If A Third Of Booze Sales Are Going To Underage Drinkers, Maybe Laws Against Underage Drinking Don’t Work


“In 2009 underage customers accounted for 30% of all alcohol consumed in this state totaling $69 million in sales,” said Rep. Joe Heilman on the floor of the North Dakota House today where he was arguing in favor of a bill to increase penalties for those who deliver booze to underage drinkers.

KXNet – Bismarck/Minot/Williston/Dickinson

I’ll admit, I was a little surprised at that number. I can’t vouch for its validity – a lot of the numbers thrown around about underage drinking are based on less-than-scientific data from things like school surveys, and quantifying illicit booze sales is no easy task – but let’s suppose it’s true. With all the money spent on educating teens about underage drinking, with all the effort law enforcement puts into stings on bars and liquor stores aimed at stopping underage booze sales, if a third of all the booze sold in the state is going to underage drinkers anyway does anyone actually think that’s a problem we can solve with more laws?

The problem with prohibition policies – and the ban on under-21 drinking is just a watered down sort of prohibition – is that they don’t do anything to address demand. That was true when America, as a nation, tried to outlaw alcohol entirely at the dawn of the last century. It’s true now as we fight a “war on drugs” which really hasn’t done anything to slow drug use, or put a dent in drug availability. And it’s true with underage drinking, where tougher laws and more stringent enforcement measures aren’t getting kids to drink less.

A major problem with our attitude about drinking is that we seem focused on trying to stop drinking, instead of teaching responsible drinking habits. And a big contributing factor to that are prohibitionist policies which give parents little flexibility in introducing kids to alcohol.

Under HB1458, which Rep. Heilman was speaking in favor of and which passed the House today on a 61-33 vote, a dad who lets his son drink a beer while they’re out fishing or a mom who lets her daughter have a wine cooler with a movie is a criminal guilty of a Class A Misdemeanor, just one step down from a felony. A third offense is a Class C Felony.

Maybe part of North Dakota’s, and the nation’s, problem with underage drinking (not to mention college-age drinking) is that anyone who tries to introduce kids to alcohol in a responsible way is a criminal under the law.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Camburn

    Maybe the laws aren’t being enforced?

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      No, the laws are being enforced, the problem is they don’t work.

  • Camburn

    Why would you want to have a beer with an underage child?????

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      Why would I want to have a beer with my 19 year old son one day while we’re out fishing?

      I don’t know, maybe because having a couple of beers is fun? And it would be a good way to teach responsible alcohol consumption?

      • BlowMe

        Cocaine is fun. So are hookers. Couple beers, a little blow, 3 way with a hooker. Couple that with something as quaint as fishing with your son and it all sounds so innocent.

    • Roy_Bean

      I believed 40 years ago, and I still believe today, that if you are old enough to register with Selective Service you are old enough to drink.

    • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

      Is a twenty year old a child? I don’t think so.

      • camsaure

        I guess if they are a liberal they consider themselves a child until they are 26, and most liberals still are not mature by that age either.

    • badlands4

      A 20 year old is an “underage” child only when it comes to drinking. It is absurd to say that a 20 year old is trustworthy enough to serve in the military or be a police officer, but isn’t trustworthy enough to drink a Budweiser.

      • headward

        Give that child a M16 and have them operate the .50 cal but don’t let them into the bars or have a drink! That could be dangerous because they’re too young with a such a dangerous product.

    • camsaure

      While I was in Germany, I observed that there was no age limit on buying booze, funny thing was I never saw any young kids buying any. HMMM

    • Anthony Weiner

      To have sex with them :) just remember to roll the boys over. Good times!

  • Chuck

    The federal gov. Should have nothing to do with who drinks what, and at what age. Leave it to state and locals to decide for themselves, and preferably leave it to parents to control the kids they bring into the world. I’m sick of other peoples offspring being an excuse to curtail personal freedom and responsibility for ones own actions.

  • Chuck

    I guess since this is dakota law, whatever they want to do is ok. Just keep the feds out of it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Mollet/528523868 Jonathan Mollet

      The Feds are the ones who made the drinking age 21 in the first place. We could change that but they’d take away millions of dollars in highway money, and god knows we don’t have enough revenue to cover that.

  • USDL

    Wait… So, you’re saying that people break laws? What percentage of people that break laws are actually caught? And should people that “responsibly” break laws be treated different?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Mollet/528523868 Jonathan Mollet

    It’s too bad most students aren’t politically involved, Joe Heilman’s bill increases penalties for a law hundreds if not thousands of his constituents are guilty of breaking.

  • ec99

    Establish a taboo, people flock to break it. Plus the fact that adult alcoholism in ND is so rampant, kids see it every day. They can either reject it, or accept it. Seems most opt for the latter.

  • WOOF

    It’s a M.A.D.D., M.A.D.D., M.A.D.D. M.A.D.D., world.

    • Hellboy

      I’m a member of D.A.M.M., Drunks against Mad Mothers……..

  • schreib

    Lower the drinking age to 19 and there will be less binging.

  • schreib

    Cut out the middle man———–make your own wine or beer.

  • schreib

    This is so stupid. I am all for controlling drinking of true minors-those under 18, but I have no problem with folks going to Canada for a drink or having a drink at home. Just keep all drinkers off the road.

  • schreib

    This law is right up there with Odipshitcare

  • JoeMN

    Think back to your own early years.

    The truth is that unless you lived with Barney Fife, alcohol, smokes, illicit drugs were all readily available to whomever had the guts to go get it.
    Why would anyone expect today to be different ?
    The only thing that stopped you was you. No government prohibition, silly ad campaign, curfew, needle exchange program, ect had a thing to do with it.

    • sbark

      for sure………..and now look at who these present generations that had easy acess and are now voting have elected……twice.
      nuff said.

  • VocalYokel

    Tougher laws is the answer…public executions including hanging, decapitation and drawing-and-quartering, if not having any deterrent value, will at least have the effect of eliminating recidivism.

  • Anthony Weiner

    YUM! A passed out boy or girl makes it easy to have sex with ;) Good Times!

  • RandyBoBandy

    These days you are in the minority or, “uncool,” if you don’t drink in high school or college. From personal experience the kids that started drinking in high school tended to be the ones that were less belligerent, sloppy, college aged drinkers. Why? Because they had experience with booze and tended to know their personal limits better. This is a culture issue, and no legislation can fix cultural issues. Unless we pass something insane like a mandatory 30 day jail sentence, ridiculous fines, or a felony for first time offenders, no legislation will help this problem. But if we go down that road it’s just Un-American.

  • sbark

    ……..but hey, lets legalize drugs, that’ll take the “pressure” off of booze huh

    • camsaure

      You know in talking with youg kids these days as to why they have started smoking marijuana, the most common answer is because it is easier to procur and harder to detect than alcohol.

  • opinionated

    Why do these people want to fine our kids for the exact same things we did?

  • ec99

    Does the bill specofocally exclude UND hockey players?

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      Ha, now that would be something!

  • schreib

    I am so sick of the nanny state mindset. I am a republican, but I am not pleased with the passage of this feel good bill. It will do nothing to curb drinking. It will only give a lot of regular folks a criminal record. Teach responsible drinking early through education and teach a healthy attitude about the use of alcohol. And stop making alcohol taboo until the ridiculous age of 21. The 21 age law is almost impossible to enforce and unrealistic to boot. I don’t know of anyone over the age of 18 who doesn’t drink now and then. Parties and holidays and in college, alcohol is freely available. Binge drinking should be shown for what it is early on and the damage it can cause in one’s life and family. It is time to look at alcohol realistically instead of through the eyes of Pollyanna government. This bill would throw half the state population in jail

  • schreib

    North Dakota borders Canada and there are no cops there to arrest you when you legally purchase alcohol at 18. I know college kids who go up there all the time.

  • Mike

    North Dakota is the drinking-est culture I’ve ever been exposed to, and when I make that point to North Dakotans they become very irate. My three 20-something kids have all moved to other states and they look back at North Dakota and notice the same thing. It’s a drinking state.