Outside View: No Raves for RAVE
WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- What if
you threw a party and nobody came? Under a new party-pooping federal law known as the "RAVE Act," this exception may become the
rule for any organization promoting views with which the federal
Congress sneaked through the legislation in April as an eleventh-hour amendment to the Child Abduction Prevention Act, more popularly known
as the "Amber Alert" law. Under its provisions, law enforcement may
criminally prosecute business owners and promoters who control or manage
a facility "for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing,
distributing, or using a controlled substance." But while the expressed
purpose of the law is to target owners who knowingly maintain
drug-dealing establishments such as crack houses, critics maintain that
its true intent is to strike at the heart of the First Amendment, and
silence the activities of the nation's burgeoning drug law reform
A case in point. In Montana the Drug Enforcement Administration cited the "RAVE Act" to pre-emptively shut down a scheduled benefit
concert for the local student affiliate of the National Organization for
the Reform of Marijuana Laws and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
According to published reports, the DEA informed the venue's
management the day of the show that they could be prosecuted and fined
$250,000 if even one concert-goer was busted smoking marijuana. Aware of
the likelihood that some attendees might indulge in a toke while
listening to their favorite bands, the management abruptly pulled the
plug on the concert -- costing NORML and SSDP untold dollars in lost
advertising and potential donations.
Other musical acts -- including several of those booked for the joint NORML/SSDP benefit -- had played the venue previously without
incident or interference from the Feds. So why was the DEA paying special
attention to this show? Most likely because the expressed intent of the
concert was to raise funds to aid NORML and SSDP's support of a pending
statewide medical marijuana legalization initiative -- an aim that the
Bush Administration ardently opposes.
Coincidence or federal intimidation? Civil libertarians seeking an explanation presume the latter. Noting that almost any large concert
or gathering could be targeted under the DEA's overly broad
interpretation of the law, a coalition of groups are working with NORML
and the American Civil Liberties Union to file a federal lawsuit to
enjoin the "RAVE Act" on grounds that it violates First Amendment
protections of free speech and free assembly.
In anticipation of the suit, and in response to public criticism over
the DEA's action in Montana, the agency recently issued guidelines
informing field agents that business owners "are not in violation of the
law just because a patron engages in illegal activity on their
property." Nevertheless, many are fearful that the Bush Administration
will continue to use the "RAVE Act" as a weapon to quash growing public
debate over drug policy.
After all, it was only in June that Congressional House Republicans tried sneaking through legislation to use taxpayer funds to produce
partisan advertisements targeting drug reform ballot proposals and/or
potentially "soft-on-drugs" candidates -- purposes that had previously
been explicitly prohibited under federal law. The proposal was
eventually turned back by a coalition of House Democrats, many of whom
were responding to concerns from outraged constituents, but the message
No longer content to debate on a level playing field, federal drug
warriors are now seeking to manipulate the law to stack the deck
decisively in their favor. No doubt the recent passage and subsequent
abuse of the "RAVE Act" swings the pendulum momentarily their way, but
at what price to the fundamental freedoms the Bush Administration has
sworn to uphold?
-- Paul Armentano is a senior policy analyst for the National
Foundation, a group that supports the liberalization of America's
marijuana laws, in Washington.
-- Outside View commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers
who specialize in subjects of public interest.