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Anti-MDMA Laws Are Doing More Harm Than Good, Say Researchers

"The RAVE Act is a relic of the War on Drugs. It never worked in the past, and it's not working now."

by Michael Byrne
Aug 17 2014, 7:57pm

Image: Psychonaught/Wiki

With a bit of help from inexperienced frat-ravers, ecstasy paranoia is on its way toward an impressive peak this summer. Two deaths and a couple of dozen ambulance rides at Diplo's Mad Decent Block Party in July; a trio of attendees turned ill at the UK's V Festival; one dead at the Electric Daisy Carnival; one more at LA's Hard Summer festival. Perhaps you've already seen the weird "Reefer Madness 2.0" anti-ecstasy PSA below, via the creator of Dexter no less, forced on attendees of New York's Electric Zoo festival.

Current ecstasy woes are traceable in some part back to a federal law in the United States enacted in 2003 to combat, well, ecstasy woes. This is according to research being presented today at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association that singles out the RAVE (Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy) Act as a counterproductive force that is actually making MDMA use less safe through its push toward eradication rather than safety. Zero tolerance doesn't work—can you even believe it? 

Related: Meet the 'Fake Heroin' Behind the Next Overdose Epidemic

In short, the law makes club owners and promoters criminally responsible for illegal drug use at their events. It was then a response to a rave scene that had grown and thrived throughout the '90s, one often attracting young teens. Toward the late-'90s in particular, MDMA use boomed; one popular statistic describes a near doubling of ecstasy-related emergency room visits between 1997 and 1998. Cartoon legislators like Bob Graham took up the cause, upping penalties for possession (e.g. forcing hard-time on minor offenders), and eventually adding new penalties for even tangential players, like club owners, via the RAVE Act.

The downfall of the RAVE Act, according to the new study, is in penalizing anyone that might be viewed as facilitating drug use, we're penalizing anyone that tries to make drug use safer. Before the RAVE Act, it was more common to see club owners handing out free water or using security patrols trained to look out for ravers-in-distress. DanceSafe, a still-active organization focused around making drug use within the electronic music community safe,  would often set up tables outside of events where ecstasy shoppers could have their purchases checked for purity and/or added sketchy substances. 

"There were a lot of groups like that, and there was a lot of educational information about drugs being made available," Tammy Anderson, the lead investigator behind the new research, said in a statement. "Today, clubs and promoters are reluctant to take those precautions because it could be used as evidence against them." 

Those clubs and promoters might also be more reluctant to call for medical help. There's currently a spat of sorts between DanceSafe and Diplo himself, with the former accusing the Mad Decent boss of refusing to allow the organization to distribute drug safety literature outside its event in Philadelphia. 

Anderson has been at work for the past five years, making "intensive" observations and conducting interviews with event participants in Spain, the United States' East Coast, and London. "The RAVE Act is a relic of the War on Drugs," she said. "It never worked in the past, and it's not working now."

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