Here are some facts on underage drinking in Washington state, as provided by the Foothills Healthy Community Coalition (FHCC), which operates under the Enumclaw Regional Healthcare Foundation:
- It's against the law to give alcohol to your teen's friends who are not 21.
- Parents can be arrested and criminally charged for providing a place for minors to consume alcohol. (RCW 66.44.270)
- Providing alcohol to minors is a gross misdemeanor, with a potential penalty of $5,000 and a year in jail.
These penalties are clearly targeting the adults who furnish alcohol to minors but are they enough to curb underage drinking? Three municipalities in Washington state don't think so. According to Heather Hogan who leads the FHCC, the cities of Rainier, Mercer Island and White Swan have each passed a social host ordinance that takes enforcement one step further and zeroes in on the setting where the drinking occurs, regardless of who provides the alcohol.
According to Mothers Against Drink Driving (MADD), 'social host' refers to adults who host parties where alcohol is served on property they control.
Law enforcement officials are typically not able to determine who provided the alcohol when they arrive on the scene of a teenage drinking party. Therefore, laws that prohibit furnishing alcohol to youth under 21 years old can be hard to enforce.
Social host ordinances give communities a practical tool for holding adults accountable. These laws allow law enforcement to cite the individual who hosted the underage drinking party on their property.
Under current state law, according to Hogan, police can only respond to a teen party where alcohol consumption is occurring if they receive a nuisance complaint about a large and/or loud crowd. A social host ordinance doesn't require the nuisance complaint first and makes clear that underage drinking is not tolerated.
In the 2010 Washington State Health Youth Survey in which students in grades 8, 10 and 12 were asked where they got their alcohol over the course of 30 days, parties were the second most popular answer after friends.
In Pierce County, the city of Orting is currently weighing its own social host ordinance, and Hogan is a part of that effort as well.
The FHCC is currently meeting with local leaders to discuss a social host ordinance in the Plateau communities and we want to know what you think. Take our poll regarding underage drinking or tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
And if you'd like more information about the FHCC, please contact Heather Hogan at 360-802-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.