Too often you hear of parents willing to allow their underage children and their respective friends drink at their home. “At least I will be there to supervise,” they rationalize with themselves; or try to convince themselves that they can maintain order during the gathering.
Prior to July 5th’s ruling in Kiriakos v. Phillips, all those parents had to worry about was being fined under Maryland statute CR § 10-117(b). Now however, the parent has to make sure all of those underage drinkers make it home safe and without having caused harm to anyone along the way. The idea of establishing third-party liability to establishments that provide alcohol (i.e. bars and restaurants) has always been lenient towards the business, unless their actions were egregious. This case now establishes the fact that the statute creates a protective class that a duty is owed to by the individual(s) providing alcohol.
Alcohol, like tobacco, has played an interesting role in our society. From prohibition in the early 20th century, to establishment of an age restriction, to groups like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), alcohol has maintained its inclusion in societal habits and norms. Happy hours and house parties have become a center of social interactions. And with evolution in society, our laws too should evolve.
Perhaps it is time to reconsider the drinking age, currently 21 years old, and take a hard look at why it isn’t 18. At 18 years old an individual is considered adult-enough to decide who they think should be their political voice and representative. At 18 years old an individual is adult-enough to enlist in the military and fight for their country. And yet, at 18 years old individuals still have more than a quarter decade worth of time to grow before they can legally purchase and consume alcohol. Lowering the age requirement to drink is unlikely to solve this issue however.
Perhaps more worrisome is not this contradiction in legal decision making, but that maybe alcohol should be reclassified in its position in our society. Maybe alcohol should no longer be given the same societal position as tobacco, maybe it should be closer in line with narcotics that are on the FDA scheduling list. If alcohol is so dangerous that we require more maturity to obtain it than is required to vote or serve, perhaps those responsible for prohibition got it right. If alcohol can be the proximate cause of so much destruction and lose, then perhaps we should consider the early 20th century politicians responsible for prohibition as having been ahead of their time and pick up where they left off.
All of that seems unlikely at best, but what can be done to make a difference in our community is this, the next time you see an adult provide access to and consumption of alcohol to those underage, don’t laugh it off and assume they got it covered. Let them know the amount of risk they are taking in breaking the law this time, unless they plan on driving each and every person home themselves, tell them it’s not worth the risk.