For University students accustomed to buying kegs of beer with the help of older friends or the possession of fake IDs, this Halloween might be a last hurrah.
A state law set to take effect Tuesday will require retailers to attach a tag with the buyer’s name, address, phone number and state ID number to each keg they sell. The measure is intended to curb underage drinking and put responsibility on keg retailers. However, Ann Arbor keg sellers say the law could undermine their businesses.
Under the law, which passed with bipartisan support in the state Legislature last December, retailers must keep records of keg sales for at least one year. The records will be open to police and other local law enforcement officials for inspection at any time.
Additionally, a person who removes a tag from a keg may face as many as 93 days in jail and a fine of more than $500.
State Rep. Mark Meadows (D–East Lansing) said the law creates a paper trail for police to hold the buyer accountable in case officers discover that a keg was illegally given to an underage person.
“It was prompted by problems that we had in the community in terms of identifying the individual who’s really responsible for the problem,” he said.
Meadows said establishments that illegally sell alcohol to minors are particular targets of the legislation. He added that the law passed at the urging of many of the state’s public universities, but the University of Michigan was not among them, according to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald.
“The University of Michigan did not actively lobby for passage of the state’s keg labeling law,” Fitzgerald wrote in an e-mail interview.
Even as Meadows and other state legislators applauded the law, which will make Michigan the 31st state to mandate keg tags, other lawmakers questioned how effective it will be in reducing underage binge drinking.
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said he is unsure if local law enforcement will actually examine whether every keg is tagged and whether every retailer maintains accurate records.
Irwin said he is “skeptical” the law will have a pronounced impact since it will likely incriminate more retailers for selling alcohol to minors but looks past underage demand of the product. He added that minors binge drink due to a lack of education and discourse with adults about responsible alcohol consumption.
“I think that this is probably not the best way to address underage drinking,” Irwin said. “I think it creates this wall between young people and the responsible people in their lives who may be able to guide them in the right direction.”
Irwin added that the law could also increase the appeal of binge drinking for underage people. The government is not capable of ending underage drinking, he said, and legislation that aims to reduce access to alcohol for minors inspires more demand.
“If it makes it sort of more difficult for young people to get their hands on it, I think it does increase the impetus for some young people to go overboard and to abuse it to excess,” Irwin said. “People who are under 21 will always find a way to access alcohol if they want to.”
Eddie Galyana, owner of Strickland’s Market on Geddes Avenue, said he believes the law “doesn’t make sense” because it will increase sales of liquor and other alcoholic products besides beer.
“The people who buy the kegs — they’re actually going to turn around and buy different things,” Galyana said.
Galyana said he expects his store’s keg sales to decrease by about 10 to 15 percent once the legislation starts next week.
“I’m sure the sales are going to go down,” he said. “The customers will be scared. Nobody wants to get in trouble. It’s a risk.”
Similarly, Jet Elia, owner of Jimmy’s Sgt. Pepper’s Party Store on East University Avenue, said the law will likely “kill” keg sales because students don’t want to be held responsible for serving alcohol to minors.
“Do you blame them?” Elia said. “They don’t want any sort of misdemeanor on their record.”
LSA senior Greg Juliano said he thinks some students will be deterred from purchasing kegs, particularly students who do so with fake IDs, since police will be able to access store records. He added, however, that students who are over 21 will likely not be discouraged from buying kegs.
“I don’t think it’ll kill sales,” Juliano said.