HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Club Owners Becoming Focus Of Effort To Combat Drug
Pubdate: Sat, 28 Apr 2001
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company
Author: Jennifer Steinhauer
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)


Frustrated by the rising popularity of Ecstasy and other illegal drugs 
among young nightclub revelers, law enforcement agencies and local 
governments around the country are increasingly going after the clubs 
themselves, saying that the electronic music they play has a close 
connection to abuse of these drugs.

Fans of the music, nightclub owners and some civil rights lawyers say 
singling out clubs based on the music they play raises First Amendment 

In New York, law enforcement officials have long used local nuisance laws 
to shutter nightclubs with a history of drug problems. But in the last 
year, other large cities, like Chicago, and even small ones, like Lewiston, 
Me., have adopted ordinances to regulate raves -- giant all-night parties 
featuring electronic music and light shows. And, for the first time, they 
are imposing criminal penalties on the owners of nightclubs or other dance 
spaces where drug use is discovered.

And in what some club owners view as the ultimate test case, the United 
States attorney in New Orleans is prosecuting two club owners under the 
1986 federal Crack House Statute, which is used against those who maintain 
a property where they know drugs are sold or used.

"I can't say I can remember ever using public health ordinances and 
statutes to the magnitude that we are trying to do now," said Special Agent 
Joseph Keefe, chief of operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, 
referring to the federal and local efforts pointed at club owners. "But 
clubs tend to be a venue for these drugs."

Law enforcement and music have historically had an uneasy relationship, in 
large part because of illegal drugs, from the crackdowns on marijuana in 
jazz clubs of the 1920's to the rock concerts and cocaine-fueled discos of 
later decades.

But law, government and health care experts contend that there are unique 
features about club drugs like Ecstasy, a stimulant with hallucinogenic 
properties, and GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyrate, a depressant. While drugs 
like cocaine and heroin tend to be used in various settings, they say, the 
majority of people who end up in the emergency rooms from overdoses of 
Ecstasy and GHB arrive from a nightclub or rave party.

"Club drugs in our experience are being used solely in partying venues," 
said David W. Simon, a deputy district attorney in San Bernardino County, 
Calif., who recently tried a young man on murder charges because he 
supplied GHB to a 15-year-old boy who died.

Experts in electronic music argue that only a minority of patrons abuse 
drugs, but they concede that Ecstasy is well known for increasing the 
visceral effects of techno music and light shows. The dancing, whether in 
clubs or at rave parties, tends to go until as late as noon the next day, 
and the largest events attract tens of thousands of revelers.

For that reason, many clubs have begun using private ambulance companies to 
transport people who overdose to the emergency room, and provide 
cooling-off rooms for people who overheat, a common and potentially 
life-threatening side effect of Ecstasy. Club owners argue these are public 
safety moves, but the police view it as evidence that they know about and 
tolerate drug use.

Perhaps most urgent, officials say, is the rising number of people who are 
abusing the drugs in dangerous ways. Most bad reactions to Ecstasy occur 
when it is combined with other drugs and alcohol. Those who overdose 
usually experience overheating -- sometimes fatal in and of itself -- as 
well as faintness, panic attacks, severe dehydration and loss of 
consciousness. An overdose of GHB can cause a user to become comatose and 
unresponsive, which is why it is sometimes called a date rape drug. Abusers 
sometimes must be revived and put on a respirator.

Starting in 1994, as raves and techno music grew in popularity, the number 
of people who ended up in the nation's emergency rooms from Ecstasy 
overdoses rose tenfold to 2,850 in 1999, while admissions for drugs like 
LSD remained steady, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, a unit of 
the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Last year, 
federal drug enforcers seized more than three million Ecstasy tablets, 
compared with one million the year before.

In each case where cities have tried to crack down, officials had been 
vexed by frequent illegal rave parties, overdoses and an inability to shut 
down nightclubs where there had been multiple drug arrests with traditional 

Dallas, for example, has among the country's highest rates of emergency 
room visits for GHB overdoses stemming from rave parties.

"Most of the kids that go to these type of things for the most part are 
very passive and nonviolent," said Lt. William Turnage, who investigates 
narcotics cases in Dallas. "But we pursue it because it is so dangerous."

Texas officials are working to adopt some of the ordinances of other cities 
to curb the electronic music scene, he said.

In Chicago, the City Council last summer passed an ordinance subjecting 
anyone holding or producing an event in an unlicensed venue to a $10,000 
fine. This slowed down the raves, but to get at club owners, the Chicago 
council is awaiting a final vote on another ordinance that calls for up to 
six months in jail for any property manager who knowingly permits drug 
sales on his property.

"We felt what they were doing was getting to the level of criminal 
activity, because they knew what was going on in the club and were refusing 
to do anything about it," said Jennifer Hoyle, the spokeswoman for city's 
law department, referring to clubs where multiple arrests have been made.

A similar law was passed in Lewiston, Me., where party promoters must now 
pay for the presence of a police officer for every 250 revelers at raves, 
which were once totally underground events.

This month, officials in Denver told clubs that they cannot sell alcohol at 
any events where anyone under 21 is present. "We have lost tens of 
thousands of dollars since that started," said Jesse Morreale, a partner in 
Nobody in Particular, which operates two theaters in the city that hold all 
types of concerts.

But the most controversial and closely watched development in the war on 
club drugs is taking place in New Orleans, where officials have linked 
hundreds of overdoses in recent years to raves and to a nightclub known for 
electronic music events, the State Palace. A young woman died after 
patronizing the club a few years ago. Last winter, a grand jury indicted 
three men who operated the club under the Crack House Statute. That case 
has attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"The government has always targeted people who went to concerts," said 
Graham Boyd, director of the A.C.L.U.'s drug policy litigation project, and 
a consultant to the New Orleans defendants. "But that is very different 
than targeting the people who provide the music, and the First Amendment 
protects music. That legal principle is clear."

The work of government and law enforcement has clearly had an effect. "It 
is really bad in here," said Erica Miller, a techno music promoter in 
Detroit. "If you rent a warehouse -- Detroit is known for its warehouse 
parties -- you have a big problem."

And many club owners like Mr. Morreale said they were avoiding booking 
techno D.J.'s, the most popular of whom can draw thousands from around the 
country. "I think that until we come to whatever agreement we can come to 
with the city we are going to shy away from techno events," he said. "We 
can't run the risk of our license being in jeopardy."

Some government officials and clubs have made peace and worked together. In 
San Francisco, for instance, where club raids used to be frequent, club 
owners and dancers worked out a compromise. Club patrons agreed to be more 
considerate of neighbors, even doing volunteer work in the community, and 
the city passed measures that prohibited the use of 911 call logs as cause 
for removing a club's permit.

Other cities have hired off-duty police officers to patrol parties and 
clubs. Club owners in New York have requested the same help from the 
police, and the police have declined, according to letters between the 
department and a group representing nightclubs.

New York has taken a hard line against the techno dance clubs since the 
late 1990's, because of the swelling numbers of overdoses -- some fatal -- 
stemming from the clubs. In 1998, prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to 
convict the owner of the Limelight and Tunnel clubs, Peter Gatien, of 
running drug supermarkets there.  They have since tried to close down the 
club Twilo, which they contend is an outpost for Ecstasy, and regularly 
pepper clubs all over the city with summonses for various infractions. The 
Tunnel has adopted antidrug policies, including hiring an undercover 
security staff, leading to a decrease in business, said Robert H. 
Silbering, a former narcotics investigator who now does private 
investigative work in nightclubs and other businesses.

A company was formed recently to secure permits, work with the local police 
and governments and teach promoters how to keep their parties drug-free. 
"You have to be careful at the door about who you let in, you have to have 
fliers that tell people they can't use drugs, and you have to have the 
proper security," said Jesse Saunders, a partner in Rave Secure, which 
charges upward of $2,000 a party anywhere in the United States for its 

Nigel Richards, one of the most famous D.J.'s in electronic music, said: "I 
just played a party in a club in Cleveland, and the cops and promoters were 
outside chumming it up. You might not have seen that a few years ago. 
Professionalism is increasing in the scene."
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