Bad Bills: Rave Act II, CLEAN-UP Act, VICTORY Act 9/5/03

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As Congress enters the fall session, legislators will be considering a trio of bills that would deepen the war on drugs. One of them, the euphemistically named VICTORY Act, seeks to tie the war on drugs to the war on terrorism by creating the new crime of "narcoterrorism," while two other proposed measures would extend the wars on ecstasy and methamphetamine to include promoters, club owners, or anyone else who profits in any way from an event where they "know" drug use might take place.

While drug reformers often find themselves working alone or with few allies to defeat drug bills, the inclusion of proposed new "narcoterrorism" offenses in the VICTORY Act is creating a situation where drug reformers find themselves building an informal alliance with critics of draconian anti-terrorism legislation on both the left and the right. While opponents to the proposed bill include such usual suspects as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, also coming on board in opposition to the VICTORY Act are privacy-oriented groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and conservative groups including the libertarian Cato Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

What has all these folks up in arms? According to a draft of the proposed bill obtained by ABC News, the VICTORY Act would:

  • Raise the threshold for rejecting illegal wiretaps. The draft reads: "A court may not grant a motion to suppress the contents of a wire or oral communication, or evidence derived therefrom, unless the court finds that the violation of this chapter involved bad faith by law enforcement."
  • Extend subpoena powers by giving law enforcement the authority to issue non-judicial subpoenas which require a person suspected of involvement in money laundering to turn over financial records and appear in a prosecutor's office to answer questions.
  • Extend the power of the attorney general to issue so-called administrative "sneak-and-peek" subpoenas to drug cases. These subpoenas allow law enforcement to gather evidence from wire communication, financial records or other sources before the subject of the search is notified.
  • Allow law enforcement to seek a court order to require the "provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service" or a financial institution to delay notifying a customer that their records had been subpoenaed.
The proposed bill would also criminalize the "hawala" system of money exchanges. Common from South Asia to the Straits of Gibraltar, hawalas transfer billions of dollars across continents on a nod and a handshake. The Justice Department suspects that Al Qaeda may use the hawala system to transfer funds, but it is also used by millions of everyday citizens to send paychecks back home and for similar transactions.

Of more specific interest to drug reformers, the draft legislation also creates the crime of "narcoterrorism," which would apply to anyone who "knowingly" sells, manufactures, or possesses with intent drugs whose profits may end up in the hands of groups designated as terrorist organizations by the US State Department. Under the draft, such "narcoterrorists" would get mandatory minimum 20-year prison sentences.

The VICTORY Act "contains a multitude of new and sweeping law enforcement and intelligence gathering powers -- many of which are not related to terrorism -- that would severely undermine basic constitutional rights and checks and balances," the ACLU noted in a recent press release. "If adopted, the bill would diminish personal privacy by removing important checks on government surveillance authority, reduce the accountability of government to the public by increasing official secrecy and expand on the definition of 'terrorism' in a manner that threatens the constitutionally protected rights of Americans. These far reaching powers could apparently be sought even though the first USA Patriot Act already gave the government unprecedented powers to violate our civil liberties and tap deep into the private lives of innocent Americans."

"This bill would treat drug possession as a 'terrorist offense' and drug dealers as 'narco-terrorist kingpins,'" an unnamed Senate aide told ABC News. "To say that terrorist groups use a small percentage of the drug trafficking in the United States to finance terrorism may be a fair point, but this bill would allow the government to prosecute most drug cases as terrorism cases. It really seems to be more about a political agenda to jail drug users than a serious attempt to stop terrorists."

"The VICTORY Act is the scariest bill we are facing this year," said Bill McColl, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (http://www.drugpolicy.org), the drug reform organization that is taking the lead on this issue. "This is an act that bears all the signs of having the full force of the Ashcroft Justice Department behind it. It includes those things they couldn't sneak into the PATRIOT Act," he told DRCNet. "It creates the crime of narcoterrorism, so if you 'know' the money from your drug deal will somehow get to a named terrorist group, you are looking at 20 years in prison. A big problem is how you define 'know.' As it is, almost every drug crime has some impact on terrorist funding, so this is an attempt to tie drug users to terrorists," he said. "But this bill contains a whole slew of other bad provisions, as well," McColl continued. "It attempts to roll back asset forfeiture reform, it would expand electronic surveillance, it would create 'good faith' exceptions to the exclusionary rule. This bill applies the techniques of espionage against our own population."

The VICTORY Act is a work in progress. It has not yet been formally introduced, although drafts bearing the name of sponsor Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, circulating. But the authors of the drafts have already removed more bad language that would have addressed the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity primarily by increasing sentences for powder.

It is still a bad bill, though, said DPA's associate director for national affairs Bill Piper, and its supporters are attempting to frighten voters in order to pass it. "They're trying to pass stuff they couldn't get in the PATRIOT Act, and they're thinking that Americans are scared of drugs and scared of terrorists, so they should be really, really scared of narcoterrorists," he told DRCNet. "We already have laws against drugs and against terrorism. We don't need this."

If the VICTORY ACT weren't bad enough, drug reformers are also preparing to do battle against a pair of bills that continue the crusade to criminalize the rave culture in the name of the war on drugs. The Ecstasy Awareness Act (H.R. 2962) and the CLEAN-UP Methamphetamine Act (H.R. 834) both target promoters of raves or other events where it is "known" that drug use will take place.

Under the Ecstasy Awareness Act, "...Whoever profits monetarily from a rave or similar electronic dance event, knowing or having reason to know that the unlawful use or distribution of a controlled substance occurs at the rave or similar event, shall be fined not more than $500,000 or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. If the defendant is an organization, the fine imposable for the offense is not more than $2,000,000."

The CLEAN-UP Meth Act contains similar language: "Whoever, for a commercial purpose, knowingly promotes any rave, dance, music, or other entertainment event, that takes place under circumstances where the promoter knows or reasonably ought to know that a controlled substance will be used or distributed in violation of Federal law or the law of the place where the event is held, shall be fined under title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned for not more than 9 years, or both."

"This is America," said DPA's McColl. "Drug use happens everywhere. We know this. At any sort of public event, you have reason to know that drug use may be occurring. If you interpret this language broadly, Kinko's could be held liable for producing flyers advertising an event where drug use occurred." There is a method to this madness, McColl suggested. "These bills are written so broadly because they want to be able to target whoever they want and they don't want anything to get in their way."

In addition to the common provisions attempting to criminalize rave culture, the two bills would increase spending for meth and ecstasy law enforcement, with each calling for an additional $10 million to combat their demon drug of choice. The meth bill would also appropriate $20 million for training and equipping meth lab cleaner-uppers and would designate more regions of the country as meth "hot spots."

According to DPA's McColl, the Ecstasy Awareness Act's chances of passage are slim, but that is not the case with the CLEAN-UP Meth Act. "This bill already has 113 sponsors, led by Rep. Doug Ose (R-CA), and they have vowed to move on it once they got a hundred," he said. "I think Ose is really going to push this."

And he isn't happy about the increasingly common legislative practice of attaching unpopular draconian bills or sections of bills to more popular legislation. "There is a real culture of deception here in Washington," he said. "They have a bill that is ostensibly about cleaning up meth labs, and they try to sneak this anti-rave provision in. They did the same thing with the Amber Alert bill, when Sen. Biden (D-DE) sneaked the first Rave Act through. With all this Orwellian phraseology and this sneaking bills through, this is the worst I've seen it in Washington, and I've been here seven years."

DPA, along with the Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund (http://www.emdef.org) and ROAR!: The National Dance and Music Rights Alliance (http://www.roargroup.org), a grouping of rave culture promoters, club owners and aficionados, is fighting back against these repressive bills. The organizations have crafted letter-writing and e-mail campaigns, and they will be taking the battle to the steps of the Capitol on Saturday with a musical protest against RAVE Act II and the anti-rave provision of the CLEAN-UP Meth Act. And that's just the beginning.

For more information on the campaigns against these bills, visit the web sites mentioned above.

A draft version of the VICTORY Act is available at http://www.libertythink.com/VICTORYAct.pdf online. Note: The version available here is an earlier draft that still includes sentencing provisions that have since been removed. This bill is still a work in progress.

To view the Ecstasy Awareness and CLEAN-UP Methamphetamine Acts online, go to http://thomas.loc.gov and search for H.R. 2962 and H.R. 834 respectively.

-- END --
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Issue #301, 9/5/03 New DRCNet Book Offer and Donations Appeal | Alaska Appeals Court Legalizes Simple Marijuana Possession, Law Enforcement Dazed and Confused, Suffering Denial | Bad Bills: Rave Act II, CLEAN-UP Act, VICTORY Act | Dutch Begin Selling Prescription Marijuana in Pharmacies | Hemp on the High Plains: HIA Goes to the Pine Ridge Reservation | Cheryl Miller Memorial Congressional Phone Slam Day, 9/23/03 | Current Action Alerts: Medical Marijuana, Plan Colombia, HEA, Ashcroft's Attack on Judicial Discretion | Perry Fund Accepting Applications for 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 School Years, Providing Scholarships for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions | Organizations Protesting DEA-Sponsored Traveling Exhibit Conflating Drug and Terrorism Issues | Newsbrief: Massachusetts Researcher Seeks Permit to Grow Marijuana for Medical Research | Newsbrief: Federal Judge Rejects Santa Cruz Medical Marijuana Lawsuit | Newsbrief: In Colombia, Social Distortion as Narcos Grab Land | Newsbrief: California Governor Candidates at Debate All Endorse Medical Marijuana | Newsbrief: LA NORML's Margolin Joins California Governor Race, Vows to Be "Terminator" of Marijuana Prohibition | Newsbrief: UN Drug Head Calls for US-Led Occupation Forces to Fight Afghan Drug Trade | The Reformer's Calendar
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