Social Host Ordinance May Hold Parents Accountable for Teen Drinking

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If a young person under 21 drinks on your property, you could be legally responsible even if you didn’t provide the alcohol under a new social host ordinance proposed by the Cobb Alcohol Taskforce.

The Taskforce is making a presentation at the Cobb Municipal Association meeting on October 12 to propose that jurisdictions adopt social host ordinances. They hope to target Cobb County and six cities including Acworth, Austell, Kennesaw, Marietta, Powder Springs, and Smyrna.

“The community has been pretty good about holding kids fairly accountable for underage drinking,” said Cathy Fink, the Cobb Alcohol Taskforce coordinator. “Private parties are the primary source of underage drinking and the community is having trouble holding adults accountable for providing places for minors to drink.”

Under current law, police can charge underage drinkers with possession or consumption of alcohol and an adult can be charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor. But there’s no law that prevents an adult from providing a place for teens to drink. Social host ordinances would allow police to charge the person who hosts the party.

The ordinance primarily applies to adults, but can also include people under 21 if they are responsible for the property. It targets people who allow underage drinking on their property. This does not apply to adults who do not know that a party is being thrown on their premises. But, parents, property owners, and tenants would be responsible whether they are present or not, under these conditions:

  1. If they knew or reasonably should have known about the party or gathering
  2. If they failed to take reasonable steps to prevent alcohol possession or consumption by underage persons.

To Finck’s knowledge, there are no jurisdictions in Georgia that have implemented social host ordinances. Research from the Taskforce has shown that social host ordinances in other states have helped:

  • Deter adults and minors from holding parties where underage drinking occurs
  • Provide an incentive for hosts to be vigilant in preventing underage consumption
  • Increase awareness of the dangers of underage drinking parties
  • Hold minors accountable for underage drinking parties planned without their parents’ knowledge
  • Recover the costs for law enforcement of repeatedly responding to the same party sites

More information from the Cobb Alcohol Task Force:

Social Host Ordinance Position Paper

FAQ Sheet

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