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Editorial: Strengthen penalties for hosting underage drinking parties

A bill that would stiffen penalties for adults who allow teen drinking to occur in their home or provide alcohol to minors unanimously passed in the Maryland Senate on Thursday, and we think such legislation is long overdue.

Under the legislation — named Alex and Calvin's Law after two Montgomery County teens who died in a car crash leaving a party, where alcohol was served while a parent was present — anyone who provides alcohol to someone younger than 21 could receive a prison sentence up to one year and a fine of up to $5,000 for the first offense. A subsequent offense could net two years in jail and a $7,500 fine.

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Presently, Maryland law imposes a fine up to $2,500 for the first offense and $5,000 for the second offense, but no jail time, for providing alcohol to a minor. If the legislation is signed into law, Maryland would become the 27th state to include the possibility of jail time for adults convicted of providing alcohol to those underage.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Brian J. Feldman, a Montgomery Democrat, but Carroll Sens. Justin Ready, R-District 5, and Michael Hough, R-District 4, also signed on as co-sponsors.

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The possibility of jail time for hosting teen drinking parties or otherwise providing alcohol to minors would hopefully be a deterrent to parents. Unfortunately, some will continue to do so no matter the law.

We're not going to pretend to be teetotalers here, though we stand firm that 21 means 21, no exceptions. However, we'll concede there's at least some merit to the philosophy that "they're going to drink anyway, I'd rather they do in our home" when talking about your own son or daughter. A teenager who is going to imbibe is better off under adult supervision than not. But we'll also offer countless studies, such as from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, that say people who start drinking at a young age are more vulnerable to addiction and are likely to have problems with alcohol later in life, as reasons to dissuade your child from drinking underage at all.

The larger concern — this is where things tend to get out of hand — is when it's not just your child having a glass of wine with dinner, but it's a parent knowingly hosting multiple teens who are drinking. In the case of Alex Murk and Calvin Li, from whom the legislation takes its name, the adult hosting the teenage drinking party did so regularly, according to The Washington Post. He didn't provide the alcohol but had full knowledge of the underage drinking occurring, according to police and prosecutors. Teens who drank there told police that the parent would often monitor who was coming and going, and some had previously even stayed the night when they were too intoxicated to drive. On that particular night, for whatever reason, a partygoer managed to get behind the wheel and two lives were lost.

Parents aren't perfect, and even if they have the best interest of their kids and their friends in mind, it can be easy to lose track when a party grows to include 10, 15, 20 or more.

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We'd hope that good sense would prevail and parents would understand the dangers of hosting underage drinking parties, without any legal consequences in place. But if the possibility of jail time is what it takes to motivate some parents to not provide alcohol to minors, so be it.

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