Underage drinking is without a doubt a major concern on college campuses and law enforcement nationwide has been brainstorming ways to improve this dangerous problem. Various cities in Minnesota, including Minneapolis and Saint Paul, have passed the Social Host Ordinance Law in an effort to make harsher consequences for underage drinking. This law states that the blame will be placed upon one individual, the host of the party at which underage drinking is taking place. In the city of Minneapolis, the violator may be given up to a $1000 fine and 90 days in jail. In theory, this call to action seems like a good solution, but will it cause more problems? Many students claim they worry that the dangerous atmosphere of underage binge drinking will not decrease, but instead, become hidden, away from the public eye.
Minneapolis police hope this law will discourage people from providing locations for minors to drink and will in turn slowly drop the number of minors who choose to consume alcohol. It is very hard to give a citation to every minor at a party and the host ordinance gives police the ability to target the source of underage drinking in hope to decrease the problem. Other organizations aside from police are in favor of the new law, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving Minnesota. Jean Mulvey, a representative from this organization, told the Twin Cities Daily Planet that “it’s important to address the how and where the problem takes place, not simply what the problem is.”
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On the other hand, statistics prove that this law will not solve the problem of underage drinking but will in fact create more issues. Due to recent research we know the number of minors who binge drink is so remarkably high that we need to assume that the majority of them will still find locations to drink regardless of the law that was recently put into place. The Journal of Health Economics preformed multiple studies across the country to get an estimate on the impact the Social Host Ordinance law. After keeping track of traffic accidents and fatalities, the research team collected data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). While concentrating on the ages 18-20, they looked at answers to questions regarding binge drinking and drunk driving. Survey evidence did indicate that the Social Host Ordinance decreases drunk driving but it did not indicate that it reduces teenage alcohol consumption. In fact, the statistics indicated that the number of adults supervising teenage drinking is not decreasing but instead those adults are simply encouraging teenagers not to drive.
Although this law may reduce driving fatalities, it will not decrease the number of underage drinkers. The Social Host Ordinance law will most likely create devastating long term effects including party hosts failing to dial 911 in an emergency in fear of getting into trouble. If underage drinking continues regardless of the new law, it will without a doubt become a secret due to the known consequences of getting caught. Someone in need of medical attention may not have that need met if the host requests that the phone call for an ambulance is not made. Hosts and guests are less likely to call for help in an emergency when they know the consequences of having the party in the first place are as high as the Social Host Ordinance states.
These concerns are not hypothetical but have in fact happened. A 17 year old boy in Chaska was recently dropped off by his friends at a gas station instead of the hospital in an effort to avoid Social Ordinance consequences.
It is unfortunate to see the large number of underage drinkers but it is also frustrating to watch law makers make the same mistakes in trying to solve the problem. More Minnesota laws on underage drinking continue to go into effect but have yet to solve the issue. Examples include “Kevin’s Law” which increased penalties on adults providing alcohol to minors from a gross misdemeanor to a felony and the “Not a Drop” Law which states a minor driving with any amount of alcohol consumed will be charged with DWI if operating a vehicle. The “Zero Adult Providers Law” is another no tolerance policy regarding alcohol distribution to teenagers. Harsher punishments and additional laws have not helped in the past and are unlikely to magically solve the problem now.
Students are not the only individuals on campus in doubt of the success of the social ordinance. Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart told the Minnesota Daily, “I think that by itself, the social host ordinance isn’t going to dramatically change the neighborhood scene. I wish something would … make it more civil for the neighbors. We can always be optimistic, but I’m a realist, I guess.”
Police and law makers must step back and take a new approach to this serious concern. Strict laws and harsh punishment has simply not worked in the past to reduce underage drinking. The numbers are too high and impossible to control. You cannot “scare” minors out of breaking the law when the majority of students on a campus are choosing to drink. Perhaps we need to look at the bigger picture and take a step further to consider lowering the drinking age. The current means of punishment are not working. We need a better approach to promoting a safer environment for students.