By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
I tip the bottle upside down over the pile of red Motorola. Two drops slide onto the powder, and the liquid immediately turns a purplish black. We consult a color chart. Immediate black means there‘s at least some form of MD compound in red Motorola.
A white Buddha pill also tests positive for MD. Elena moves on to a white ”Mushroom“ tab, scraping some onto the plate. I douse it with another drop from the bottle. This time, when the powder turns black, it bubbles and gives off a satisfying acidic hiss.
We smile. This is cool.
But not everyone is so impressed. DanceSafe’s programs have raised the ire of several high-profile anti-drug groups, including the nonprofit Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a project whose efforts have resulted in roughly $3 billion in pro bono media exposure and whose list of funders includes Pepsi-Cola, the U.S. Department of Education and several pharmaceutical companies. ”It‘s never, in our mind, a good idea to make drugs that are illegal seem more socially acceptable, and that, in essence, is what DanceSafe is doing,“ says Howard Simon, the PDFA’s assistant director of public affairs. ”They could just as easily go into these raves and pass out literature about how dangerous the drugs are, urge the kids to hand over the drugs no questions asked, and not hand them back. But they‘re choosing to test the drugs and give ’em back to the kids, and we think that‘s insane.“
According to Sferios, DanceSafe booths do distribute literature explaining the dangers of Ecstasy. ”But if we told kids we were planning to take their pills away,“ he says, ”they’d never come around to read the literature in the first place.“
”That‘s a nice cover,“ responds Simon. ”But again, the bottom line is that DanceSafe is saying, ’You‘re using an illegal drug? We’ll help you do it.‘“
If DanceSafe has its high-profile enemies, though, it has some equally impressive friends. The group’s efforts have quickly caught the attention of the high-tech world, people like software millionaire Bob Wallace (Microsoft‘s employee No. 9) and newly landed young IPO gentry like Paul Phillips.
As the original chief technical officer of Go2Net -- a publicly traded Internet portal company with a market cap of over $1 billion -- Phillips had the financial wherewithal to go into semiretirement at the tender age of 27, the better to embark on a career as a professional poker player. Like many techies, he also spent years making the rounds of the rave scene, where he says he ”witnessed a lot of ignorance. There’s much to hate about the drug war, but the worst is how it suppresses information. The government claims to be educating kids about drugs, but they‘re not -- they’re just telling them not to do drugs. Anything that‘s about getting the information out there, I’m in favor of.“ Phillips first spotted a DanceSafe booth at a rave in August 1999. The next day, he wrote Sferios a check for $10,000.
Others followed. Software designer and movie investor Ray Greenwell will give DanceSafe all his profits from the upcoming Groove, an indie film, set in the rave world, which Sony Pictures Classics bought at Sundance for $1.5 million. The founder of one multibillion-dollar tech company has offered to make his new outfit DanceSafe‘s corporate sponsor, Sferios says. (A company spokesperson confirms the offer, but says her firm isn’t ready to go public.) In the last nine months, according to Sferios, DanceSafe‘s coffers have swelled from negative numbers to $200,000.
That’s allowed the group to breathe a little easier in the face of potential legal threats. Sferios is relatively unconcerned, for instance, about the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act, a proposed federal bill that, if passed, would make it a crime to use the Internet to disseminate information about illegal drugs. ”I hope the government tries to shut us down,“ he says. ”Nothing would give us more publicity, and we have a lot of money to fight the issue in court. I don‘t think they want to go to war with the dot-coms over this.“
But even if DanceSafe wins that war, the group faces an uphill battle in its efforts to change users’ attitudes toward drug safety. Case in point: Elena. Though all her tabs check positive for the presence of MD compounds, I remind her that the marquis test can‘t determine a pill’s overall purity. Would she consider waiting a week while the Sacramento lab tests one of her pills and posts the results on DanceSafe‘s site?
Smiling, Elena gathers up her tabs, clutching them to her bosom like a mother cradling her child. ”I care about this whole purity thing,“ she says. ”But not that much.“#