Marin strengthens social host ordinance – pot, party buses

By Keri Brenner, Marin Independent Journal

Marin supervisors agreed Tuesday to enhance the county’s social host ordinance to add more specifics on marijuana use, expand locations for alleged violations to party buses and limousines and to increase the range of mandatory restorative justice programs for offenders.

The board voted 5-0 in favor of the changes following testimony from members of the Marin Youth Commission, the Marin Youth Leadership Institute and Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol.

“This is a strong law, and this is an evidenced-based law — and it’s going to be made even stronger,” county Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis told the board. “I hope other jurisdictions (in the county) will follow suit.”

The ordinance, first enacted in November 2006 to deter underage drinking, was last year expanded to include controlled substances. As a result of Tuesday’s action, the law now adds marijuana, specifically prohibiting “loud or unruly gatherings where marijuana is served to, ingested by or in possession of underage persons,” according to the text of the ordinance.

Such gatherings also are now prohibited on party buses and limousines, in addition to other standard places such as homes or social halls. According to Assistant County Counsel Jack Govi, that addition was spurred by an incident last year involving 30 teens and alcohol and drug use on a rental party bus.

“In Marin County, 40 percent of 11th graders currently (in the past 30 days) consume alcohol, 24 percent are binge drinking and 30 percent use marijuana,” Govi said in his staff report to the board. “This is significantly higher than California averages.”

Also, as a result of Tuesday’s vote, restorative justice programs are now mandatory for young adult offenders under age 21 — instead of just for juvenile offenders, as was in effect previously.

Such programs, which can include group discussions, are also now mandatory for repeat underage offenders. In addition, adult offenders, along with paying fines starting at $750 per offense, now must attend six to 20 hours at restorative justice hearings.

“I think the restorative justice programs are the lynchpin of this whole program,” said Supervisor Damon Connolly. “The peer-to-peer interaction is important.”

Josh Rowe, an incoming sophomore at San Domenico High School, said the restorative justice programs offer “a safe space for people to discuss what they did wrong” and to gain more awareness.

Rowe was among a small group of teens to testify before the board. Other youth supporting the revised ordinance included Henry and Nick Gardner of Marin Catholic High School, Ruby Clarke of the Branson School and Noah Block, a recent graduate of Sir Francis Drake High School.

Willis said the stronger law will be “a policy change that will set a new normal, a new standard,” to address the “chronic and persistent problem” of “substance abuse, binge drinking and DUIs.”

Govi said more than 80 citations and fines have been issued since the ordinance was first approved in 2006.

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