I’ve got bad news for parents, state Legislatures, school officials and state authorities: Underage kids drink alcohol. While I am not speaking on behalf of everyone under the age of 21, nor am I endorsing underage alcohol consumption, I do have some thoughts on the recent alcohol legislation in Michigan.
On Nov. 1, a new law concerning the sale of beer kegs will go into effect throughout Michigan. Under the current keg law, a customer wishing to purchase a keg simply has to provide an ID, put money down for the keg deposit and transport the keg to their car without receiving a hernia. Under the new law, those wishing to purchase a keg must provide his or her name, driver’s license number, date of birth, address and telephone number to the store cashier who will then copy this information onto a tag on the keg. If this tag is removed, the purchaser of the keg is liable to face misdemeanor charges including up to 93 days in jail and/or up to $500 in fines. These tags will allow police officers to know exactly who bought the keg, when they bought it and who sold it to them.
The overall goal of the legislation is so police officers can identify who is responsible for providing alcohol at parties they break up. If police were to discover underage drinking at a party, they can check the keg tag, trace the person who bought the keg and charge that person for serving alcohol to minors — a penalty which includes up to 60 days in prison and/or a $1,000 fine. With this liability when buying a keg, one can safely assume that keg sales in a college town like Ann Arbor will most likely drop. Strickland Market, a local liquor store on Geddes Avenue, has already announced that it will stop selling kegs once the new law goes into effect. For all you alarmed underage drinkers out there: Don’t worry, there is a solution, and that is where the true problem lies.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder recently passed a separate liquor law that pertains strictly to hard alcohol. Snyder’s bill, which takes effect next October, will eliminate the state tax on hard alcohol. This tax elimination will make hard alcohol cheaper and will most likely cause liquor sales to rise.
The keg law is meant to limit the amount of beer served to underage kids, yet the liquor law is meant to enhance the sale of hard alcohol. I’m not an expert, but isn’t it dangerous to replace beer with hard alcohol? If people actually replaced each 12 oz beer that they drank with a measured 1.5 oz shot of hard alcohol — which has the same alcohol content — this wouldn’t be a problem. But I don’t remember seeing too many students wielding measuring cups at the last fraternity party I attended.
State officials believe they can actually curb underage drinking with this new keg law. Instead, kids will most likely find substitutes for a keg, like canned beer or hard alcohol. According to Georgia state officials — one of 30 other states that currently have a similar keg registration law — there is little evidence to prove that this type of law leads to a conclusive decline in underage drinking. State officials claimed that kids in Georgia were now more likely to replace their kegs with hard alcohol. Imagine the effect this keg law will have in a state that is simultaneously lowering its liquor tax.
Kids are going to drink no matter what law is put in place. Authorities can work toward limiting underage alcohol consumption — oftentimes effectively — but eventually, kids will find a way to bypass the law and obtain alcohol illegally. When kids replace beer with hard alcohol, that’s when people can seriously get hurt. When you see a kid being carted out of the Big House on game day after drinking too much, odds are it wasn’t the beer that almost killed him. Didn’t we learn anything from the “Four Loko” fad of 2010?
While state authorities obviously have to fight underage drinking, forcing kids into situations in which buying hard alcohol is easier than beer is not the answer. If state officials seriously want to stop kids from drinking, they’re going to have to be much more delicate with the situation than this. So to the party animals, fraternity stars and the innocent freshman, enjoy your keg beer this Halloween because the Ann Arbor party scene could drastically change next Tuesday.
Patrick Maillet is an LSA sophomore.