Joe Biden’s presidential bid rests on two pillars: his ability to find bipartisan solutions and his lived-in, cool uncle persona.
If the 2002 RAVE Act is an indicator of the bipartisanship he’ll reach as president, the cool uncle persona won’t last long after his inauguration.
The Senate bill, which stood for Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy, was enacted to halt the supposed scourge of MDMA, aka ecstasy. The drug was already illegal, but the bill, later renamed the Illicit Drugs Anti-Proliferation Act, expanded law enforcement’s authority. Under the law, police could arrest the promoters and owners of clubs and events where drugs were sold and impose fines of up to $250,000 and prison sentences of up to 20 years.
By making it easier for cops to bust parties, raves and clubs where club drugs were sold and used, the act made doing drugs more dangerous. Before the bill, promoters and nonprofit health organizations like DanceSafe warded off overdoses, dehydration, freakouts and bad vibes with educational outreach, drug testing kits, free water, cool-down rooms and other methods. The bill discouraged club owners and promoters from offering those safety measures because law enforcement could use them as proof that the promoters knew their patrons were using drugs and were, according to the bill, criminals.
After the bill, fewer people used MDMA but the drug became a greater public health danger nonetheless: MDMA-related emergency room visits rose by 128 percent between 2005 and 2011. In 2013, when University of Virginia honors student Shelley Goldsmith took MDMA at an outdoor EDM event and danced for hours in a hot, overcrowded environment, she didn’t have a chill out tent or mist spray or cool down room. Instead, she died of hyperthermia. Her mother Dede Goldsmith founded the petition organization Amend the Rave Act in her honor.
Biden’s record as a drug warrior is bad overall. But his battle with ecstasy may be his most pigheaded moment. His response to the crack epidemic led to today’s overcrowded prisons but at least the crack epidemic was real. There was no MDMA epidemic. Nonetheless, Biden pushed for stiff criminal penalties for rave promoters, saying in a 2001 hearing “the promoter, the guy who owned the building, I’d put the son of a gun in jail.”
The RAVE Act rose from a baseless moral panic and paradoxically made those drugs more dangerous than ever. No drugs are completely safe—you can overdose on aspirin, for example—but MDMA is a pretty safe drug, provided you follow simple, common sense guidelines. It’s not addictive and overdoses are unlikely. MDMA deaths are rare and are almost never due to MDMA alone. Overdoses and deaths are driven by interaction with other drugs, the user’s physiology or environmental factors, namely heat. People with heart conditions shouldn’t take it. You should know how much you’re taking and be sure that what you’re taking is actually the drug you believe you’re taking. You shouldn’t take it with methamphetamines. If you get too hot while you take it, get hydrated and cool down.
It’s galling that Biden and his bipartisan cronies extended the drug war in 2002, long after Americans knew it was a failure and directly before launching a brand new never-ending destructive war, this time on terror.
And frankly, in the shadow of 9/11, America needed more MDMA, not less. Research indicates it would’ve done us a world of good. In a recent small study, MDMA was significantly reduced the severity of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms in first respondents and veterans. Shortly after 9/11, America as a whole had PTSD. Biden helped deprive it of a possible cure.