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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions S. 226

Location: Washington, DC


S. 226. A bill to prohibit an individual from knowingly opening, maintaining, managing controlling, renting, leasing, making available for use, or profiting from any place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise today, along with my good friend, the senior Senator from Iowa, Senator Grassley, to introduce the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act. This legislation arises out of a hearing Senator Grassley and I held in the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control in December 2001 on the proliferation of Ecstasy and other club drugs generally, and the role of some promoters of all-night dance parties, known as "raves", in distributing Ecstasy to young people. Our bill provides Federal prosecutors the tools needed to combat the manufacture, distribution or use of any controlled substance at any venue whose purpose is to engage in illegal narcotics activity. Rather than create a new law, our bill merely amends a well-established statute to make clear that anyone who knowingly and intentionally uses their property, or allows another person to use their property, for the purpose of distributing or manufacturing or using illegal drugs can be held accountable, regardless of whether the drug use is ongoing or occurs at a single event.

While my legislation is aimed at the defendant's predatory behavior, regardless of the type of drug or the particular place in which it is being used or distributed, one problem that we are facing currently involves so-called "club drugs" and raves. According to a report which the Partnership for a Drug Free America will release in the near future, teens who report attending a rave are seven times more likely to have tried Ecstasy than teens who report not attending a rave. I find this statistic quite troubling.

Despite the conventional wisdom that Ecstasy and other club drugs are "no big deal," a view that even the New York Times Magazine espoused in a cover story, these drugs can have serious consequences, and can even be fatal. Just last month we got some encouraging news: after years of steady increase, Ecstasy use is finally beginning to decrease among teens. That said, the rate of use remains unacceptably high and we still have quite a bit of work to do to counter the widespread misconception that Ecstacy is harmless, fashionable and hip.

At the Drug Caucus hearing, witnesses testified that rogue rave organizers commonly go to great lengths to portray their events as safe so that parents will allow their kids to attend. They advertise their parties as alcohol-free events and some even hire off-duty police officers to patrol outside the venue. But the truth is that some of these raves are drug dens where use of Ecstasy and other "club drugs", such as the date rape drugs Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine, is widespread.

But even as these promoters work to make parents think that their events are safe, they send a different message to kids. Their promotional flyers make clear that drugs are an integral part of the party by prominently featuring terms associated with drug use, such as the letters "E" or "X"—street terms for Ecstasy, or the term "rollin"', which refers to an Ecstasy high. They are, in effect, promoting Ecstasy along with the rave.

By doing so, unscrupulous promoters get rich as they exploit and endanger kids. Some supplement their profits from the $10 to $50 cover charge to enter the club by selling popular Ecstasy paraphernalia such as baby pacifiers, glow sticks, or mentholated inhalers. And predatory party organizers know that Ecstasy raises the core body temperature and makes the user extremely thirsty, so they sell bottles of water for $5 or $10 apiece. Some even shut off the water faucets so club goers will be forced to buy water or pay admission to enter an air-conditioned "cool down room."

After the death of a 17-year-old girl at a rave party in New Orleans in 1998, the Drug Enforcement Administration conducted an assessment of rave activity in that city which showed the close relationship between these parties and club drug overdoses. In a two year period, 52 raves were held at the New Orleans State Palace Theater, during which time approximately 400 teenagers overdosed and were treated at local emergency rooms. Following "Operation Rave Review" which resulted in the arrest of several rave promoters and closing the city's largest rave, overdoses and emergency room visits dropped by 90 percent and Ecstasy overdoses were eliminated.

State and local governments have begun to take important steps to crack down on rave promoters who allow their events to be used as havens for illicit drug activity. In Chicago, where Mayor Daley has shown great leadership on this issue, it is a criminal offense to knowingly maintain a place, such as a rave, where controlled substances are used or distributed. Not only the promoter, but also the building owner and building manager can be charged under Mayor Daley's law. The State of Florida has a similar statute making such activity a felony.

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And in Modesto, California, police officers are offering "rave training classes" to parents to educate them about the dangers associated with some raves and the club drugs often associated with them.

At the Federal level, there have been four cases in which Federal prosecutors have used the so called "crack house statute" or other Federal charges to go after rogue rave promoters. These cases, in Little Rock, AR, Boise, ID, Panama City, FL, and New Orleans, LA, have had mixed results, culminating in two wins, a loss and a draw, suggesting that there may be a need to tailor this Federal statute more precisely to the problem at hand. As a result, last session I proposed legislation which would do just that. I am reintroducing it today and I am pleased to have Senator Grassley once again as the lead cosponsor. I might note that the legislation is also included in the Democratic leadership crime bill.

After I introduced this legislation last year, a great deal of misinformation began circulating about it. I want to make the record clear. Simply stated, my bill provides technical corrections to an existing statute, one which has been on the books for 16 years and is well established.

Critics of my bill have asserted that if the legislation were to become law "there would be no way that someone could hold a concert and not be liable" and that the bill "holds the owners and the promoters responsible for the actions of the patrons." That is simply untrue. We know that there will always be certain people who will bring drugs into musical or other events and use them without the knowledge or permission of the promoter or club owner. This is not the type of activity that my bill would address. The purpose of my legislation is not to prosecute legitimate law-abiding managers of stadiums, arenas, performing arts centers, licensed beverage facilities and other venues because of incidental drug use at their events. In fact, when crafting this legislation, I took steps to ensure that it did not capture such cases. My bill would help in the prosecution of rogue promoters who not only know that there is drug use at their event but also hold the event for the purpose of illegal drug use or distribution. That is quite a high bar.

I ask unanimous consent that a letter from the Coalition of Licensed Beverage Associations, COLBA, be printed at the end of my statement. COLBA, who initially expressed concerns that my bill would make their members liable for the actions of their patrons, has endorsed my legislation because they realized that my bill was not aimed at responsible party promoters.

I am confident that the overwhelming majority of promoters are decent, law abiding people who are going to discourage drug use, or any other illegal activity, at their venues. But there are a few promoters out there who are taking steps to profit from drug activity at their events. Some of these folks actually distribute drugs themselves or have their staff distribute drugs, get kickbacks from drug sales at their events, have thinly veiled drug messages on their promotional flyers, tell their security to ignore drug use or sales, or send patients who need medical attention because of a drug overdose to a hospital across town so that people won't link emergency room visits with their club. What they are doing is illegal under current law. My bill would not change that fact. Let me be clear. Neither current law nor my bill seeks to punish a promoter for the behavior of their patrons. As I mentioned, the underlying crack house statute has been on the books since 1986, and I am unaware of this statute ever being used to prosecute a legitimate business.

The legislation simply amends the current "crack house statute" in two minor ways. First, it clarifies that Congress intended for the law to apply not just to ongoing drug distribution operations, but to "single-event" activities, such as a party where the promoter sponsors the event with the purpose of distributing Ecstasy or other illegal drugs. After all, a drug dealer can be arrested and prosecuted for selling one bag of drugs, and the government need not show that the dealer is selling day after day, or to multiple sellers. Likewise, the bill clarifies that a "one-time" event where the promoter knowingly distributes Ecstasy over the course of an evening, for example, violates the statute the same as a crack house which is in operation over a period of time. Second, the bill makes the law apply to outdoor as well as indoor venues, such as where a rogue rave promoter uses a field to hold a rave for the purpose of distributing a controlled substance. Those are the only changes the bill makes to the crack house statute. It does not give the Federal Government sweeping new powers as the detractors have asserted.

Critics of the bill have also claimed that it would provide a disincentive for promoters to take steps to protect the public health of their patrons including providing water or air conditioned rooms, making sure that there is an ambulance on the premises, etc. That is not my intention. And to underscore that fact, I plan to remove the findings, which is the only place in the bill where these items are mentioned, from the bill. Certainly there are legitimate reasons for selling water, having a room where people can cool down after dancing, or having an ambulance on hand. Clearly, the presence of any of these things is not enough to signify that an event is "for the purpose of" drug use.

The reason that 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. Although this legislation grew out of testimony I heard at a number of hearings about the problems identified at raves, the criminal and civil penalties in the bill would also apply to people who promoted any type of event for the purpose of drug use or distribution. If rave promoters and sponsors operate such events as they are so often advertised as places for people to come dance in a safe, drug-free environment then they have nothing to fear from this law. In no way is this bill aimed at stifling any type of music or expression it is only trying to deter illicit drug use and protect kids.

Last year people criticized the bill's title, the "RAVE Act", because they thought it was unfairly targeting raves. Although I do not believe that I was unfairly targeting anybody, I have changed the title to the "Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003."

In addition to amending the crack house statute, the legislation also addresses the low penalties for trafficking gamma hydroxybutyric acid, GHB, by directing the United States Sentencing Commission to examine the current penalties and consider increasing them to reflect the seriousness of offenses involving GHB. Currently, GHB penalties are simply too low. In order to get five years for a GHB offense, you have to have more than 13 gallons of the drug, equivalent to 100,000 doses and a street value of about $1 million. According to the DEA, big-time GHB dealers distribute approximately one gallon quantities of the drug, the penalty for which is currently only between 15 and 21 months. These cases simply aren't being prosecuted at the Federal level because the penalties are so low. The Sentencing Commission needs to take a look at this problem and consider raising the penalties for this dangerous drug.

But the answer to the problem of drug use at raves is not simply to prosecute irresponsible rave promoters and those who distribute drugs. There is also a responsibility to raise awareness among parents, teachers, students, coaches, religious leaders, etc. about the dangers of the drugs used and sold at raves. The DEA is already doing some of this through its club drug awareness campaign, where DEA agents are holding conferences with local women legislators to get information out about the dangers of these substances. The legislation provides funds to the DEA to continue this important work. Further, the bill authorizes nearly $6 million for the DEA to hire a Demand Reduction Coordinator in each state who can work with communities following the arrest of a significant local trafficker to reduce the demand for drugs through prevention and treatment programs.

It is the unfortunate truth that some raves are havens for illicit drugs. Enacting the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act will help to prosecute the promoters who seek to profit from exploiting and endangering young lives and will take steps to educate youth, parents and other interested adults about the dangers of Ecstasy and other club drugs associated with raves.

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I hope that my colleagues will join me and support this legislation.

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