EDITORIAL: Decriminalizing Minor in Possession charges in Michigan is smart move for state

An empty bottle and can lay on a tabletop on Jan. 10 in Moore Hall.

There's no sense in pretending that more than half of the people reading this sentence right now consume, or have consumed, alcohol before they were 21 years old. 

It's no secret either that a number of those readers likely suffered some negative consequence for that behavior.  

A new state law that went into effect Jan. 1 reclassified Michigan's minor in possession of alcohol charge from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction that carries a $100 fine. According to The Detroit Free Press, the misdemeanor charge included a fine and could carry a sentence of up to 90 days in jail. In that same article, Isabella County reported one of the highest number of MIP charges, with 233 citations.

Bills 332-333 were signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in December 2016. State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, a former law enforcement officer, sponsored the bills to address issues he saw in the application of the MIP law.

“The problem with the old Minor in Possession law was that it was clogging up our courts, putting kids in jail and jeopardizing the chances of some young people to get into college or get a job,” Jones said in a press release. “Under this new law, we will give young people one chance to get their lives in order and avoid a criminal record.”

According to the nonprofit charitable organization ProCon, an online research resource, America is one of 12 countries in the world with the highest age to legally consume alcohol. We are in the company of countries such as Iraq, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kiribati, Micronesia, Nauru, Oman, Palau and Samoa. The drinking age was moved from 18 to 21 in 1986, under the direction of President Ronald Reagan.

In a country where you can lay down your life as a member of the military, drive a car, purchase a handgun from a private seller, smoke cigarettes, obtain a medical marijuana card before you can legally consume a beer, America's drinking laws feel a bit antiquated. 

It's time for a change and this "second chance" law is a start. That is something to celebrate.

College is a time to learn and to grow as a person – that includes making mistakes. It's also a time to learn who you are without the constant supervision of parents, teachers or guardians.

We encourage students not to look at this change in the law as a free pass to be careless about their alcohol consumption. A second offense is a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail and a $200 fine. A third offense could "carry a sentence of up to 60 days, a $500 fine and possible revocation of the offender’s driver’s license," according to The Detroit Free Press.

It is nice to see state legislators giving us the benefit of the doubt on at least this issue. When it comes to our leaders in Lansing, we'll take a win wherever we can find one. 

Be safe. Be smart. 

For now, you get to make one mistake before an MIP ends up negatively affecting your life. 

Don't be reckless with it.