How the RAVE Act Made Events More Hazardous
Bennett Sell Kline for Insomniac Events
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Festival Insider.
It’s 4 am, the smell of cigarettes and weed hangs in the warehouse air, strobe lights color the dancefloor, and people groove to music rumbling the subwoofers—all the makings for a great night. However, if one attendee were caught with or overdose on drugs, the business owners, property owners, and event promoters could be held accountable due to the RAVE Act.
According to the ACLU, the act makes it easier for prosecutors to unfairly fine and imprison those involved in organizing events for failing to prevent customers, tenants, employees, and others from engaging in drug-related offenses on the property. Even if the business took steps to prevent drug use and was not involved with drugs in any way, they can still face legal charges. The dance music community opposed the law when first proposed, and it died in Congress. However, the RAVE Act later made its way through Congress and was approved in April 2003. It was renamed the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003 and snuck in as an attachment to the Amber Alert Bill. Though the name changed, the bill is still the same.
Venues and promoters took drastic measures to ensure nothing would implicate them in illicit drug consumption or sales. They ceased offering life-saving medical services, educational drug use programs, and drug testing stations for almost a decade.
Venues and promoters faced extreme financial repercussions if they violated the broad-reaching law. The government can fine them up to a quarter-million dollars.
The law makes it easier to implicate parties involved by showing "preponderance of the evidence,” which is when a party meets the burden of proof by claiming there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the claim is true. This differs from the usual "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard typically used in court cases—where the prosecution must convince the jury that there is no other reasonable explanation that can come from the trial’s evidence.
Despite these strict laws, it would be unfair to say attendees don’t use drugs. You know Kandi as those fun, beaded bracelets traded nowadays using the PLUR (peace, love, unity, respect) handshake? The seemingly innocent handmade crafts were first used to smuggle drugs into shows. Drugs have always been part of the scene, they've been a part of every counter-culture movement of the modern era. And even being aware of this fact makes it difficult to provide harm reduction services to prevent overdoses.
Take DanceSafe as an example. The organization focuses on health and safety within the scene so people can party responsibly. DanceSafe provides on-site drug testing at events so attendees can ensure their drugs are safe and don't contain even more harmful substances.
In addition, those engaging in psychedelics, such as LSD or magic mushrooms, can turn to The Zendo Project, which provides a safe space for those undergoing a bad trip since such an experience can cause one to become a danger to themselves and others. The environment, also referred to as the chill-out-tent, helps calm people down without having to interact with medical staff or law enforcement.
Educational and safety services such as DanceSafe and The Zendo Project could have saved lives if the RAVE Act hadn’t made it virtually impossible for them to effectively protect attendees.
Shelley Goldsmith passed away on August 31, 2013, from heat stroke after taking MDMA at a music festival. Her mother, Dede, states on Amend the RAVE Act, “Too many young people are dying, and the 2003 RAVE Act is part of the problem because it is preventing the implementation of common sense safety measures at these events. It is time for a ‘safety first’ approach to drug use that emphasizes harm reduction alongside current law enforcement efforts.” In addition, the Los Angeles Times lists 29 rave attendees who passed away due to drug-related causes.
Is it possible these lives could have been saved if education and harm reduction weren’t suppressed by the RAVE Act? As someone who is connected to a man who passed away at a music festival due to contaminated MDMA, I would say on-site testing could have saved his life.