2018-02-01 / Local News

New teen-alcohol law draws mixed reviews

So far in 2018, no arrests
By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff

The debate over how to most effectively prevent teen substance abuse is far from over.

And a change in Michigan state law reducing penalties for minors in possession of alcohol is garnering mixed reviews here in Leelanau County. So far this year, no tickets have been issued for minors in possession of alcohol, according to Sheriff Michael Borkovich.

He’s not a fan.

“I’m not happy about a change that has lessened the punishment,” he said. “I understand kids do stupid things, but when you do things, there’s a point you have to grow up. If you make bad choices when you’re young, you close a lot of doors for yourself. I don’t want to see that happen to anyone.”

The new law, which went into effect one month ago, lessens the penalty for underage drinking from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction for a first offense. Ages 17-20 are included. The legal age for drinking in Michigan is 21-years-old.

Judges may still issue a $100 fine and require participation in some sort of substance abuse service to first time offenders.

Subsequent offenses are considered misdemeanors, and can come with larger fines and jail sentences for 30 or 60 days.

Borkovich believes consequences teach lessons, but that the most important thing for teens is to make smart choices.

“I feel this generation is smarter than mine,” he said. “I would hope they would be smart enough to do things so they can have the things they want, like jobs or travel. I hope they’d put their future dreams ahead of getting drunk on a weekend. They need to realize that getting a drunk driving conviction may not allow them to get what they want later in life.”

Glen Lake parent Kathy Baarstad sees the issue from another angle.

“As a mother who has raised two teenagers with one to go, I have personally been through the MIP (minor in possession) process. While I believe that the behavior should not go unpunished, I feel that the MIP was a pretty steep punishment.

“I believe everyone makes mistakes, and the first time offender should have the benefit of a lighter ‘sentence’ if you will. I think what is lacking in both scenarios is some requirement to seek counseling or go attend a class,” she said.

Local high school administrators tend to agree with Baarstad, especially when it comes to providing a learning opportunity to teens caught drinking.

Suttons Bay interim superintendent Michael Carmean has worked with students for more 40 years. He’s seen students making poor decisions.

“We all know young people will make mistakes, but mistakes shouldn’t haunt you for the rest of your life. Certainly there are consequences, but let’s be reasonable. Maybe there’s an intermediate step. Maybe there should be an automatic tour of a jail,” Carmean said.

“For the school’s part, we are here and provide education through our drivers’ ed and health classes, along with other programs,” he continued.

Glen Lake principal Brian Hartigan sees another step as critical: restorative practice. The concept, a behavior-based method designed to build positive relationships and communities, promotes dialogue and accountability.

“If there is a restorative practice with (the new law), then I support it. If it’s just a ticket in the mail, then there’s nothing learned,” Hartigan said.

Glen Lake requires all students to attend a four-day substance abuse prevention course in grades 6, 8, and 10. Glen Lake high school counselor Ginna Woessner helps to arrange this course, which includes discussions about longterm sobriety with two former addicts.

“We feel the course addresses the transition years. Sixth graders are going into middle school, eighth graders are getting ready for high school and tenth graders are getting ready to get their driver’s license and the freedom that comes with it,” she said.

The course comes with something not found in books. “The students benefit from hearing from a person who is not able to be fooled. They have lived the effects of addiction,” Woessner said.

Drug education funds from liquor tax money pay for the Glen Lake program.

Borkovich applauds Leelanau schools’ efforts to address substance abuse.

“I think all of our schools do a good job as teachers and administrators to make sure kids understand the consequences about drug and alcohol use.”

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The sherriff's reaction is

The sherriff's reaction is like that of so many of today's law enforcement officials. I screwed up as a teen and my guess is there are many in the county like me. While I suffered consequences for my actions, draconian penalties often do more harm than good for first offenders of relatively minor offenses. Come on folks, give the kids a break. If they violate again then put the hammer down.