Pubdate: Fri, 05 Sep 2003
Source: Drug War Chronicle (US Web)
Author: Phillip S. Smith, Editor


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

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

. 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

"The VICTORY Act is the scariest bill we are facing this year," said
Bill McColl, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance
(, 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

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
( and ROAR!: The National Dance and Music Rights
Alliance (, 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

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 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

To view the Ecstasy Awareness and CLEAN-UP Methamphetamine Acts
online, go to and search for H.R. 2962 and H.R.
834 respectively. 
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