Party Poopers

You thought it was bad when you heard that you could lose your house if your son planted a few marijuana seeds in the corner of your yard. That was nothing. Under a bill making its way through the Senate, you could go to prison for letting him hold a party where someone passes around a joint.

The Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act of 2002 would broaden a federal law aimed at crackhouses so it can be used more easily against raves. The bill would make it a federal crime, punishable by a fine of up to $500,000 and a prison term of up to 20 years, to "manage or control any place" and "knowingly and intentionally...make [it] available for use, with or without compensation, for the purpose of unlawfully...using a controlled substance."

The RAVE Act--which was approved without amendment by the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 27, nine days after it was introduced--is worded so broadly that its chilling effect could extend far beyond raves. "'Knowingly' and 'for the purpose of' are too undefined to provide adequate protection to innocent businessmen and women," argues the Drug Policy Alliance. "Property owners may be too afraid to rent or lease their property to groups holding hemp festivals, all-night dance parties, rock concerts, or any other event rightly or wrongly perceived as attracting drug users."

The deterrent would be enhanced by the bill's provision for civil fines of $250,000 or more. That option would enable the government to bankrupt property owners without having to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), also would have the perverse effect of discouraging event sponsors from taking precautions that could be viewed as evidence that they knew attendees would be using drugs, such as providing bottled water and chill-out rooms for ravers to protect against overheating and dehydration. "This bill may make business owners too afraid to implement such harm-reduction measures," says the Drug Policy Alliance, "and the safety of our kids would suffer."

Likewise, by driving raves further underground, the legislation would make it less likely that drug users who need medical attention will get it in time. Stung by critics who say Ecstasy and other "club drugs" are not as dangerous as they've made them out to be, politicians seem determined to remedy the situation.

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