Drug overdoses spur effort to outlaw raves

The beat will not go on under a proposal to ban raves in California.

The Anti-Raves Act of 2011 would ban public events that boom prerecorded music for more than 3½ hours at night, according to legislation introduced by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, on Wednesday. Promoters would be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined $10,000 or twice the receipts for the event, whichever is greater.

The proposal — in response to several deaths and illnesses related to Ecstasy use at all-night dance parties — is directed at events on public land. It carves out a major exception for bars, clubs, theaters and other venues that are licensed to hold events.

“Raves foster an environment that threatens the health and safety of our youth,” Ma said in a statement. “The introduction of AB 74 is the first step toward eliminating these dangerous events.”

The legislation comes in response to drug overdoses at two events at the Cow Palace, a Daly City venue controlled by the state, and one at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where someone died.

After the second set of overdoses at the Cow Palace, venue CEO Joe Barkett announced that the historical property would stop hosting rave-type events. He has since made decisions on a case-by-case basis, saying he doubts there is an easy way to define a rave.

“That’s just not something that’s easy to define, especially in legislation,” said Barkett, who spoke with Ma about the legislation. “[Ma] acknowledged to me that she knows it’s difficult to define, but I think she’s just trying to start a dialogue.”

Ma acknowledged that an all-out ban is only a starting point, and the bill might go through several changes before it comes up for a vote. But she said with so many instances of drug-related illnesses in the past year or two, the time had come for action.

“I feel that urgency is needed to protect our young people who are being put at risk at these types of events,” Ma said.

Sean Manchester, the owner of dance club Mighty in The City and president of the California Music and Culture Association, worried that the law would affect many events in San Francisco, such as New Year’s Eve at City Hall and street festivals.

“One of the big problems we have in San Francisco is that there aren’t many venues to host a DJ that draws a lot of fans,” Manchester said.

Also, state Sen. Leland Yee has been crafting a bill geared toward making events safer.

“The senator’s position is that a ban on raves is not the right approach,” Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin said. “Raves are not the problem. It’s the activity that’s happening within these raves, without adequate law enforcement, that is the problem.”

Partying too hard

Several high-profile deaths and overdoses have occurred at raves in California this year:

January: One person dies and 18 are hospitalized at a New Year’s Eve rave at the publicly owned Los Angeles Coliseum.

May: Two people die after overdosing at a Cow Palace rave and five others are hospitalized in critical condition.

June: A 15-year-old girl dies of a drug overdose and 120 others are hospitalized at a rave at the L.A. Coliseum.

October: About a dozen people attending a Halloween party at the Cow Palace are hospitalized because of drugs.

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