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New Orleans News

NOLA.com Judge throws out ban on rave gear

Pacifiers, glow sticks are legal

02/05/02

By Susan Finch
Staff writer/The Times-Picayune

Banning pacifiers and glow sticks in an effort to curb drug use at all-night raves violates free speech and does not further the government's war on drugs, a federal judge has ruled in permanently blocking federal agents from enforcing the ban.

The ban on legal items often used to enhance highs produced by the drug Ecstasy was part of an agreement last summer in which a company that sponsored raves at New Orleans' State Palace Theater pleaded guilty to violating the "crack house" law that makes using a building for selling and taking drugs a federal crime.

The American Civil Liberties Union, though, said the ban was unconstitutional and challenged it in federal court. After the suit was filed last year, U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous issued a temporary restraining order preventing the ban from taking effect.

Porteous issued a 12-page ruling Monday that sided with the ACLU in its attack on the ban. Porteous said that though the government's method of reducing or eliminating widespread use of Ecstasy at raves is "pure," it doesn't pass constitutional muster.

"The government cannot keep legal items out of places because of illegal activities they associate with those items," Porteous said, making permanent a temporary order he issued in August.

Porteous ordered the government not to enforce a section of the plea agreement it reached last summer with Barbecue of New Orleans, whose president, Robert Brunet, 37, of Metairie, is a key rave promoter. Barbecue pleaded guilty to the "crack house" violation, was fined $100,000 and agreed to ban supposedly drug-related items from future raves.

ACLU officials lauded Porteous' ruling as a major victory for free speech.

"Today's decision should send a message to government that the way to combat illegal substance abuse is not through intimidation and nonsensical laws," said Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project, which challenged the ban on behalf of rave enthusiasts and performers.

Acting U.S. Attorney Jim Letten agreed that Porteous had handed the government an "adverse ruling" that prosecutors may appeal.

But Letten noted that though Porteous faulted the "mechanics" the government used to achieve its goal, the judge said elimination of Ecstasy use at the State Palace during raves is a "substantial government interest."

Ecstasy users sometimes chew on pacifiers to alleviate teeth grinding, which can occur when taking the drug. Dust masks are often used with inhalants to heighten the drug's effects.

Prosecutors claimed raves are often hotbeds of drug abuse, particularly for Ecstasy, and that glow sticks and other items are paraphernalia. Ravers interviewed in August said pacifiers are adornments symbolizing youthful ideals.

. . . . . . .

Susan Finch can be reached at

sfinch@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3340.

02/05/02

© The Times-Picayune. Used with permission.

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