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Underage drinking: Outlaws, with a beer in hand

The first week of freshman year – some of us remember those seven days of mayhem; others don’t. For those who weren’t blacked out, we recall the smell of stale beer at frat parties and hormones gone berserk. We remember buses filled with slobbering, sweaty teenagers and waking up with Chinese food fermenting on our clothes. But for the next generation of low-tolerance amateurs, this scene could change dramatically.

The state legislature is currently reviewing a package of bills sponsored by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) that aim to curb underage drinking and drunk driving. One of those bills, the teen drinking bill, could have drastic effects on the lives of college students across the state. If passed, the bill would elevate the offense of supplying alcohol to a minor from a civil offense to a misdemeanor. Adults who commit their first offense could serve as many as 30 days in jail and pay a $2,500 fine; for repeat offenders, the punishment could reach 60 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. Harsh stuff, huh?

The bill originally included provisions that would suspend the driver’s license of any minor cited for intoxication while in a car, even if the minor isn’t behind the wheel. Luckily, some legislators found that a bit much and cut the provisions. What they should do now is scrap the rest of the bill.

While attempts to curb underage drinking are needed, this is not the way to do it. What will result is nothing more than half of the state’s juniors and seniors having their futures shattered by a criminal record for supplying alcohol to their friends. And it could potentially increase drunk driving, as underage drinkers would be forced to sneak around more than they already do to slake their thirst for booze.

Any legislator who thinks he or she can stop underage drinking by declaring a form of martial law on college students should come spend a Friday night in College Park. I’ll even host the delegates myself. We can get gussied up and hit the town for an evening of cheap beer and Solo cups. We’ll ride the luxurious shuttle bus to bars that would serve a toddler if it earned them some cash, and we can top the night off by eating Chinese cuisine with a spork. It just so happens that four of the bill’s sponsors hail from the university themselves, so I’m sure they’re familiar with this weekly ritual.

What this bill demonstrates is a broader disconnect between adults and their children. Do serious problems result from underage drinking? Absolutely. But these problems aren’t solved by waging war against college students – they’re solved by teaching responsibility. As an underage student who partakes in a drink from time to time, I don’t binge until I vomit or refrain from operating heavy machinery because the law has put the fear of God into me. I act responsibly because I was raised by responsible adults who led by example.

Turning students into criminals is no more responsible than driving drunk. Until the legislature begins to look at underage drinking through the lens of a concerned parent instead of that of a soldier of the law, the party will rage on. Cheers.

Justin Snow is a sophomore history major. He can be reached at snowdbk@gmail.com.

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