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Morgantown battles underage drinking [Post-Gazette]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Special to the Post-Gazette

MORGANTOWN, WV—The City Council and the police department have teamed up to close, at least here, a loophole created by the legislature in the state’s underage drinking law.

Last summer a new state law took effect that forbids people under 21 to buy liquor but not to drink it. The measure met with outrage from law officials across the state.

“It is just irresponsible of the legislators to forget to include such section [prohibiting consumption],” said Morgantown Police Chief John Cease.

In Morgantown, the home of West Virginia University, police have reacted to the law by launching well-publicized “sting” operation against merchants who sell alcohol to minors.

More recently, council passed an ordinance making it illegal for minors to possess or consume distilled beverages—closing the law’s loophole within city limits.

When police considered attacking underage drinking in the aftermath of the new law, Cease said, they decided to concentrate on the source of liquor. “There are 120 stores here compared to the thousands of minors in Morgantown who will consume liquor.”

Under the crackdown, which is expected to continue into next year, police have warned bars, restaurants and liquor and convenience stores that periodic checks are being made in which a minor will try to buy liquor.

Council made the policy easier in September, he said, when it approved the ordinance outlawing consumption by people under 21.

So far, eight merchants out of 45 visited under the sting operation have been cited for selling to minors. Police also have arrested two minors for possession and issued citations to 20 others that make them liable for fines.

“I am not a prohibitionist. It’s just that people do not understand liquor is a drug,” Cease said. “Kids 14 to 18 are not emotionally mature enough to know when to quit.”

WVU campus police also are working with city officers to enforce the law.


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