In a dismal last gasp to the federal government's ill-fated effort to wage its war on MDMA (ecstasy) and the rave culture via the federal "crack house" statutes, a federal judge in New Orleans permanently barred federal agents from banning mask, pacifiers and glow sticks at the city's State Theatre dance venue. The US Attorney in New Orleans, John Murphy, had originally threatened the club's managers, brothers Robert and Brian Brunet, and promoter Donny Estopinal, with 25 years in prison under the crack house statute, which was originally aimed at people selling drugs on their properties. But that case crumbled, and the feds reached a plea agreement where one company owned by the brothers paid a $100,000 fine. As part of that settlement, the State Theatre agreed to ban the rave culture accoutrements, which in the view of the DEA constituted drug paraphernalia.
But the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Drug Policy Litigation Project, acting on behalf of local rave-goers and performers, filed suit in federal court in August. The ACLU asked for and won a temporary injunction quashing the ban at that time (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/201.html#glowsticks). On Tuesday, US District Court Judge G. Thomas Porteous made the temporary injunction against the ban permanent.
In ruling against the government, Porteous noted that while there is a "legitimate government interest" in curtailing illegal drug use, "the government cannot ban inherently legal objects that are used in expressive communication because a few people use the same legal item to enhance the effects of an illegal substance." Porteous also noted that "there is no conclusive evidence that eliminating the banned items has reduced the amount of ecstasy use at raves."
And in a stern rebuke of drug war excesses under the Bush administration, Porteous concluded, "when the First Amendment right of Free Speech is violated by the Government in the name of the War on Drugs, and when that First Amendment violation is arguably not even helping in the War on Drugs, it is the duty of the Courts to enjoin the government from violating the rights of innocent people."
Calling the ruling a "major victory," Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project put overzealous drug warriors on notice. "Today's decision should send a message to government that the way to combat illegal substance abuse is not through intimidation and nonsensical laws," he said in a statement announcing the ruling.
Joe Cook, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, welcomed the court's unambiguous defense of free speech rights. "We the people should rejoice in this blow for our rights and not allow any of our freedoms to become a casualty in the war on drugs," he said. This time, at least, freedom won the day.