Minneapolis considers law to crack down on underage drinking

The law would make it illegal to host a party where minors consume alcohol.

Briana Bierschbach

If Minneapolis follows St. PaulâÄôs lead, it could have a law on the books by the end of the year that some hope will crack down on underage drinking. A St. Paul ordinance that goes into effect Nov. 13 will make it illegal for anyone to host an event at a public or private place where minors can easily posses or drink alcohol. Violators can be charged with a misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $700 fine. State law makes it a crime to provide alcohol to minors, but it doesn’t forbid adults from giving them a party venue. Ward 2 councilman Cam Gordon, who plans to propose the ordinance in Minneapolis, said his would be similar if not the same as that passed in St. Paul. He expects the ordinance to come before the full Minneapolis City Council for a vote in December. If passed, Minneapolis will join about 30 cities and counties in the state that have approved some sort of social hosting ordinance. âÄúI think it can help us address the problem of underage drinking and binge drinking,âÄù Gordon said. âÄúHopefully it would make people want to be more aware of who is coming to their party and understand that they are also responsible.âÄù Gordon said the ordinance would also provide enforcement consistency between the two cities, especially in Ward 2, which shares a border with St. Paul. Sgt. Paul Schnell, spokesman for the St. Paul Police Department , worked closely with St. Paul Ward 4 councilman Russ Stark to get the ordinance passed. The need for the ordinance came after residents repeatedly complained about disturbances involving large parties put on by college students in StarkâÄôs ward, which borders Minneapolis, Schnell said. The law provides a way to crack down on these parties from an underage drinking standpoint, he said. âÄúThis is a misdemeanor charge, and many college students donâÄôt want a misdemeanor on their record,âÄù he said, adding that the law is about compliance, not conviction. âÄúIf this law were to pass and the problem were to go away, that would be a win,âÄù he said. âÄúWe donâÄôt need to arrest people for this law to be effective.âÄù But the unanimous passing of the law in St. Paul had some Minneapolis community members concerned, said James De Sota, spokesman for the Southeast Como Improvement Association. The worry was that the new law would entice St. Paul residents to hold parties in Minneapolis, where the law isnâÄôt in place, he said. And while De Sota sees the ordinance as âÄúanother tool in the toolboxâÄù to crack down on large parties and underage drinking, he has reservations about how well it will be enforced in Minneapolis. âÄúThere have been a number of ordinances that should [crack down on underage drinking], but they donâÄôt seem to do the trick,âÄù he said. University of Minnesota police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said he also sees enforcement as a challenge, but he thinks the ordinance can only help policing parties on campus. âÄúWe typically issue citations for loud parties, but this could be more appropriate in some cases,âÄù Miner said, adding that the threat of a misdemeanor could be more effective against residences that consistently host large, unruly parties. Jeffrey Mahlberg, a biomedical engineering senior, said minors are going to find a means to consume alcohol, even if they are not at large parties. âÄúItâÄôs stupid to punish an adult for a kidâÄôs mistake,âÄù he said. Gordon said he expects that some residents may not like having the government âÄútry to tell them what they can do,âÄù but he doesnâÄôt anticipate the ordinance will run into much dispute from the City Council in December. âÄúTen years ago, this idea didnâÄôt even exist,âÄù Gordon said. The first social hosting ordinance in the state was passed in Chaska in 2007. âÄúItâÄôs a new angle to deal with an existing problem.âÄù