool off” rooms becomes proof that owners and promoters know drug use is occurring at their events, the RAVE Act will discourage harm-reduction measures, and the safety of our nation’s youth will suffer.

Is the RAVE Act Just About Ecstasy and Raves?
No. While proponents of the RAVE Act target Ecstasy and raves, the Act allows federal prosecutors to target other events, such as Hip-Hop concerts, hemp festivals – even country music events could be targeted. The law applies to hotel and motel owners, cruise ship operators, stadium owners, landlords, real estate managers, and event promoters. Anyone who throws an event (such as a party or barbecue) in which they know or anticipate that one or more of their guests uses drugs could potentially face a $250,000 fine and up to twenty years in federal prison. In reality, however, the electronic music community faces the greatest immediate threat because the law’s sponsors, and the DEA, have singled out electronic music as a “threat” to young people.

Doesn’t the RAVE Act Help Target Drug Dealers?
No. Existing law already makes it a crime to sell drugs or to help other people sell drugs. The federal government has the ability under existing law to imprison nightclub owners or their employees who sell or distribute drugs or who hold events for the purpose of selling or using drugs. The RAVE Act is a political overreaction to the tragic, yet relatively small number of deaths among young people either at raves or after using ecstasy. The law is so broad it’s like banning cars because some teenagers get in traffic accidents.

Aren’t Raves Just Havens for Drug Use?
Some people use drugs at some raves, just like some people use drugs at rock concerts, sporting events, and state fairs. Singling out one type of event and one type of music is unfair and un-American. We haven’t banned all rock concerts just because some people use drugs at them, and we shouldn’t ban raves just because we think that people use drugs at them. The question is not whether people should use drugs; the question is whether business owners should be punished for the crimes of their customers and whether an entire music genre and culture should be suppressed because of the offenses of a few.

Hasn’t DEA backed off enforcement of the RAVE Act?
The good news is that the political public education efforts of the electronic music and drug reform communities made the Billings incident a major public relations disaster for DEA and Senator Biden. In response, DEA has changed their tune on the RAVE Act. DEA has stated on their web site that, “legitimate property owners and event promoters are not in violation of the law just because a patron engages in illegal drug activity on their property.” The bad news is that DEA’s credibility is very low. DEA promised when the RAVE Act was first proposed not to threaten legitimate property owners. They promised the same thing when the RAVE Act passed. Then, less than a month after the Act became law, a DEA agent was out threatening a legitimate property owner.

What Can I Do?
DEA must be held to their promises not to target legitimate business owners. DEA must not be allowed to chill speech. DEA must not be allowed to shut down electronic music events. But given DEA’s track record, the electronic music community must use all the tools at its disposal – public education, community organizing, political lobbying, and litigation, to insure that DEA does not – and cannot – back down from its promise.

People must stand up for their rights and continue to hold raves and keep electronic music culture alive. Before you can stand for your rights, your must know your rights. If someone mentions the RAVE Act, be ready to explain that the DEA has stated it does not apply to legitimate business owners. If you are threatened, contact the ACLU, EmDef, the Drug Policy Alliance, or your attorney.

Use the resources below to educate yourself on the Rave Act and your rights:

* American Civil Liberties Union, Drug Policy Litigation Project


* Drug Policy Alliance

* Drug Enforcement Agency

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