Marin Voice: Tougher countywide ‘social host’ law needed

By Ruby Raye Clarke and Laurie Dubin

Summer is almost here and with it comes prom, graduation and lots of free time. It’s an exciting time for young people — and it’s a time to remember that Marin has one of the highest rates of teen substance use in the state, resulting in higher rates of drunken driving deaths and other drug and alcohol-related harms. Much of this substance use is at parties in our homes, with or without parents present.

While Marin parents who allow alcohol at teen parties may think they are keeping their kids safe, most don’t realize that today’s teens often party in excess, mixing multiple shots of hard liquor with marijuana, prescription pills and other drugs. This puts teens at risk of alcohol poisoning, drug overdose, unwanted or unsafe sexual behavior, driving under the influence, black-outs and other health risks, as well as violence and destruction of property.

Moreover, many parents don’t realize they are legally responsible for the safety of their guests and any resulting harms that happen as a result of illegal drinking in their homes.

In response to the countless risks and concerns around teen substance use, community members have created the Marin Prevention Network, a broad countywide coalition seeking to address these issues head-on.

One key focus is strengthening current social host ordinances, or SHOs. Says Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County public health officer: “The research is clear: restricting the availability of alcohol and other drugs to teens saves young lives. Social host ordinances are one of our most effective tools for reducing teen substance abuse.”

The county and all 11 cities and towns have had SHOs since 2006. In collaboration with Supervisor Katie Rice and a task force of law enforcement leaders representing Central Marin, Belvedere, Tiburon, San Rafael, the sheriff’s office and the district attorney, Marin Prevention Network is working to strengthen Marin’s SHOs and their enforcement across the county.

The network is proposing three key amendments which would expand current SHOs to:

• Address marijuana, prescription drugs and other controlled substances.

• Include rented venues such as party buses.

• Require a restorative justice program for underage first-time offenders, a non-punitive opportunity for young people to learn from their mistakes and repair the harm done.

In 2016, the county added marijuana and other controlled substances to its SHO, and mandated participation in an approved restorative justice program for juveniles who violate the ordinance.

Given marijuana legalization and its increased availability and potency, as well as the current opioid epidemic, we believe it is critically important that all Marin jurisdictions adopt these changes.

In addition, many SHOs in Marin currently apply only to private property. Under the new proposed amendments, SHOs would cover rented venues such as last summer’s “party bus” that was filled with teens, alcohol, drugs and a bus driver carrying his own stash.

Penalties for a SHO citation would include fines up to $2,500 and community service through a restorative justice program.

Strengthening the SHOs in our communities will help deter adults and teens from hosting parties with underage drinking and drug use, both in private homes or other venues. Adopting a uniform, countywide approach to SHOs will help ensure no “safe-haven town” exists in Marin for underage parties.

The network hopes every jurisdiction in the county will expand and update their SHOs to include these life-saving amendments.

Contact your county supervisor, city council and law enforcement agency to voice your support for consistent enforcement of teen alcohol and drug laws in Marin and for the SHO amendments that the Marin Prevention Network and Supervisor Rice are proposing. If you’d like to get more involved in the Marin Prevention Network or in this important SHO initiative, please visit marinpreventionnetwork.org to find your local coalition.

Ruby Raye Clarke of Point Reyes Station is a member of the Marin Prevention Network, Marin County Youth Commission and Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol. Laurie Dubin of Larkspur is a member of the Marin Prevention Network, Be the Influence (betheinfluencesf.com) and Twin Cities Coalition for Healthy Youth.

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