Drug reformers and concert promoters united a year ago to block passage of Democratic Senator Joe Biden’s Rave Act, which would have subjected promoters and club owners to prohibitive fines for any but the most incidental drug use at their events. This year, though, Biden–who said the law was needed to deter drug use and “protect kids”–attached it to the anti-child abduction AMBER Alert bill, which passed in April.
It took about a month for reformers’ fears to be realized. Emphasizing the possible $250,000 fine, a DEA agent brandished a copy of the law at a fraternal lodge in Billings, Montana, that was about to host a benefit concert to raise money to help qualify a medical-marijuana measure for the state ballot next year, and the event was immediately canceled.
Denver-based Special Agent in Charge Jeff Sweetin, who runs the DEA’s Rocky Mountain Division, said the lodge trustees may not have known what they were in for because typically such events feature “open air” drug use. It’s the DEA’s duty to inform them, he said, so they can beef up security. “The emphasis was, there were a lot of people coming, and they need to be prepared,” said Sweetin.
Kelly (who declined to give her last name) was the manager on duty at the Fraternal Order of Eagles Lodge when agent Dan Dunlap showed up on May 30, several hours before the $5 event, proceeds from which were to go to local chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy as well as the medical-marijuana ballot fight. Kelly said Dunlap made no overt threats but showed her a copy of the new Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act and informed her that should any drugs be found on the premises, the lodge might be subject to the $250,000 penalty. He didn’t tell the lodge to cancel the event, but just indicated, Kelly said, “what could happen.” Dunlap also told her that undercover DEA agents or some in “squad cars” might attend. She called her boss.
Lodge chairman Roger Diehl confirmed his meeting with Dunlap, but declined comment beyond saying it was his decision to cancel the event.
Sweetin acknowledged that Dunlap mentioned the quarter-million-dollar fine as “one possible ramification of the law.” He said, “If they chose to have the concert, we told them what could happen.” Asked about the fine, Sweetin said, “There is a liability attached if you don’t control your patrons.” Sweetin maintained that the DEA is duty-bound to inform the public about the new law while noting, “It’s pretty broad. It’s a very aggressive approach to drug users and people who profit from drug use at events.” He added that the DEA is still seeking guidance from the Department of Justice. “We don’t know how it’s going to shake out.”