Order Code RS21108
Updated January 22, 2003
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Ecstasy: Legislative Proposals in the 107th
Congress to Control MDMA
Specialist in Social Legislation
Domestic Social Policy Division
Legislation was proposed in the 107th Congress to combat the use and abuse of
Ecstasy (MDMA) and other “club drugs.” The RAVE Act (S. 2633/H.R. 5519) would
have intensified federal efforts to control Ecstasy by amending the “crack house statute”
to more directly target rave promoters. The Senate bill was reported by the Judiciary
Committee and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar but died at the end of the 107th
Congress. Another bill, the Ecstasy Prevention Act of 2001 (S. 1208/H.R. 2582) would
have encouraged local communities to crack down on raves and would have authorized
additional funds to be used in High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas for anti-Ecstasy
law enforcement activities. The Senate attached a version of S. 1208 to the Department
of Justice authorization act (H.R. 2215), but it was deleted in conference. H.R. 3138
and H.R. 3782 would also have opposed Ecstasy and other club drugs but did not see
action. This report will no longer be updated.
Ecstasy is the street name for MDMA or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. As
its full, scientific name indicates, MDMA is in the amphetamine family of drugs, although
its effects are unlike other amphetamine compounds. Discovered and patented by Merck
Pharmaceuticals in Germany before World War I, MDMA was first tested on animals in
the 1950s by the U.S. Army in its Cold-War search for a brain-washing drug. Civilian
researchers became interested in it in the 1970s and were the first to study its unique
psychological effects in human subjects. It seemed to reduce fears and barriers to
intimacy, while enhancing communication and empathy, and showed promise as an
adjunct to psychotherapy in the treatment of such problems as drug addiction, phobias,
The early history of MDMA is documented in a variety of sources. The facts here, which are
recounted elsewhere, are drawn from Grob, Charles S., M.D. Deconstructing Ecstasy: The
Politics of MDMA Research. Addiction Research, v. 8, no. 6, 2000. p. 549-588.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
post-traumatic stress, depression, suicide, and the difficulties of dealing with terminal
For several years, a small group of health professionals – mostly pharmacologists
and psychotherapists – was enthusiastic about the promise of MDMA and used it with
patients. An estimated half-a-million doses of the drug were quietly distributed and used
for personal growth by Americans in professional settings during the 1970s. The
therapists and their patients attempted, with some success, to keep MDMA a secret and
out of the hands of recreational drug users in order to keep it legal.
Inevitably, however, word spread, partly through widespread media accounts after
the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) began the process, in mid-1984, to schedule the
substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). DEA’s placement of MDMA in
Schedule I, the CSA’s most restrictive schedule, applied criminal penalties for the
manufacture, possession, and use of the drug effective July 1, 1985. This abruptly ended
the use of MDMA by medical researchers and therapists, but not its use by youthful drug
experimenters on certain college campuses and in bars, especially in Texas and California.
It soon became better known for its popularity as a street drug of abuse than for its
promise as a therapeutic agent.
MDMA had been given the name Ecstasy by an enterprising drug dealer, and
Ecstasy, or “X,” was promoted as a safe alternative to cocaine, which had caused recent
celebrity deaths and was subject to increasingly severe criminal penalties. Its use slowly
expanded to the present day. According to the 2001 Monitoring the Future Study, funded
by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 5% of 8th graders, 8% of 10th graders,
and 12% of 12th graders reported that they had taken the drug at least once. Use had
roughly doubled among American teenagers since 1998, but increased little between 2000
Alarmed by rising levels of use, especially by young people at large, all-night dance
parties known as “raves,” and concerned about Ecstasy’s possible neurotoxic effects,
among other health and safety concerns, the 106th Congress passed the Ecstasy AntiProliferation Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-310). Among other provisions, this law directed the
U.S. Sentencing Commission to increase criminal penalties for Ecstasy. On March 20,
2001, the Commission voted for a penalty structure for MDMA offenses that is more
severe by weight than for powder cocaine, but less severe by weight than for heroin,
effective May 1.3 The 107th Congress considered further legislation to control the use of
University of Michigan News and Information Services. Rise in Ecstasy Use Among American
Teens Begins to Slow. Ann Arbor, MI. December 19, 2001. Available at:
[http://www.monitoringthefuture.org], accessed July 3, 2002.
United States Sentencing Commission. Report to the Congress: MDMA Drug Offenses,
Explanation of Recent Guideline Amendments, May 2001. Federal judges are generally bound
by the sentencing range dictated by the Commission’s sentencing guidelines.
S. 2633 and H.R. 5519. The Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act
of 2002, or RAVE Act, was introduced in the Senate on June 18, 2002, by Senators Biden
and Grassley,4 and was referred to the Judiciary Committee. It was reported by the
committee without amendment and without written report 9 days later and placed on the
Senate Legislative Calendar. The House version, identical to the Senate bill except for the
dropped “findings” section, was introduced on October 1, 2002, by Representative Lamar
Smith. The House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland
Security held a hearing on the bill on October 7 and decided not to vote on it. The House
bill died in committee.
The RAVE Act would have slightly amended the so-called “crack house statute”5 to
address rave promoters’ actions more specifically, such as using an outdoor space
temporarily to profit from the use of a controlled substance. In addition to the criminal
penalties that already exist in the crack house statute, the RAVE Act would have added
a civil penalty, thereby lowering the standard of proof from beyond a reasonable doubt to
a preponderance of evidence. Any person who violated the statute would be subject to
a civil penalty of not more than the greater of $250,000 or twice the gross receipts, either
known or estimated, that were derived from each violation. The heading of this section
of the Controlled Substances Act would have been changed from “Establishment of
manufacturing operations” to “Maintaining drug-involved premises.”6 The Act would
also have directed the Sentencing Commission to review and consider stiffening the
federal sentencing guidelines with respect to offenses involving the club drug gamma
hydroxybutyric (GHB), the so-called date rape drug; authorized $5.9 million to be
appropriated to DEA for the hiring of a special agent in each state to serve as a “Demand
Reduction Coordinator”; and authorized such sums as necessary to DEA for drug
education efforts directed at youth, their parents, and others about club drugs.
Enforcement of the amended crack house statute at raves would almost certainly end
the harm reduction efforts of DanceSafe and similar groups that set up tables at some
raves, with the permission of the promoters (and often with the tacit approval of local law
For the Senators’ introductory remarks on the measure, see Congressional Record, daily edition,
v. 148, June 18, 2002. p. S5705-5706. Additional remarks by Senator Biden appear at: Ibid.,
October 9, 2002. p. S10218.
Sec. 416 of the Controlled Substances Act (Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse
Prevention and Control Act of 1970, P.L. 91-513, as amended by P.L. 99-570, Title I, sec.
1841(a), October 27, 1986); 100 Stat. 3207-52; 21 U.S.C. 856.
The “unlawful acts” subsection of the crack house statute would be changed as follows (new
text in italics):
“Except as authorized by this subchapter, it shall be unlawful to-(1) knowingly open, lease, rent, use, or maintain any place, whether permanently or temporarily,
for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance;
(2) manage or control any [stricken words: building, room, or enclosure,] place, whether
permanently or temporarily, either as an owner, lessee, agent, employee, occupant, or mortgagee,
and knowingly and intentionally rent, lease, profit from, or make available for use, with or
without compensation, the [stricken words: building, room, or enclosure] place for the purpose
of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using a controlled substance.”
enforcement), to test the drugs being used. The presence of drug testers at an event would
signal that the promoters knew that there would be drugs at their event, making them
vulnerable to prosecution. Congressional hearing testimony has questioned the wisdom
of this approach to the Ecstasy problem: “The use of illegal drugs can ruin lives, but often,
the harm arises less from qualities intrinsic to the drug itself than from its legal
consequences.... If you want more deaths stemming from the use of club drugs, then
increase penalties, initiate more active policing, and drive the club scene further
For this and other reasons, including First Amendment concerns, the Act gained
opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union and music event promoters.8
National drug reform and danceculture groups organized write-in campaigns against the
measure. An estimated 500 protestors demonstrated against the RAVE Act at the U.S.
Capitol Building on September 6, 2002.9 Senate Judiciary Chairman Leahy and Senator
Durbin, also a member of the committee, original sponsors of the legislation, then
withdrew their sponsorship of the RAVE Act, which died at the end of the 107th Congress.
S. 1208 and H.R. 2582. The Ecstasy Prevention Act of 2001 (S. 1208/H.R. 2582)
was introduced in the Senate by Senator Graham on July 19, 2001, and in the House by
Representative Mica on the following day. The Senate bill was referred to the Judiciary
Committee. The House bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Health of the Energy
and Commerce Committee and to the Subcommittee on Crime of the Judiciary
Committee. In floor action in the Senate on December 20, 2001, a slightly modified
version of S. 1208 was added by amendment to H.R. 2215, the 21st Century Department
of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act. The Senate then passed H.R. 2215, as
amended, by voice vote, and the House and Senate versions went to conference, where
the Ecstasy-control provisions were deleted from the final version of the measure, which
became P.L. 107-273 on November 2, 2002.
The version of the Ecstasy Prevention Act added to the Department of Justice (DOJ)
authorization act would have amended the Public Health Service Act to require the
Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
(SAMHSA), in awarding grants for ecstasy abuse prevention, to give priority to
communities that have taken measures to combat club drug use, including passing
ordinances restricting rave clubs, increasing law enforcement on Ecstasy, and seizing
lands under nuisance abatement laws to make new restrictions on an establishment’s use.
It would have authorized funds for the Director of the Office of National Drug Control
Policy (ONDCP) to: combat the trafficking of MDMA in the 26 areas of the United
States designated as high intensity drug trafficking areas (HIDTAs); emphasize MDMA
and other club drugs in the national youth anti-drug media campaign; develop a drug test
U.S. Congress. House. Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime. Threat Posed
by the Illegal Importation, Trafficking, and Use of Ecstasy and Other “Club” Drugs, hearing,
106th Cong., 2nd sess., June 15, 2000. Washington, Govt. Print. Off., 2000. Statement of Phillip
Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies, Pennsylvania State University,
University Park, PA, p. 73, 70.
Montgomery, David. Ravers Against the Machine. Washington Post. July 18, 2002. p. 1, 8.
Chibbaro, Lou, Jr. RAVE Act Protest Held at U.S. Capitol. Washington Blade. September 13,
2002. p. 7.
for MDMA; and create an interagency Task Force on Ecstasy/MDMA and Emerging Club
In addition, the Ecstasy Prevention Act would have authorized funds for research,
to be conducted by NIDA, that would evaluate the health effects of MDMA, such as:
(A) physiological effects such as changes in ability to regulate one’s body
temperature, stimulation of the cardiovascular system, muscle tension, teeth
clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, tremors, and other such
conditions, some of which can result in heart failure or heat stroke;
(B) psychological effects such as mood and mind altering and panic
attacks which may come from altering various neurotransmitter levels such as
serotonin in the brain;
(C) short-term effects like confusion, depression, sleep problems, severe
anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, and amnesia; and
(D) long-term effects on the brain with regard to memory and other
cognitive functions, and other medical consequences.
Not funded would be research into the reasons why people use MDMA. A final report
documenting these research findings and identifying the health consequences of MDMA
use would have been submitted to Congress by January 1, 2003, and would have been
made available to the public.
H.R. 3782. The Clean, Learn, Educate, Abolish, Neutralize, and Undermine
Production (CLEAN-UP) of Methamphetamines Act of 2002, introduced by
Representative Ose on February 14, 2002, contained a provision aimed at rave promoters.
Section 305 of H.R. 3782 would have amended the Controlled Substances Act by
inserting a new section titled “Promoters of Drug Oriented Entertainment.” This new
provision would have stated in full:
Whoever knowingly promotes any rave, dance, music, or other entertainment
event, that takes place under circumstances where the promoter knows or reasonably
ought to know that a controlled substance will be used or distributed in violation of
Federal law or the law of the place were [sic] the event is held, shall be fined under
title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned for not more than 9 years, or both.
The bill saw no action beyond referral to multiple committees.
H.R. 3138. The Comprehensive Club Drug Abuse Reduction Act was introduced
by Representative Graves on October 16, 2001, and was referred to the Subcommittee on
Health of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The bill, which saw no further action,
would have: (1) established a 14-member interagency Club Drug Task Force that would
be responsible for designing, implementing, and evaluating federal education, prevention,
and treatment efforts with respect to club drugs; directed the Secretary of Health and
Human Services to develop a public health monitoring program to monitor club drugs in
the United States; and expanded club drug abuse prevention efforts by amending the
Public Health Service Act to authorize the Director of SAMHSA’s Office for Substance
Abuse Prevention to make grants to, and enter into contracts and cooperative agreements
with, public and nonprofit private entities to conduct school- and community-based
programs on the dangers of club drugs.
The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs held a hearing on “Ecstasy Use
Rises: What More Needs to be Done by the Government to Combat the Problem?” on
July 30, 2001. Chaired by Senator Lieberman, the hearing attempted to dispel the
perception, said to be common among young people, that Ecstasy is harmless. Witnesses
included Dr. Alan Leshner, Director of NIDA, John Varrone, Assistant Commissioner of
the U.S. Customs Service, Dr. Donald Vereen, Deputy Director of ONDCP, and Joseph
Keefe, DEA Chief of Operations. A 16-year-old former drug user now in a residential
treatment program told the Committee: “To anyone who thinks Ecstasy isn’t a serious
drug, I give this advice: Stop before you get hurt. ... I was once a normal kid and Ecstasy
took me down a deadly, destructive path I could never have imagined. Life is too
precious. Ecstasy is not worth it.”10
On December 4, 2001, the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control held
an oversight hearing, co-chaired by Senators Biden and Grassley, on “Looking the Other
Way: Rave Promoters and Club Drugs.” Asa Hutchinson, DEA Administrator, and Dr.
Glen Hanson, Acting Director of NIDA, testified on the first panel. The second panel was
composed of law enforcement officials from Miami, New Orleans, and Des Moines, Iowa,
and a concerned mother. The focus of the hearing was to explore ways in which federal,
state, and local law enforcement agencies have cracked down on raves and rave promoters
including: making it a state criminal offense to knowingly maintain a place where
controlled substances such as Ecstasy are sold and used; offering “rave training classes”
to parents to educate them about the danger of raves and the club drugs associated with
them; and using the “crack house statute” or other federal charges to go after rave
promoters and prohibit raves. Earlier in the year, on March 21, Senators Grassley and
Biden presided over a narcotics caucus hearing on “America at Risk: The Ecstasy Threat.”
The Drug Czar, the DEA Administrator, the acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs
Service, and the chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission were among the panelists.
These two hearings were the last in a series of hearings held in recent Congresses by the
Senate narcotics caucus that resulted in the introduction of the RAVE Act.
In conjunction with its consideration of H.R. 5519, the House Judiciary’s
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources held a hearing on
“Ecstasy: A Growing Threat to the Nation’s Youth”on September 19, 2002. In his
opening statement, Chairman Souder criticized the “so-called ‘scientists’ who even today
try to perpetuate the myth that Ecstasy is not harmful or even, bizarre as it may seem, has
some sort of therapeutic value.” DEA’s Hutchinson and NIDA’s Hanson testified on the
first panel. They discussed the drug’s adverse health effects, its patterns of distribution
and use, and their agencies’ efforts to educate the public and curb its growing use,
especially by young people. Witnesses on the second panel described the damaging
effects of Ecstasy on individual users and the challenge of providing drug treatment for
U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Governmental Affairs. Ecstasy Use Rises: What More
Needs to Be Done by the Government to Combat the Problem?, hearing, 107th Cong., 1st sess.,
July 30, 2001. Washington, Govt. Print. Off., 2001. p. 6.