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WASHINGTON -- President Bush is expected to sign into law this week a far-reaching crime bill that includes a controversial provision making it easier for federal prosecutors to hold music promoters and property owners criminally responsible when they knowingly allow their venues to be used for illegal drug use.
A White House spokesman said the measure, part of legislation expanding the Amber Alert system aimed at catching child abductors, will be signed Wednesday. The bill passed the Senate and House earlier this month with support from the entire Louisiana congressional delegation.
The drug provision was added by Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., whose spokesman said he was motivated in part by the prosecution two years ago in New Orleans of local promoters of all-night dance parties known as raves. Then-U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan alleged that the raves included rampant drug use.
The prosecution resulted in a plea bargain, but some civil liberties groups questioned whether Jordan, now New Orleans district attorney, had gone too far in using a 1986 law targeting crack houses to stop the flow of drugs, particularly Ecstasy, at the all-night dance parties. The Biden spokesman said the senator's bill leaves no doubt about congressional intent.
"The reason I introduced this bill was not to ban dancing, kill 'the rave scene' or silence electronic music -- all things of which I have been accused," Biden said in a floor speech. "In no way is the bill aimed at stifling any type of music or expression; it is only trying to deter illicit drug use and protect kids."
But Joe Cook, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, said that discouraging free expression is exactly what will happen when the Biden provision becomes law.
"What this bill that is about to become law does is threaten free speech," Cook said. "I expect that it will make some owners afraid to rent or lease spaces for events that they perceive rightly or wrongly will attract drug use."
Cook said law enforcement ought to go after those who sell or use dangerous drugs, not those who host an event where some drug use occurs.
Under the Biden proposal, the 1986 crack house law will be expanded to include properties used or rented for one-time events, such as concerts or dances. It will allow prosecutors to seek prison terms and civil fines of up to $250,000 for property owners and event promoters who sponsored events in which drug use was encouraged.
"Enacting this legislation will help prosecute unscrupulous promoters who seek to profit from exploiting and endangering young lives," Biden said when he introduced the legislation earlier this year. "This law is not aimed at one type of event or drug. However, one problem we are currently facing nationwide involves so-called 'club drugs' and raves."
Biden said the Partnership for a Drug Free America found that teenagers who attend raves are seven times more likely to have tried Ecstasy than those who haven't.
"While we know that not all Ecstasy use takes place at raves and that not all ravers use Ecstasy or other club drugs, the fact is that drug use is widespread at many raves," Biden said.
Opponents of the legislation draw some satisfaction that Biden amended his original legislation to take out the specific reference to raves. Targeting one form of entertainment, they said, amounted to discrimination against electronic music and dance events. The Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates alternatives to the war on drugs such as prevention programs and making marijuana legal for medical purposes, nevertheless asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to give the new law low priority.
It said Biden sneaked the measure into the child-crime legislation without benefit of committee hearings and called on Ashcroft to concentrate on other duties, such as terrorism. "Targeting, arresting and prosecuting innocent business owners will not solve our national drug problems," its letter to Ashcroft said.
A Justice Department official, who asked not to be identified, said Ashcroft strongly backs giving prosecutors more tools to reduce dangerous drug use by teens.
Indeed. We'll soon be invading Ibiza looking for TMD's. (Turntables of Mass Destruction).
-------------------- After one comes, through contact with it's administrators, no longer to cherish greatly the law as a remedy in abuses, then the bottle becomes a sovereign means of direct action. If you cannot throw it at least you can always drink out of it. - Ernest Hemingway
If it is life that you feel you are missing I can tell you where to find it. In the law courts, in business, in government. There is nothing occurring in the streets. Nothing but a dumbshow composed of the helpless and the impotent. -Cormac MacCarthy
He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus
it is only trying to deter illicit drug use and protect kids You wanna protect kids? Give them truthful education about drugs, and how to responsibly use them if they ever decide to try. Making ridiculous laws and using scare tactics only breeds ignorance and abuse.
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