Rave On

How a bad bill becomes a law


The recent passage of the RAVE act, which allows the government to hold event organizers responsible for customers' drug use, should infuriate even those who'd run screaming from one of these all-night, electronic-music-fueled dance parties.

Why? The RAVE Act, now officially known as the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, passed both the House and Senate in April without ever having gone through committee and without floor debate. Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.) tacked his legislation onto the Amber Alert bill, a measure intended to help capture kidnappers, for no reason except political expediency. He had learned from his experience last session, when vocal, organized opposition from groups like the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) stopped the bill in its tracks.

"One senator's pet issue made a mockery of the Democratic [sic] process—becoming law without any public hearing or opportunity for input whatsoever," DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann wrote in an e-mail after the act had passed. "We will be working with the legislators who opposed this provision—such as Senators Durbin, Kennedy and Leahy and Representatives Conyers and Scott—for its repeal."

On the bright side, lines from the original bill suggesting that prosecutors should use the sale of glowsticks, massage oil, and water as evidence of drug use were stricken from the version that passed. So was use of the word rave. Though the DPA celebrated the removal of "such blatant discrimination," the move also could stoke concerns that the measure could be used to target an ever-widening assortment of events.

The impact of the new law will largely depend on how John Ashcroft's Justice Department decides to enforce it. If the department's aggressive assault on medical marijuana in California is any indication, the next few years could be a dangerous time to be in the business of helping people dance the night away.