State legislators are formulating a bill that could affect the lives of many Northern students, but this one has nothing to do with next year’s tuition.
The Michigan Senate is in the process of crafting a medical amnesty bill that would prevent underage drinkers from receiving minor in possession (MIP) citations in emergency situations.
Under the proposed law, if a person in a group of intoxicated minors was injured or fell ill, that person’s friends could call for help without fear of being punished for underage drinking. While the exact wording of the bill isn’t yet clear – including who, specifically, would be immune from punishment – the idea is an important one. As matters now stand, minors who have been drinking may be frightened and unwilling to call police if they’re in an emergency situation. Anxious and addled by alcohol, they may end up endangering a life to avoid receiving an MIP.
Michigan State University’s undergraduate student government is garnering support for the bill, and Northern’s student government has given official support as well, signing a resolution earlier this week. A similar policy is already in place at NMU, and Public Safety will not issue an MIP if medical care is needed. A Michigan law, however, would make a major difference both in the city of Marquette and around the state.
Opponents of a medical amnesty policy argue that underage drinking is a serious problem and claim that such a policy will only offer lawbreaking minors a free pass to drink illegally. While this is a valid concern, underage drinking is a problem with no easy solution.
According to a 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, 45 percent of high school students reported drinking some sort of alcohol in the previous 30 days. Compiled findings from the 2002-2006 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that underage alcohol consumption has remained virtually unchanged during those years. In 2002, 71.7 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds had consumed alcohol in the past year. By 2006, that number had risen to 72.2 percent.
The fact is simple: Young people will drink. For many students, experimenting with alcohol is as much a part of college life as all-night cram sessions and late-night fast food runs. A medical amnesty bill won’t change that; it’ll just make underage drinkers safer when they do imbibe.