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Senate Just Says No to Clubs

New anti-rave legislation threatens concert industry

April 21, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Dance clubs, concert halls and even outdoor festivals are in danger of being put out of business thanks to a new piece of legislation that passed in Congress on April 10th. According to the bill, any individual who owns or operates a venue where audience members are using drugs could be sent to jail or subjected to steep fines.

Sponsored by senators Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), the bill was tacked onto the Amber Alert Act, concerning child abductions -- a move opponents say was intended to avoid close scrutiny. (The new law is a revision of an earlier proposal known as the RAVE Act, an acronym for Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy.)

"It isn't just a threat to the rave community," says William McColl, director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, "but to any community that isn't liked by the majority -- hip-hop events, gay and lesbian circuit parties, even rock & roll shows like the Grateful Dead or Phish."

McColl acknowledges it could be years before anyone is prosecuted but says the law may scare off promoters and keep them from holding raves. Biden was unavailable for comment, but his office directed Rolling Stone to speak with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

"We're not anti-rave," says that group's spokesman, Howard Simon. "This isn't like John Lithgow in Footloose telling people, 'Good God, don't dance.' This could help authorities to go after the few bad apples turning a winking blind eye to drug use."

Donnie Estopinal, the New Orleans promoter who was unsuccessfully prosecuted in 2000 under the federal "crackhouse statute," doesn't see it that way. "This law will definitely have an effect on whether promoters can get access to venues," he says. "Just the threat of being prosecuted is enough to scare people away.

"We already search the hell out of everybody," he continues. "It's harder to get into a rave than it is to get on an airplane. We're forced to treat our customers like criminals before they even get in the door."

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