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 Serra High Students Work to Prevent Underage Drinking

“It looks like a parking ticket,” said Ruby Stefanidis. “We wanted to grab people’s attention, so they don’t think it’s just another flyer.” 

Stefanidis and other members of Serra High School’s Club Elevated took time out from watching their homecoming game and went to work in the parking lot. They wanted to remind parents about their role in preventing underage drinking. The ticket lets people know about San Diego’s Social Host Ordinance. That’s a law that holds party hosts responsible if they allow underage drinking. 

“With the holidays coming up we know there will be lots of parties,” said Mia Clark, another member of Club Elevated. The club works to reduce problems that affect young people. “We want to prevent drunk driving, but we also want people to think about all the other things that can happen.” 

“When there’s underage drinking, there’s always a chance someone could get hurt,” Clark continued. “You could get into a fight, or fall, or do something stupid that you wouldn’t do if you were sober.”  

The back of the ticket lists the legal responsibilities of anyone – not just parents – who holds a party. 

“Lots of people don’t know about the Social Host Ordinance,” Stefanidis said. “I learned about it last year. When I talked with my mom, she said she had never heard of it.”  

“This law isn’t about providing alcohol to minors,” said Justin Pendarvis, president of Club Elevated. “It’s about making sure there’s no underage drinking or drug use at your party.” 

The Social Host Ordinance was enacted 15 years ago to address underage drinking. This year, marijuana and other drug use was added to the law. Violating the Social Host Ordinance is an infraction, like a traffic ticket. It carries a $100 fine for the first offense. 

If there are a lot of people drinking at a party, police may have to do a “controlled dispersal.” Officers make sure adults who have been drinking don’t drive home. People who are 18-20 years old can be ticketed for possession of alcohol. People under 18 can get the same citation, but the police can’t let them go until their parents pick them up. This can take hours and the party host can be billed for all the officers’ time, which could be hundreds of dollars.    

In extreme cases, a party host can be charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors or providing alcohol to a minor. Those misdemeanors can result in fines of up to $1,000 or even jail time.

The back of the attention-grabbing ticket lists what party hosts need to know. They are responsible for knowing the ages of their guests and supervising anyone who is under 21 years old. Also, because most home parties have adult guests (and adult beverages) the host is also responsible for making sure minors don’t have access to alcohol. 

“The ordinance was written because there’s more information about the effects of underage drinking now, compared to when our parents were kids,” said Pendarvis. “We know when people start drinking or using drugs at a younger age, they are more likely to have problems with dependence or addiction when they get older. That’s because the human brain is still developing. It’s not finished until you’re in your early twenties.”

Marijuana affects young people differently than older people. One recent study indicates that first-time users who use higher-potency marijuana are more likely to develop signs of dependence in just one year.

Research also shows the part of the brain that governs impulse control develops last. That’s why younger people sometimes take risks without considering the consequences. 

“In high school, you’re not around your parents as much and you make your own decisions,” said Clark. “Young people need to know that if they start drinking or smoking marijuana or vaping, there’s a possibility of future issues.”