ND State Rep. explains bills easing penalties for underage drinking
BISMARCK, N.D. — The way underage drinking is penalized in North Dakota may soon change.
The state legislature is looking into two bills that would ease punishment for those drinking or possessing alcohol illegally.
At first glance, the change being considered to one of the bills may be hard to see.
“What my bill does is it changes one word in the existing code,” says State Rep. Shannon Roers Jones of Fargo.
This law, as it currently exists, requires a person under the age of 21 who is caught consuming, purchasing, or is in possession of alcohol to attend an education program.
Roers Jones wants that decision to be up to the judge.
“There are a handful of situations where it doesn’t make sense for someone to participate in that evidence-based alcohol treatment program,” she explains. “For example, there are instances where someone has consumed no alcohol but they might be in a vehicle with or at a party with other people who’ve consumed alcohol.”
Roers Jones is also in favor of a bill introduced by Democrat-NPL State Representative Zachary Ista of Grand Forks.
It would change the offense from a Class B misdemeanor to an infraction, meaning the person caught would not have to go to jail and would pay up to $1,000 rather than $1,500.
That’s the same offense level for small amounts of marijuana.
“The judges felt that it was appropriate that if someone gets caught using a small quantity of marijuana or possessing a small quantity of marijuana that that should be equivalent in the penalty or consequence to possession or consumption of alcohol,” says Roers Jones.
Although some on social media have expressed their opposition to the changes, others we spoke to say they’re needed.
“I think that would actually be a good idea. I mean, it still happens. There’s just so much outrage over it. There’s just so many more things to focus on right now,” says Kira Crowley of Fargo.
NDSU student Vanessa Weishaar adds, “It’s really scary to get caught because it could potentially ruin your future, so I think it would be okay to lessen the punishment, you know, still have punishment but not make it as severe.”
Roers Jones says the bills are not meant to encourage underage drinking, but to build a fair system that produces the most valuable and logical outcomes.
Both bills have passed the House and now head to the state Senate.