Hollywood has a long tradition of films in which the ridiculous plot serves only as a flimsy excuse for the soundtrack. Such was the case with the idiotic "plot" of the 1984 movie Footloose in which the family of a high-school rebel (a young Kevin Bacon) moves to a Utah town and Bacon discovers that they've outlawedcan you believe it?dancing.
Fast-forward to this year. With virtually no attention, Congress passed an onerous new national antidrug billone whose implicit effect is to outlaw certain types of dancing. Enter the RAVE Act.
Passed last March, when, two days before the vote, Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden attached it as a rider to what became the AMBER Alert law, RAVE takes its place in the discouraging new tradition of ridiculous legislative acronyms: the Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act. And how, you might ask, is Big Bro helping protect us from this demon high?
From RAVE's text: It is illegal to "manage or control any place, whether permanently or temporarily, either as an owner, lessee, agent, employee, occupant, or mortgagee, and knowingly and intentionally rent, lease, profit from, or make available for use, with or without compensation, the place for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using a controlled substance."
The idea is to hold concert promoters, hall owners, even stage managers liable for any illicit drug use on the premises. If someone throws a rave in a SoDo loft, 300 kids show up, and one is pulled over when leaving and found to have contraband in his back pocket, not only is he in deep shit, but the promoter could face felony charges, 20 years in prison, and a quarter-million dollars in fines. But profit isn't even necessary; if you throw a party at home and your neighbor calls in a complaint about loud music, you could face the same consequences if any of your friends are found with illicit substances.
Last year, when RAVE was introduced, its criminal provisions specifically targeted raves, arousing enormous oppositionso much so that Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy withdrew his co-sponsorship of the bill. But in the version that became law, the word "rave" never appears. Biden renamed the bill the Illicit Drug Anti- Proliferation Act.
The intentionally vague and overbroad language is part of what's helping the RAVE Act workin the short term. It allows prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Agency broad latitude; that, in turn, is scaring off prospective promoters and event insurers.
On May 30, a DEA agent showed up at the Eagle Lodge in Billings, Mont., where a benefit concert for local drug-law-reform groups was to be held that night. According to the lodge's manager, the agent waved a copy of the RAVE Act while threatening the lodge with repercussions if anyone was found with a joint at the concert. The lodge reluctantly canceled the show.
The Billings case highlights another undercurrent of RAVEits selective use and potential for political use against opponents of drug policy. If bands, promoters, or sponsoring organizations are on record as opposing lawsHempfest comes to mindthe Billings incident suggests that the DEA will use RAVE to oppose free speech as well as drugs.
Setting aside the question of whether drugs like MDMA (commonly known as ecstacy) should be illegal in the first place, the net effect of RAVE isn't to decrease their usageit's to shut down public concerts. RAVE is a tacit admission of the drug war's failure. By going after owners or promoters who may well be antidrug themselves, it's an admission that people determined to use illicit substances are not being deterred by the existing draconian laws.
That being the case, if fear of RAVE becomes a serious impediment to the hosting of events where drug use takes placewhich could be, when you get down to it, most any concert, any venue, any partythe drug use will still take place. It'll just take place elsewhere. People will find a way.
Only the dancing will be shut down.