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Montana Alcohol Immunity Law Being Utilized

We are reaching the time of year when prom, high school graduation, college graduation and summer vacations are upon us. These can be some of the most enjoyable experiences in a young person’s life, but these experiences can also lead to minors experimenting with alcohol and other substances. A lack of experience, social pressures and experimentation can put underage drinkers in some very dangerous medical situations that can become life threatening. Calling for help, without fear of punishment, should be the priority. New laws being passed around the country are doing just that.

In October of 2015, Montana became the 22nd state to pass and implement Alcohol Immunity legislation (also called Good Samaritan Laws) that protected underage persons from Minors in Possession (MIPs) charges in medical emergencies.

This law passed through Montana’s Legislature with little opposition. The consensus was that safety was more important than a ticket, especially in a life threatening situation.

At the end of January, I was informed through the Helena Independent Record police blotter that this law had been used. The police blotter stated the following:

“At 11 p.m., officers were called to a residence concerning a juvenile female passed out from intoxication and in need of medical attention. She was later transported to the hospital for treatment. Neither she nor the 14-year-old who called for medical treatment were charged with possession of alcohol due to state law providing immunity in medical situations”.

A Young Legislator’s Perspective

I recently turned 29 years old and am serving in my second term of the legislature. College was only a few years ago for me, and my five years at the University of Montana opened my eyes to how dangerous medical emergencies could occur, and how underage drinkers would respond to these situations. An MIP could put student athletes, scholarship recipients and future doctors, lawyers and professionals in situations that could ruin their careers or scholarships.

Calling for help was rarely, if ever, considered an option. Instead, sleeping it off, making each other vomit, or drinking water seemed to be the solution that most students deemed acceptable. As an underage drinker myself, I saw numerous situations where people needed medical attention, yet help was rarely called.

Prioritize Safety, Not Punishment

One viewpoint I heard while presenting the legislation was that these minors and young adults should be responsible for their actions. In a perfect world, I would agree. But in a realistic world, I’m going to argue the case that expecting young, intoxicated individuals to take responsibility for their actions and call 911 is something that will not likely happen. Being pragmatic, the next best case scenario was creating an incentive to reach out in emergency situations and possibly save a life.

It is difficult to identify when laws like these work, especially since the information of underage law breakers is protected. Learning that this law has already possibly saved a life reinforces the belief that we all make mistakes, and fear of a ticket and punishment should not lead to the possibility of death.

Thank you Responsibility.org for your efforts across the country. It has made a difference.

Montana State Representative Daniel Zolnikov

*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) or any Responsibility.org member.*

*Headshot courtesy of Daniel Zolnikov’s Facebook.

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