Burnout in Billings 

Working under the premise that there’s no smoke without a fire, in April Congress passed The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, better know as the Rave Act. Tacked on to the Amber Alert bill by Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), the Rave act holds any concert promoter, nightclub owner or arena/stadium owner responsible for third-party drug violations at any host’s event. Even modest benefit concerts are potential targets, as the Billings chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) learned last week.

Twentysomething Adam Jones of Billings NORML had planned on raising money for a campaign to decriminalize medical marijuana in Montana with a benefit concert at the Eagles Lodge.

“This was his first big event and he was really excited,” says John Masterson—the director of the Montana chapter of NORML. “We even shipped him our big NORML banner.”

The event had strong momentum—four live acts and a simulcast on community access TV were lined up—but maybe the momentum was too much. A day before the event, Jones was arrested for changing jobs without informing his probation officer, according to an e-mail sent by Jones’ father to Masterson (Jones is on probation for the possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms). Then, on the day of the event, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) approached the Eagles Lodge warning the venue of a $250,000 fine if drugs or paraphernalia were found at the event.

“Seems like they were just trying to nip things in the bud,” says a representative of the Eagles Lodge.

In an e-mail distributed after the event was cancelled, Jones wrote: “Not only did this cause us to lose money, hope, and face, but it will seriously endanger the chance of trying anything like this again in Billings. What the hell happened to my first amendment?”

This is the first example of the Rave act being put to use as a preemptive strike, says national NORML representative Gretchen Hilmers.

“We seem to think that the smaller concerts and benefits will be targeted, as opposed to the venues where thousands of people will be attending, because they don’t want to turn this into publicity [for NORML],” she says.

But publicity is just what NORML is getting. In addition to the ubiquitous potential lawsuits, reporters from all over the U.S. have been banging on Jones’ and Masterson’s doors—including the Los Angeles Times and a Rolling Stone freelancer. As for Jones, who has so far declined to talk to press, Masterson says the rookie told him the whole experience has convinced him to get out of the NORML activism game for good.

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