Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Alcohol Challenges City, UI Administration

March 3, 2010, 10:00 a.m.

Will Courage and Common Sense Finally Win Out?
(brought to you by*)

Think about it.

Iowa law forbids those under 21 from consuming, buying or possessing alcohol.

Bars are in the business of profiting from the sale of alcohol.

Given that both are true, isn't the exclusion of under-21-year-olds from bars a kind of no-brainer?

One can argue that the law should be changed -- though I've never found those arguments slam-dunk persuasive, especially in light of the data. But whether or not you find the line, "it's not just a good idea, it's the law," appropriate in this context, it is the law.

I've written quite a bit about these issues since this blog began in 2006 (and before). For annotations and links to 31 blog entries between October 7, 2006, and November 18, 2009, see the list at the bottom of "UI's Alcohol Problem: Many Solutions, Little Will; Alcohol Back in the News? No, Always in the News," December 16, 2009, and the all-inclusive Web site, Nicholas Johnson, "University of Iowa Sexual Assault Controversy -- 2007-08," August 9, 2008, et seq.

And for the latest, with some really solid suggestions from campuses and college towns that have the imagination and courage to really do something about the major public health problem of college students' binge drinking, see "UI's Alcohol Abuse: Look to Nebraska; 'What Works' to Reduce Students' Alcohol Abuse," December 28, 2009.

About the time of that blog entry, Iowa City Mayor Ernie Lehman summed up the UI-Iowa City problem:

In the 12 years that I spent on the council, I tried several times to get the council to pass a 21 ordinance. University of Iowa presidents Mary Sue Coleman and David Skorton also encouraged the council to pass such an ordinance -- along with the UI College of Public Health, the public school system and numerous others within the community. In fact, every piece of credible evidence presented to the council called for a 21 ordinance -- all of which the council ignored, choosing instead to listen to the bar owners and patrons of the bars.
Ernie Lehman, "Council's Moral Character Problem," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 26, 2009, p. A11.

From today's news, and Press-Citizen editorial, it appears the University Administration and City Council may be taking another look. Emily Busse, "In a Renewed Push for 21-Ordinance, UI, City Council Team Up," The Daily Iowan, March 3, 2010, p. A1; Lee Hermiston, "Opposition, Support for 21-Only Voiced; Council's Efforts Backed by UI," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 3, 2010; Editorial, "For City Council, Better Late Than Never on 21-Only," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 3, 2010; Gregg Hennigan, "21-only bar battle brews in Iowa City," The Gazette, March 3, 2010, p. A1;
UI News Service, "UI Supports Review of 21-Only in Iowa City," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 2, 2010.

The pressure from bar owners and students hasn't let up, so the only question is whether the UI administrators' and councilors' courage has been strengthened in the interim.

Watch this space to see.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson
# # #


Drew Latta said...

One thing to think about: The UI does not allow anyone, regardless of age to possess alcohol in the dorms. I wonder how much it would change Iowa City if this was allowed.

For one, in my opinion, the prohibition on alcohol in UI Dorms drives out of age students. It seems like most Junior & Senior students live outside the dorms. I bet a major factor in this is prohibition on alcohol in the dorms for of-age students.

This likely contributes to binge drinking at many house parties across town. While it is certainly easy to binge drink at bars downtown, it is much easier to binge drink when the only cost is a $5 or $10 fee for unlimited keg beer or "jungle juice."

The prohibition also impacts things such as affordable housing in near-campus neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

In this case, a university, a municipality, nor a state can ever hope to legislate morality or responsible behavior. Try banning sex from the dorms to see if that won't eliminate that activities in student's behavior repertoire.

Like prohibition, the hysteria of attempting to ban 18-21 year-olds from using a socially approved substance is ludicrous. An 18 year-old can die serving his country in Iraq, but cannot enjoy a beer and a brat. Logical right?

Trying to combat alcohol abuse and alcoholism by banning adults from bars is an easy, ineffective solution. It offers deterrence to a degree. However there is no replacement for what should happen, and would not be so easy to implement:

1. Replace the rigor of the academy which has lost over 7 weeks of the school year to breaks, holidays, long weekends, and general laziness. Start using professors and high quality teachers to push the students. The more time in academic pursuits, the less time involved in boozing.

2. Develop a rigorous athletic, or music, or recreation program. Current programs are a joke. For instance a solid recreation program would engage students in frequent competitive events. The University offers sporadic, poorly organized events, then concentrates resources on big time D-1 athletics -- which only propagates the culture of drinking and a sort of passive fan based student body (also encouraging obesity, and poor physical health).

3. Offer high quality alcohol and drug treatment resources, for those with problems. Again, current resources are a joke, because insurance companies don't reimburse all that well for substance abuse treatment programs. And if medical insurance doesn't want to reimburse for a service, medical professionals and administration doesn't want to promote it.

Not allowing students in bars only addresses the availability, which is about all some administrators understand (witness the U of Iowa's inadequate report last spring on alcohol use, which exposed their lack of expertise on the subject)

The university culture has to change, and a bandaid on the bars downtown may be a superficial fix, but doesn't address the root causes as noted in the reference.

Go to impoverished, war torn, despotic areas and you will find heavy alcohol use. Go to progressive, forward-looking, economically viable areas, and you will find less alcohol abuse. Thus the problem with alcohol use is a symptom of more systemic problems. If you don't address those issues you are simply re-arranged the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

Anonymous said...

I respect your good intentions, but your thinking is a little misguided. I don’t think the problem is that bars are serving underage people, it’s that legal purchasers are illegally supplying underage people after being legally served.

This is just off the top of my head, but I’ll see if I can illustrate my point by using the first 5 sentences of your post, but changing the focus to prescription medications and pharmacies:

“The law forbids those without valid prescriptions from consuming, buying, or possessing prescription medications. Pharmacies are in the business of profiting from the sale of prescription medications. Given that both are true, isn’t the exclusion of those who don’t have valid prescriptions from pharmacies a no-brainer?”

No one would argue that people without valid prescriptions should be barred from entering pharmacies, assuming that pharmacies have systems in place to make sure that medications are only sold to those people with valid prescriptions. There is a problem with people acquiring medications legally, and illegally transferring them to others. Even if this was happening inside the pharmacy, as long as the staff wasn’t supporting it, no one would be claiming that the solution to the problem must be barring those without prescriptions from simply entering the pharmacy. It would do little to address the actual problem. Obviously, the problem could only be attacked by addressing those who acquire the medications legally, then transfer them illegally. Also, pharmacies would not be burdened or held accountable for failing to aggressively track and monitor the activities of every legal purchaser of medications. For some reason, people believe that this should be different for businesses who sell alcohol, yet the law imposes no such burden.

Anonymous said...

(cont.)_The current problem is in enforcement of the law banning supplying alcohol to minors. Right now, law enforcement foolishly focuses its "war" against underage drinking tickets by furiously citing underage violators with simple misdemeanor violations described by Iowa Code Section 123.47 (2) and (3).

Disturbingly, our local law enforcement agencies neglect investigating and enforcing Iowa Code Section 123.47(4), which pertains to the person who SUPPLIED the alcohol to the underage person. Our state legislature took the time to emphasize the increased gravity of this crime by deeming the offense a serious misdemeanor, as opposed to a simple misdemeanor. Subsections 5 and 6 also provide for the greatly increased penalties of an aggravated misdemeanor or class D felony, respectively, for instances where a person supplies alcohol to a minor, and where the supplying subsequently results in serious injury or death.

The people supplying the alcohol are the root problem. It truly amazes me that law enforcement focuses so much of its efforts on enforcing the lowest defined crime. I wonder if part of the reason is because it might be the “easiest” crime to enforce, as it is more of a “gotcha” offense, where officers don’t have to engage in investigations or put forth any real effort, aside from removing citation pads and pens from their pockets. Also, since PAULA tickets can be given out so easily and rapidly, law enforcement agencies can give out increased numbers of them and then boast about their proficiency in law enforcement. In reality, these tickets are merely “feel-good” citations and have little positive effect. I say “feel-good,” because law enforcement is able to mislead the public in to believing that a high quantity of criminal citations equates to better law enforcement in general.

In your press-citizen post, you state that “there are lots of issues here beyond knee-jerk reactions.” I absolutely agree. I think that our current enforcement efforts are merely knee-jerk reactions, just as someone might cut off the top of a weed without realizing that they need to remove the root. By merely cutting off the top, it looks like you’re addressing the problem, but nothing is being done about the actual root, and the weed grows back as strong as ever.

Why isn’t law enforcement focusing its efforts on the suppliers? The penalties for suppliers are much, much greater and serve as much better prosecutorial tools. In the very short term, the tactics involved in pursuing this effort won’t be as effortless as simply writing out PAULA tickets left and right, but they will pay off in the long run. But, if a focused effort was made to investigate and prosecute suppliers, it might lead to people thinking twice about giving their underage friend a drink.

As an added bonus, aggressively addressing the issue supply would impact behavior both in bars and at house parties, so there would be no reason to wonder whether the benefits of the action would somehow become mutually exclusive.

Anonymous said...

Drew Latta--Juniors and seniors don't live in dorms because they don't want to, regardless of alcohol policies. By the time college students are juniors (and often sophomores), the vast majority have had more than enough of dorm life, period. Besides, the UI doesn't have the dorm facilities to house 20,000 undergraduates.