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COLUMN

Clubs Aren’t Drug Paraphernalia

Christen M. Gray

Every decade seems to bring on a new wave in the ever-continuing war on drugs. Each has new tactics and a new focus, and the drug scene changes and evolves along with it.

The war seems to have reached a new low as federal government is forced to take on a new set of tactics which are not only ineffective in fighting drug use and associated crime, but even go so far as to endanger innocent party-goers.

The latest focus of several local police task forces and the feds is raves and dance clubs. While the crackdown on raves has been going on for over a decade, a revival of an old “crack house law” from 1986 has put club owners and party promoters in danger of going to jail for up to 20 years or having to pay $2 million in fines.

The drugs being targeted, referred to as “club drugs,” are commonly used among teens at all-night dance parties and nightclubs. Among the most common of these is ecstasy or MDMA. Users of ecstasy experience a heightened sense of awareness and feelings of euphoria. The drug can often cause overheating which is battled by the use of “chill rooms” and drinking water.

Common sense dictates that having overly air-conditioned side rooms and free drinking water should be a straightforward safety feature of any kind or size of party. Any conscientious host or hostess would strive to provide these services to their guests.

Chill rooms, along with glowsticks, pacifiers, vapor rub, and masks, are now “drug paraphernalia.” Their existence at any club is now cited by prosecutors as evidence that the proprietors knowingly support drug trafficking within their club.

It appears that police think banning associations will fight crime itself. Citing a glowstick as part and parcel to the crime of drug use is similar to accusing Beethoven as the cause of crime and violence in A Clockwork Orange.

In his book Generation Ecstasy, Simon Reynolds cites drugs as the root of all techno. Such can as easily be said of much classic rock, music that is glorified today as inspired. Identifying music solely with drugs and targeting that genre is missing the point. It’s just fighting the wrong war.

Allowing DanceSafe, a nonprofit organization that distributes literature on safe party practices and tests tablets to protect party-goers from more dangerous drugs, into their club was used as evidence against the promoters of the State Palace Theater in New Orleans. They were indicted for “knowingly and intentionally [making] available for use without compensation, said building for the purpose of unlawfully distributing and using controlled substances.” Rather than pay the extraordinarily large court fees, they plead guilty with a bargain of a $100,000 fine.

The indictment of Club La Vela in Panama City Beach, the largest nightclub in the country, said the “owners, agent and employees thereof, did knowingly and wilfully combine, conspire, confederate, agree and have a tacit understanding with each other and other persons to knowingly and intentionally make available for use said building for the purpose of unlawfully distributing and using controlled substances.”

Attention was brought to the club as it had a higher rate of calls to the police, by the owners, about drug abusers. The club, unlike others, had a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and so turned in a great deal more users than similar clubs. They are now faced with the seizure of their property as well as jail time for their efforts.

Never has there been a more counterproductive measure taken in the fight with drugs. Raves will continue and do continue. It takes less than 30 seconds to scan the Internet for information leading to the nearest rave scene. Gatherings become more spontaneous, more underground, less controlled.

Even in the most innocent of clubs, dancers are now more and more prone to overheating -- something more dangerous than ecstasy -- as clubs are afraid to provide necessary relief measures.

Many fraternities and dorms around MIT use the word “rave” in their party titles, play loud techno music, and hand out or sell glow sticks. Under the new implementation of the “crack house law,” if someone were to be caught using any drug during the party, the fraternity or party hosts can be prosecuted and sent to jail.

The implications are improbable, but demonstrate that the current applications of the law border a little too near the ridiculous.