Drug bust should not stigmatize youth events, says organizer

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but some words are packed with a thousand pictures. Does the term “rave party” evoke any…

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but some words are packed with a thousand pictures.

Does the term “rave party” evoke any images? Perhaps a warehouse on a deserted city street, walls rattling with bass, and filled with a heap of gyrating bodies.

Or maybe you conjure something altogether different — a blurry-eyed teenager, heartbeat and pulse racing, body sweating, teeth clenched, and suffering from paranoia.

These are some of the short-term effects of ecstasy, a drug closely tied to the idea of raving for many people.

It’s a link that local youth-event organizer Jordi Mikeli-Jones has been trying to break for years.

The owner of Triple J’s Music Café in downtown Whitehorse, Mikeli-Jones throws rave parties, rock concerts, hip-hop jams and a host of other events for Yukon youth.

All the events are dry, with security guards on hand to pat partygoers down before they step inside.

A coat check is mandatory and anyone who’s visibly drunk or high is refused entry, Mikeli-Jones said in an interview this week.

But it’s not possible to control people’s behaviour before they arrive, she added

Friday provided a prime example.

That night saw one of the quieter events Mikeli-Jones has organized, drawing 70 people, far fewer than the 300 who normally attend.

However, outside the Takhini Arena, where the rave was held, police arrested a man on drug charges.

The 20-year-old, whose name has not been released, was charged with trafficking drugs.

Police believe the Whitehorse resident was peddling ecstasy, according to an RCMP release.

Ecstasy is a hallucinogen and stimulant that has a long-standing association with rave parties.

Known as the “hug drug” or the “love drug,” the brightly coloured pills make users feel relaxed and positive, and provide them with a seemingly endless amount of energy.

But the feeling of peace fades and damage caused by the drug can be permanent.

In an overdose situation, the user can be hospitalized with muscle breakdown, kidney failure, high fever and heart attack, according to RCMP documents.

Even if a user never overdoses, the drug can take a medical toll in the long-term: liver damage, brain damage and paralysis, police documents say.

The raves organized by Mikeli-Jones, however, are substance-free to the best of her control.

“We’ve worked very very hard . . . with almost 40 youth events, which are mostly all-ages shows, to keep them dry, safe,” she said.

The arrest last weekend did not happen inside the arena, she added.

“The bust was outside the rave and I don’t believe the patron had entered the venue.”

Police confirmed the man had been arrested outside the arena, near one of the building’s exits.

Mikeli-Jones’ fear is that the recent arrest will stigmatize all-ages raves and concerts in the territory.

 “We’ve worked for four-and-a-half years to get out from under the microscope,” and to change people’s ideas about what youth events entail, she said.

“The stigma attached to raves with ecstasy is so negative as it is, that we have to work that much harder to get the parents to let their kids come.”

Space is at a premium in the territory, she said, noting there are few venues that can accommodate up to 300 youth at a time.

It is the teens themselves who suffer when stereotypes hamper these events from taking place, she added.

“When something like this happens and then venues decide, ‘Well there’s this stigma attached we don’t want you to use this venue for your youth event anymore,’ it’s the kids that lose out in the end.”

Continuing to organize nighttime activities is important for youth, said Mikeli-Jones.

Northern teens don’t necessarily have access to the kinds of entertainment and activities offered in bigger cities.

When musicians visit the territory, for example, shows are often restricted to those 19 and over because of liquor laws. Teens can’t attend, and miss out on experiencing live music.

“I’ve been here 19 years. Having grown up here I’m certainly aware of what’s unavailable to kids,” said Mikeli-Jones.

Shows can get youth off the street and into a drug- and alcohol-free environment for a few hours every month, she said.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a rave or a hip hop show, or metal, punk, skate, snowboard — we do them all.”

Meanwhile, no details have been released about just what led to police lay trafficking rather than possession charges Friday.

RCMP Cpl. Tom Wyers said there are a variety of factors that could lead to a trafficking offence.

“If you observe selling, or it could have to do with packaging, or the amount,” he said.

The quantity of drugs seized by police has not been released either.

The man they arrested will likely appear in court in March, Wyers said.