MIP law change is step in the right direction

By Lanthorn Editorial Board | 1/15/18 4:45am

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Starting at the beginning of this year, the consequence for first-time offenders charged with a minor in possession (MIP) in the state of Michigan has changed from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction. This legislative overhaul is a necessary step toward more accurately reflecting shifting societal attitudes about the relative severity of alcohol possession and consumption.

Throughout the state and country, various legal consequences for "abusing" different substances (alcohol, marijuana, etc.) are unnecessarily harsh and disproportionately affect minorities. Michigan's change toward comparative leniency for first-time MIP offenders reflects the increasingly prevalent sentiment that minors' professional and personal lives shouldn't potentially be irrevocably damaged by something as "minor" as possessing and consuming alcohol. In fact, you could easily argue that if 18-year-olds can exercise the right to vote and serve in the armed forces, then they should also be allowed to legally drink alcohol. But for now, this law change is at least a step in the right direction to amending the regulation of this particular substance.

People make mistakes, especially freshman students thrust into the college atmosphere with newfound personal freedom and absolutely no idea what to do with it. Inevitably, many of them end up experimenting with drinking at parties. That's just reality—even many dedicated and responsible students under the age of 21 drink alcohol at least a few times. Does that mean that these individuals, who may be perfectly responsible in every other area of their lives, should be punished with criminal records, lengthy probations and other penalties? 

Most students learn pretty quickly that binge drinking and getting black-out drunk isn't worth it, and they figure out how to handle themselves more maturely. What is far more unfortunate than an 18-year-old trying a beer is that minors' legal records—including those of dedicated, responsible students—could, up until this year, be tarnished as a result of alcohol possession and consumption. Having a criminal record can negatively impact a person's career search and future in other ways. All that for possessing or drinking alcohol. Now, at least, students don't have to worry that these choices—which they usually learn from, anyway—will potentially irreparably damage their futures. 

To be clear, the Lanthorn does not condone underage drinking. But it's good to know that in Michigan at least, individuals won't be so harshly punished for what is usually a minor slip up. No one should have their future put at such risk for simply carrying around or drinking a beer. Period. Obviously, driving under the influence of alcohol or otherwise putting other people at risk as the result of drinking is another matter, but that goes beyond the basic issue at the heart of this law change.

Hopefully this demotion from misdemeanor to civil infraction is but the first step of many toward reforming restrictions on how legal adults can self-govern themselves and oversee their own consumption of alcohol without suffering disproportionate consequences.

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