Underage Drinking & the Law

What parents need to know now about the new Social Host Laws

The driving force behind Social Host laws

Interest and local action in severe Social Host legislation has been growing at a dangerous rate, despite little independent research into its positive and negative impact on local communities. Here is one of the big reasons why.

Stop Underage Drinking, a program from the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking (ICCPUD), created in 2004, has made advocating, creating and enforcing Social Host legislation one of their top priorities. They announced this week that almost 1,400 community-based organizations (CBOs) have registered 1,546 events on their Town Hall Meetings subsite. In a survey completed by 70 percent of the community-based organizations, the preliminary report indicates that “41.7 percent of the 2012 Town Hall Meetings discussed possible changes in local policies and legislation. More specifically, almost one fifth (18.4 percent) of CBOs said that their events resulted in plans to introduce or implement a social host ordinance.”

And herein lies the root of the problem we now face. The governmental superagency, which was originally formed as a simple committee whose mandate was to summarize “all Federal agency activities related to preventing underage alcohol use” is being led by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a governmental body whose truly laudable mission is “to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.”

However, SAMHSA, who has used their $3.4 billion budget to establish themselves as the lead government agency on all alcohol use (abuse or not, adult and child), drug abuse (prescribed and not) and mental health issues. has given marching orders over the years to thousands of  CBOs without any direction about what makes a viable social host ordinance. (To learn what does, click here).

When an organization’s primary focus is on the most broken among us – the addicted, the alcoholics, the schizophrenic, violent parents, et al – their point-of-view is naturally skewed toward preventing any possibility of breakage. For all their excellent programs and research, this skewed perspective means that sometimes what they advocate can be more damaging to the healthy than it is helpful to the ill.

Their misdirected advocacy without informed specificity for social host legislation is one example. SAMHSA’s goal here is to prevent underage drinking, not to punish random homeowners. However, without spelling out clearly what makes a good social host law, the result has been hundreds of local community organizations advocating for a law they don’t understand, composed of local citizens who aren’t trained in law, law enforcement or lawmaking. To be responsible citizens, they turn to their local law enforcement for advice, who will naturally suggest ordinance language to make their job easier, i.e., making it easier to arrest or cite residents.

In plain language, most social host ordinances written and enforced on the local level make it easier for local law enforcement to arrest, cite or fine as many people as possible. They are not designed to help prevent underage alcohol use; they are designed to punish. Much of the blame belongs to SAMHSA and the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking (ICCPUD) that they lead.

Member agencies of the ICCPUD

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