LSA junior Eric Plourde says that if he were to become mayor of Ann Arbor, he’d try to make it so University students would be the only college kids in the state who wouldn’t have to worry about getting slapped with a misdemeanor and $100 fine for underage drinking.
Plourde, a Libertarian Party candidate for mayor, said he’d like to see the City Council create laws to treat minors between the ages of 18 and 21 in possession of alcohol similar to the way it treats those caught with marijuana.
“People of this age group shouldn’t have a problem drinking alcohol legally,” Plourde, who is 20, said of those 18 and older.
Under Plourde’s proposal, 18-year-olds who consume alcohol would be cited with civil infractions rather than misdemeanors. Plourde said he’d like to see the penalty in Ann Arbor be between $5 and $10, with the possibility of larger fines for repeat offenders. In Ann Arbor, a first offenses for possessing less than two ounces of marijuana is only a civil infraction and carries a $25 fine with no jail time or probation.
“The city has taken a stance on overbearing marijuana laws,” Plourde said. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t take a stance on overbearing alcohol for those who are of adult age.”
City Councilmember Sabra Briere (D-Ward 1) said the council wouldn’t likely pass such an ordinance.
“He would have to show that there was a benefit to the city financially and culturally that overrode the benefit from the current penalty,” she said.
In 1972, an ordinance pushed by two Human Rights Party council members made possession of less than two ounces of marijuana a civil infraction with a five-dollar fine. City Council repealed the ordinance in June 1973. In 1974, a voter referendum passed and amended the city charter back to the way it was in 1971, when the offense accompanied a civil infraction and a five-dollar fine.
“He’d have to teach the city council that there was a real benefit to a slap-on-the-wrist as opposed to a stop-in-your-tracks punishment, which is the current goal,” Briere said.
Council Member Stephen Rapundalo (D-Ward 2) said he’s ridden along with the Ann Arbor party patrol and seen firsthand how “rampant” underage drinking is. But changing the current penalty, he said, isn’t necessarily the best way to handle the problem.
“It certainly deserves a conversation and a dialogue, but I’m not convinced lowering the drinking age won’t stop the binge drinking behavior,” he said.
LSA junior Chris Chiles, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said he supports the idea of decriminalizing alcohol consumption for those who are over 18. Chiles said he thinks Plourde would encounter heavy resistance from the Ann Arbor Police Department and City Council members if he were to defeat four-term incumbent Democrat John Hieftje and the rest of the slate of challengers.
Chiles said he was glad Plourde was addressing the safety issues surrounding the current drinking age.
“A drinking age at 18 would provide a much safer environment for college students and it would increase the focus on health and education in our community,” he said.
Plourde said he’s attended parties at which people were dangerously intoxicated, but then refused to go to the hospital out of fear of the consequences of an MIP citation.
Plourde’s push comes on the heels of a nationwide effort to lower the drinking age by a coalition of more than 100 college leaders. The administrators signed a petition calling for a lower drinking age because they say the current law creates “a culture of dangerous, clandestine ‘binge-drinking.’”
University President Mary Sue Coleman declined to sign the petition.
“I certainly respect people who want to stimulate a discussion and I think that’s what the Amethyst Initiative was all about,” Coleman told The Michigan Daily last month. “What I disagree with is the notion that lowering the drinking age is going to somehow alleviate the problem.”
Plourde said he’s never been cited for underage drinking, but has numerous friends and relatives who’ve gotten MIP citations.
“In fact, I probably know more people who have been charged with an MIP than who haven’t,” Plourde said.
When asked if he was using this proposal to garner the support of University students, Plourde said, “Of course. This is something I think should happen, so I’m pushing it.”
Briere said she saw Plourde’s proposal as pandering to a specific voting bloc, because she hasn’t heard an outcry from city residents to change the law.
“My concern is that this feels like an effort to get people who are 18 or 19 to vote for the candidate rather than actually implement it,” she said.