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As raves go uptown, cities take aim at drugs, noise

USA TODAY

NEW ORLEANS — They began more than a decade ago in remote fields and abandoned warehouses, out-of-the-way places where teens and young adults grooved all night to ear-splitting electronic music. Today, rave dance parties are big business, held in downtown nightclubs and theaters by promoters who charge $30 or more for admission.

Ravers say the scene is still all about the music. But a rising number of critics say it's also about rampant drug use, mostly involving the illegal stimulant Ecstasy. The critics accuse party organizers of looking the other way as dealers peddle pills and stoned kids trash the neighborhoods where raves are held.

Here and in several U.S. cities, there are growing complaints that raves have become a public nuisance. In a twist to the "Not In My Backyard" debates that have long shaped government decisions, New Orleans and a few other cities have used the federal statute designed to shutter crack houses to try to shut down raves or force them to clean up their act.

Besides tapping the federal law to accuse rave promoters of fostering drug dealing, local, state and federal authorities have used anti-noise ordinances and police anti-drug dragnets to combat Ecstasy use at raves. Ecstasy is not nearly as popular as marijuana, but its rise as a party drug has made it a priority for health officials, who cite studies indicating that the stimulant can cause brain damage and neurological problems.

Officials have had mixed success prosecuting rave promoters under the 1986 crack-house statute. Such charges can be tough to prove, and the law is aimed at the owners of residential properties where there is continuous drug activity, not transient concerts or parties.

But Congress is considering a plan to change that: A bill before the U.S. Senate would specifically link raves to the crack-house law, which holds property owners liable if they knowingly allow illegal drug activity on their premises. Owners or promoters found liable could face up to 20 years in prison or be fined $250,000 or twice the gross receipts derived from each violation, whichever is more.

The assaults on raves have prodded groups of young people to political action. While acknowledging there is some drug use at raves, supporters of the parties say that officials should not automatically equate raves with Ecstasy, which has hallucinogenic properties that give users a euphoric feeling.

New Orleans' efforts to stop drug use at a local rave venue reflects the increasingly aggressive approach authorities across the nation are taking toward raves  as well as some officials' frustration in trying to apply the crack-house law to rave promoters.

U.S. and local officials here have focused on the State Palace Theatre, where in 1998 a young woman died of an Ecstasy overdose. Police learned that when the theater on the edge of the raucous French Quarter held its monthly rave, local hospitals were swamped with young people who had overdosed on Ecstasy and other drugs.

After authorities found evidence of drug use at the State Palace, a federal grand jury indicted the owner, managers and promoters of the theater's parties in January 2001. The defendants were accused of violating the crack-house statute, which required prosecutors to prove that the rave organizers were allowing the operation of a venue for the sale or use of drugs.

Prosecutors acknowledged that filing the charges under the statute was a reach, but it was "the only statute that seemed to fit," says Al Winters, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case.

The company that leased the State Palace for the raves eventually agreed to plead guilty to violating the crack-house statute, pay a $100,000 fine and promise to increase security and search partygoers for drugs. The rave promoters who lease the theater say they wanted to avoid a lengthy and expensive court battle  and to continue holding raves.

More security, but drugs remain

Today, raves at the State Palace are as popular as ever. And despite the increased security and ongoing police patrols, a visit to the theater on a rave night makes it clear that drugs remain a part of the scene.

On Sept. 28, a party called "Wild Planet" drew about 1,500 teens from as far away as Alabama, a two-hour drive away. Each paid up to $32 to get in. Outside the theater, undercover cops in jeans and T-shirts mingled with teens waiting to get in, watching as some of the youths sold pills or shared them with friends. Before the party ended about 6 a.m. the next day, more than a dozen teens were arrested.

The owners of the decrepit theater had their own security staff checking bags at the door, but smuggling tiny Ecstasy pills into the party apparently wasn't difficult. Just inside the theater's door, in semi-darkness broken only by the white light of a flashing strobe, a man in his early 20s offered Ecstasy for $20 a pill. Some particularly active ravers admitted being high on Ecstasy when they arrived.

"Security (at such raves) is really lax," says Louisiana State Trooper Kim McDuffie, who has worked undercover at raves. Like other officers, she questioned rave promoters' commitment to significantly crack down on drugs, which would risk annoying partygoers. "If the promoters were serious about keeping the drugs out," McDuffie said, "they'd have uniformed police officers" inside the raves.

Rob Brunet, a booking agent for the raves, says the State Palace's searches are thorough. "If the kids are on something," he says, "I've got to assume they are taking it before they get here."

Other jurisdictions have taken aim at raves  not always successfully  through a variety of tactics:

U.S. prosecutors in Florida last year charged the owners and manager of Club La Vela, a popular hangout in Panama City Beach, with violating the federal crack-house law. Several employees who had been caught dealing drugs at the club testified against their employer, but a jury acquitted the club's executives of promoting drug sales and use.

The club recently expanded and now has 11 theme rooms, including one designed for electronic music and raves, which typically involve strobe lights, black lights and neon glow sticks to enhance dancers' psychedelic experience.

"The prosecution was putting music and lighting and glow sticks on trial," says lawyer Todd Foster, who represented the club's manager. "They tried to make techno music synonymous with drugs."

The most successful prosecution of a rave enterprise using the crack-house law began with the arrest in October 2001 of 16 people linked to the rave scene in Boise. For 18 months, police had amassed evidence linking Ecstasy's appearance in the city to raves that were held in a local warehouse. Rave promoters hired security to keep drugs out of the parties so the promoters' own dealers could sell drugs there exclusively, U.S. Attorney Tom Moss said.

"We learned that they were basically glorified drug parties," Moss said. "It's a classic crack-house (type) situation."

Authorities arrested 29 people on drug charges. Three  two promoters and a disk jockey  were convicted under the crack-house statute and received federal prison sentences. Now the rave scene in Boise, if it exists, has gone underground, Boise Mayor Brent Coles says. "It's known throughout the illegal drug industry that in Boise, you're going to be observed and prosecuted," Coles says. "It's no longer profitable to hold a rave in Boise."

The most significant assault on raves could come from Congress. A Senate bill called the Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act attempts to close loopholes in the crack-house law that have made it difficult for prosecutors to use it to shut down raves.

The crack-house statute targeted run-down buildings and owners who allowed their properties to become havens for drug dealers. Raves often are transient affairs, moving from warehouses to theaters to nightclubs. The new legislation would make it easier for prosecutors to go after the promoters of events, rather than have to focus on a certain location.

The bill has been passed by a Senate committee and is on the Senate's consent agenda, which means it could be passed without a recorded vote at any time. The House is considering a similar bill.

Ravers, disk jockeys and party promoters say that if the bill becomes law, it would suffocate the budding electronic music genre. Rave promoters say they would be reluctant to feature music that might draw interest from anti-drug agents.

The ACLU says the bill violates the First Amendment right to expression by targeting a form of music and criminalizing a culture. The Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund, a group that formed to help the State Palace promoters fight the charges against them, calls the proposed law and the government's approach to raves "misguided."

"It's not going to stop raves ..., and it's not going to stop people from obtaining drugs," says Susan Mainzer, spokeswoman for the fund and owner of a company that promotes electronic music artists.

Rave support groups have used Internet chat rooms, Web sites and e-mail to collect more than 10,000 signatures for a petition protesting the Senate bill.

In September, they held protest raves in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. In what perhaps was a reflection of the groups' political inexperience, they held the D.C. protest the day Congress was in New York to honor victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The protest at the U.S. Capitol drew several hundred ravers.

Camille Sevigny, 25, a student at the University of Maryland and a part-time disk jockey from Adelphi, Md., says he's not sure why lawmakers have focused on raves. "You listen to about half the rap songs and they're not rapping about marijuana, they're rapping about Ecstasy," he says. "I agree drugs are wrong, but you're going about it the wrong way."

"We don't need drugs to get energy and dance all night," added Rob Erickson, 18, a high school senior from Fairfax County, Va., who had dyed his hair lavender on one side and Big Bird yellow on the other. "I can listen to this music and vibe off it."

But anti-drug specialists say rave music and drugs are inseparable, and that the rave culture is largely defined by Ecstasy.

Jim Mock, a former police officer from Torrance, Calif. whose company, Drug ID, offers courses in drug awareness, identification and spotting people under the influence, has assessed drug use at rock concerts, Gothic parties and raves.

"At raves, it runs at least twice what it does in other scenes," Mock said. "The only thing comparable to raves (are) Grateful Dead" concerts, where he said use of the hallucinogen LSD is common.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a co-sponsor of the bill in that chamber, rejects criticism that it targets music and other forms of expression. "There's nothing wrong with dances. But if they are a cover for the illicit sale of drugs and the person holding the rave knows it, you can't tolerate that."

Hospitals busy on rave nights

New Orleans is home to around-the-clock partying in the French Quarter and bars that serve mixed drinks in cups to go. But officials and health specialists continue to be taken aback by the flood of overdosed teens that hits hospitals during big raves.

Teens who take Ecstasy and other drugs arrive "in waves," sometimes barely breathing, says Keith Van Meter, section head for emergency medicine at Charity Hospital, the medical center closest to the State Palace theater. "Sometimes it'll be a catastrophe if there's a particularly strong batch of drugs going around."

On some rave nights, doctors at Charity will see as many as 15 overdosed ravers, Van Meter says. "Most frustrating is the contention by the promoters that there is nothing wrong. It's maddening."

Several hours into the theater's September rave, at about 4:30 a.m., a young woman collapsed on the dance floor. A security guard called paramedics, who carried her through a side door to a damp, garbage-strewn sidewalk. She was alone. Paramedics arrived and quickly gave her oxygen. She was taken to a hospital a bit later.

Inside the theater, the music played on.

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Ah yes... the problem... Bloomberg is trying hard to destroy the scene here too.... quitely.

Let's see..... the police want to put armed uniformed officers in the clubs - why? Why should the clubs have an armed officer if the clubs where hip hop is played, where they don't make you walk through a metal detector, and there is no search doesn't have any? Why you may ask? Cause it would be considered racist. Plain and simple. I myself listen to hip hop every now and then and some songs are quite good, but lets think about this.... Are there nights when drunk alcohol enraged people are carted off to the hospitals for alcohol poisoning? Yeah.... Do more fights break out? yeah.... They ARE specifically targeting a group of people, they ARE targeting our music - wholey hell just read there explainations when they say they aren't targeting the music... HELLO!!!!

:mad::mad::mad: This makes me very angry!!! They want to stop smoking in bars and clubs here too..... gee like is the only place I can smoke in my apartment, under the sheets with the shades pulled shut and the lights off?? Is salt going to be next?? I mean it IS bad for you. How about cheese - it's got FAT in it - ban it!!! It's bad for you.

Ok.... I'm going to stop rambling now..... but thank you for posting this and getting me all worked up this morning...... freakin politicians - hey I have an idea..... instead of spending all this money on trying to break up a few parties that for the most part help in the whole "survival of the fittest" idea, cause quite frankly you know going into it whether or not your taking a chance with your life and you KNOW when enough is enough, thus if you're DUMB enough to over do it - then thats your own damn fault and your ass SHOULD be dead!- why don't these politicians try finding the people that are out there doing MORE damage to our country - such as these wonderfull terrorists? How about trying to figure a way to end the senseless violence in the Middle East? Helping people in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Burma, Tibet produce food so they can eat? How about looking for another type of freakin fuel so that we are no longer dependant on oil - thus making the idea that we only are interested in BIG OIL in the Middle East no longer valid and STILL work towards ending this battle. But you know what - that's to difficult - thus why they continue to harp on us BAD people. Those of us that listen to the DEVIL electronic music - I can hear Fallwell now - "It's the gay music, drug pushers and users, morons and buffoons listen to this. THEY are responsible for the 11th...." and on and on....

Ah... now I feel better.....

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Originally posted by sauvee88

Ah... now I feel better.....

I don't!

I just wrote the editor of USA Today, saying:

1. That their portrayal of the scene as mostly teens and that "stoned kids destroy neighborhoods" is grossly inaccurate.

2. That I'm a young professional in my 30's, and that hundreds of thousands of us are into it for the music

3. That the last party I went to, the dj ended his set with a track that had Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in its entirety, and that a group of us of all races, colors, creeds held hands and raised them up toward the dj. That dj did more for peace and cultural understandings than any United Nations and its resolutions.

Did you freakin' see that slide show of photos?

That girl who was being treated by a paramedic? Why wasn't she placed on a stretcher? Why were they allowing her to lie down on the dirty sidewalk???? Maybe she had a twisted ankle? People DO injure themselves while dancing!!!! Christ, when a football player is carried off the field, he's a battle hero. When a raver needs medical attention, she's a crack whore raver. I am so sick of it...

Everyone, write USA Today and educate. Please. If we don't stand up for ourselves and the legitimacy of what we love, no one else will.

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Bah more BS. (first of all i dont care about spelling and grammar at 6am so this could be messy)

Im sick of stupid media. I can barely walk the streets without being acused of being on E or selling it. And i dont even look like a "raver". Iv been to the palace in Nola, and the security guards there may not be the best but they do check fairly well. In nola they are looking more for weapons than drugs. I mean what are the chances of actually finding a damn pill on sombody? They could have the PO PO standing at the door doing the searches if they wanted. The same amount would get in, weather it be in sombodys stomach already or not.

Another thing that really bothers me is how they make it look like "raves" are killing people. First of all they dont know what the hell an actual rave is. They asume any party is a "rave" i guess. Anyway, the "raves" are not killing people, nor is the music. These raves are also not places that promote getting FUBAR. People do E outside of clubs and parties just as much as they do inside. Stupid people are killing themselves, simple as that. Let me state now that i have nothing against anyone that chooses to do any drug whatever it may be. If a person ODs it is thier own fault. The party didnt tell them to take that much nor did the music. When a person drinks to much who do they blame, the bar? Helllz no. They make fun of the persons drunk ass becuase they didnt know when to quit. Ill admit that there is alot of people that are in the "scene" for the drugs, not the music. But they are far outnumbered by the amount of people that are there because of the music, and could care less what everyones on. If you want to fight your war on drugs fight it on the street, dont tear our clubs apart. The buildings and music didnt make the drugs, why does everyone put the blame on them? Its just wood and invisable waves, leave them alone.

Also tired of uneducated people saying trance is a "drug music." Do they just come to this becuase of its name or what? In my opinion its got to be the least "druggy music" In my observation the more bass and the faster its coming, the more messed up people you will see around. Maybe thats just what iv seen but doubt it. blarg, to much type not enough sleep, ill try to make some sense out of all this incoherent trash when i wake up, and bitch some more.

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