FARGO — The cost and penalty for underage drinking may be lessened as North Dakota lawmakers introduced two different bills that curtails punishment for underage drinking offenses and consequences.
WDAY News Reporter Andreas Haffar spoke with the area's Students Against Destructive Decisions coordinator Lee Erickson. He says legislation like this is a step in the wrong direction.
As it stands, a person under the age of 21 drinking having or buying alcohol faces up to a $1,500 dollar fine, and up to 30 days in jail.
If Representative Zachary Ista's bill goes through, it would wipe out jail time, become an infraction, and cut the fine down to $1,000. He wants the penalty to be in line with the punishment for possession of marijuana.
Representative Shannon Roers-Jones' bill aims to make intervention education programs for convicted underage drinkers optional, not mandatory and at the judge's discretion. She says the courses cause economic hardship for offenders.
According to North Dakota Human Services' data, underage drinking in North Dakota is among the highest in the country. A little more than 15.5% percent of high school students report binge drinking.
A little more than 1 in 10 juvenile arrests are alcohol related.
Erickson says 20 years ago, those stats were twice as high, so they've actually gone down, and the laws in place and the early intervention courses are effective, educational deterrents.
"I'd just hate to see us normalize the behavior, to enable that behavior again, I just think it's sending the wrong message," Erickson said.