by Jim Boyle
Sherburne County has added another tool in its fight against underage drinking.
The Sherburne County Board of Commissioners authorized Tuesday a social host ordinance, which will give law enforcement an easier mechanism to get at the adults who enable underage drinking.
Elk River already has a social host ordinance and Zimmerman has been asked to consider one.
“It doesn’t take people long to figure out where they can and can’t (host parties),” said Sheriff Joel Brott in advocating for a county-wide approach to underage drinking.
Existing statute requires proof of purchase of alcohol, which can be difficult to prove, before an adult can be charged. The ordinance allows adults to be charged who knowingly provide a place for underage drinking to occur.
The adult doesn’t even have to be at the party to be punished, according to Brott.
The sheriff told commissioners it may be hard to imagine, but it’s not uncommon for parents to leave for the weekend and tell their children it’s OK to have a party with alcohol as long as no one drinks and drives.
County law enforcement officials view this as a recipe for disaster.
The social host ordinance, which went into effect immediately, is designed to discourage underage possession and consumption of alcohol, even if done within the confines of a private residence.
The county’s intent is to hold persons criminally responsible when they host an event or gathering where persons under 21 possess or consume alcohol, regardless of whether they provided the alcoholic beverage.
Sherburne County processed 141 cases of minor consumption last year, which amounts to 14 percent of all juvenile cases.
The social host ordinance will bolster the effort, Brott said.
Sherburne County is believed to be the 12th county to add a social host ordinance. There are dozens of cities with them.
Sherburne County Board Member Felix Schmiesing said an important feature of the ordinance to him is it will stop some parents from making decisions for other parents.
“This (ordinance) lets them know they are responsible,” Brott said.