Coalition seeking to cut down liquor to minor sales

In August, it will be one year since Monroe County Coalition (MCC) staff began making courtesy calls on businesses that sell alcohol. The visits to more than 94 retailers – including restaurants, bars, mini-marts and liquor stores – are meant to serve as a gentle yet serious reminder: Avoid selling alcohol to minors by requesting identification from anyone who looks 30 or younger.

“The coalition’s mission is to reduce underage drinking and DUIs in the Keys,” said Elizabeth McHenry, MCC program assistant in Key West. “We know from the compliance checks being conducted by local law enforcement that many retailers do not check IDs of younger customers, so the reminders are needed.” McHenry said as many as 39 Keys businesses have been cited for serving minors during one six-month period.

In May, three Upper Keys businesses were cited for selling to minors during a one-day routine compliance check by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. The sales clerks that have been cited face up to 60 days in jail, a $500 fine and at least $300 for court and investigative costs. The liquor license holders face a $1,000 fine and a seven-day suspension for a first offense. A third offense means revocation of the license.

“We have created a culture here in the Keys that encourages alcohol use and abuse,” said McHenry, a former bartender in Key West. She notes that the number of DUIs in Monroe County is three times the state average. “Our youth are the most vulnerable to this Keys-wide “Duval Crawl” cultural influence,” she explains. “The Coalition is working to change that and maybe even save some lives along the way.”

McHenry talks to alcohol retailers about their current ID policy, asks them to adopt an “ID everyone 30 or under policy,” and hands out window decals so businesses can post a “Must be 21” warning visible to customers.

This outreach effort to alcohol retailers is only part of MCC’s prevention program, said Executive Director Frank Sauer, who is planning to host town hall meetings for concerned citizens. “We are working with many organizations to help reach students and parents too; we are also collaborating with law enforcement and many other agencies that have contact with families and at-risk youth.”

“We’re not Prohibitionists,” said Sauer. “We are a diverse group of professionals from various disciplines and backgrounds, each with our own contribution, trying to reduce the often tragic consequences of underage alcohol and substance abuse in our community. We need community and parental support to make that happen.”

Sauer, a retired Key West Police Captain, believes the enforcement side of underage drinking must also come from parents and others in the community who might provide alcohol to minors. “It’s about changing the adult and parental mentality and taking responsibility for our youth and an environment tolerant of underage drinking.”

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