Social Host Ordinance

All cities in Marin, as well as Marin County itself, have adopted some form of “Social Host” Ordinance. Social Host Ordinances generally provide for a violation when there are “two or more minors at a place, residence or other private property”, and “alcoholic beverages, marijuana or other controlled substances are possessed or consumed by one or more of the minors”.

The ordinance was first enacted in November 2006 to deter underage drinking, In recent years it has expanded to include cannabis and other controlled substances. The County of Marin’s expanded ordinance was adopted in 2017 and served as a model to be used and modified by other jurisdictions.

Criminal vs. Civil:

A violation of the Social Host Ordinance, depending on what jurisdiction it occurs in, could be cited as either a “Criminal” violation, or a “Civil” violation. The nature of a criminal violation vs. a civil violation has to do with the punishment imposed. If the Social Host Ordinance violation is cited criminally, it is a usually a misdemeanor offense which may appear on a criminal record.

However, if cited as a civil violation, it is considered an “administrative matter” (an ordinance violation) and is punishable by a fine only and will not go on a criminal record. In Central Marin and Fairfax, the fines range from $750-$1000. In Marin County, fines range from $750-$2500. Recently, the option of restorative justice has been included.

If there is a criminal violation observed by officers at the scene, a criminal citation could be issued in addition to a SHO citation (i.e. Contributing to the delinquency of a minor).

What to do?

  • Never provide alcohol to a minor or allow minors to drink on your property.
  • Actively supervise all gatherings of youth.  Be present and aware.
  • Check in with other parents when your child makes plans to go to a friend’s house for the evening.
  • Let your neighbors know if you will be out of town or away for the night so they can alert you or law enforcement if a party is held.
  • Call your local police department if you know a party that might happen or is happening. You could save a life. You can call in a report without giving your name.
  • Always call 911 in the case of an emergency – even if your actions contributed to underage drinking.  Police will consider your efforts to address the emergency when issuing a penalty.
  • Sign up for Be The Influence to connect with other parents in your community that agree to make their best effort to host only supervised, substance-free parties for adolescents.

Q & A

Q: Isn’t it safer to allow my child and their friends to drink at our home so I can keep an eye on them?

A: “Supervised” drinking ignores other serious problems associated with these kinds of teen parties – alcohol poisoning, sexual assault, other physical violence, and addiction. 

Remember that if you allow minors to drink under your supervision without informing every parent, you are making a decision for someone else’s child that their parents/guardians may not condone. Not every person responds to alcohol equally.

Q: Why should parents be held accountable for their child’s actions if they are out of town and told them not to throw a party?

A: Parents are responsible for their children’s actions until they turn 18. They should not assume that they do not have responsibility for their children when they leave town and the child (or children) are at home.

Q: Why should my community tell parents what to do with their own children?

A: social host ordinance is not intended to address familial gatherings, such as family dinners. The purpose of the ordinance is to address and deter underage drinking parties that are a threat to public health and safety. A social host ordinance works to reinforce a parent’s reasonable expectation that their child will be safe when they go to another adult’s home. 

Q: Aren’t there already laws against underage drinking? Why is a Social Host Ordinance necessary?

A: The Social Host Ordinance empowers parents, neighbors, and other concerned citizens to seek help from law enforcement when there are youth suspected of underage drinking, unruly or loud parties, or other potentially dangerous or illegal situations involving minors. It also can recoup some of the expense of providing police and/or other public services in responses to these gatherings.

Social Host Communication Toolkit