Social Hosts: There’s a law targeting parents that is so broadly written, even the people who endorsed it are getting trapped by it

Given what I wrote about yesterday, regarding Barrel Tasting weekend being out of control in the younger demographic, and having a response from Richard that included “Social Host,” I think it’s interesting to ask….

Are you aware of this?

I’m providing this as a public service announcement (P.S.A.), just so you know.


Parents, school board members, town council members, even college professors have lost their jobs or been criminally charged because they’ve been accused of being a Social Host.

Who’s a Social Host ?

Being called a Social Host means you’ve been charged with an unintended crime of allowing teens to drink in your home. Not buying alcohol for teens or serving alcohol to teens; just not doing enough to prevent them from drinking in your home.

Why should responsible parents be concerned?

Because depending on how the law is written in your community, you could be arrested when a teenager drinks in your home–even if you’re not there! Just last week, a father in Washington State was charged as a Social Host while he was out-of-town because his son was mobbed by teens wanting to party in a parent-less home.

To understand the social host laws in your community (and nationally), I encourage you to visit the new website SocialHostLaw.com. This site is the source for parents and families for:

  • Helping parents navigate the tricky issues of underage drinking and the law
  • The latest news and research on underage drinking
  • Resources to share with your friends and family
  • Community and Connection

This SocialHostLaw.com Website is the brainchild of Helene Epstein. From her site:

I first became interested in Social Host Ordinances when Westchester Magazine assigned me the story of a well-respected Scarsdale couple’s arrest for providing minors with alcohol on New Year’s Eve 2005. “A Parent’s Nightmare” appeared as a 3,500-word feature story in the June 2005 issue of Westchester Magazine. It chronicled the arrest of the Taxins and the issues surrounding underage drinking and the host law, from the point-of-view of the police, parents, parenting and legal experts. As a regional look at a growing national trend, it became part of a countywide constructive dialogue among parents, educators and the law enforcement community. Since then, I’ve widened and deepened my research.

This press release both intrigued me and concerned me… I raised three daughters, and wine has part of our world since leaving Maine 19 years ago. I’ve had my daughters’ friends in our home and wine is just part of our culture. (My daughters are now all of age and with their own children.) I’m betting that our California world is more permissive in this Social Host regard, because winery owners have kids. To impost this law as a letter-of-the-law on these owners would be this side of ridiculous, just as it would be in any other wine grape growing country. When you get into a state where wine grape growing doesn’t have the same economic impact for the state’s revenue… like either of the Dakotas or even Maine, let’s say, I can see where this law is really taken as letter of the law, and doesn’t foster any thought for wine being a socially civilizing beverage and/or as part of a cultured life style.

What an interesting country we have become, having been founded by Puritans who were escaping what they perceived as religious persecution in the early 1620s. They came here with their own standards of prohibitionism, which still stands today; and, continues to find ways to punish anyone who steps outside of their own dogma boundaries. While the law was originally intended to protect young adults from those who willfully provided alcohol to under-aged drinkers, it’s swung way to the right… as things seem to go with extremists.

Helene Epstein is just making us aware of our surroundings, as am I.


6 Responses to “Social Hosts: There’s a law targeting parents that is so broadly written, even the people who endorsed it are getting trapped by it”

  1. I think it depends on the situation. Some parents really are irresponsible and should be penalized for it. In other cases, like the one you mentioned where the father was out of town, it’s insane to prosecute him.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Steve, I agree with you. Let’s just hope that whomever is the judge has a level head about him/her. That said, it costs a boatload of money to defend oneself, too. It’s a win-lose situation as it’s now evolved. The Prohibitionists win, and the rest of us lose.

  3. Monique Dubois says:

    I have known two families that should have been prosecuted ! One did shots with her son’s friends in her home then let them drive home… the other’s son had parties whenever she traveled which was often and the parties got out of hand involving guns, fists through cabinet doors etc. So, there is a place and time for everything… I am not saying that enjoying wine as part of the dinner experience should not happen because it was acceptable in my house too. 🙂

  4. Jo Diaz says:


    Two extreme cases… So, it’s there for good reason, but seemed to catch some innocent people, too. I’d say it comes down to a judge using good common sense, and I’m sure most do… Then, there are those who stayed at the legal party for too long…

  5. Richard says:

    Thanks for this info – while I knew it had happened, I did not realize the extent. Though, being pretty much a libertarian (not the party, just the philosophy), don’t get me started on both Federal and State governments playing “nanny” to the citizens! As an old political science major and amateur historian, the US started as a Republic (why it amazes me when people say “that’s not democratic!” or when one or other news station says “a poll indicates that 54% of all Americans believe…); the US is now, pretty much a democracy (which ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, which our Founding Fathers knew)… the next step in the evolutionary road is either socialism or facism!

    But… I believe many of these laws, while very likely intended, by their sponsors/originators, to be helpful, lead us down that garden path to a society where everything is controlled! No, we’re not there yet, but this type of “one size fits all” legislation (as is the case in Washington State with the parent being arrested) is the first salvo.

    Perhaps we should try to adhere to our Founding Father’s guidance and try to create laws that “do no harm” – in other words, laws that are not worse than the crime committed! And our beloved California has more nanny laws than just about anyone! And if you’ve ever lived in the People’s Republic (of San Francisco and/or Berkeley), you know what I mean (no offense I love both places, but they have passed some wacky laws)… Our Founders did not intend for the US to be “majority rules” but for logic, rational thought, and common sense to rule – just because 90% of people believed something to be right and correct, our Founders realized that the “90%” might be wrong and they wrote the Constitution to reflect that…

    Which was my point to begin with when I mentioned if you served your kids wine, they would tell their teacher and the cops would show up at your house and arrest you! I knew that it was possible, just didn’t know it now had a name and believe it is one of those things run amok – any law of this type should be flexible based on circumstance, not, as I said “one size fits all.”

    Thanks Jo for the info!

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Richard with your very thoughtful comments… not one I can disagree with. (I’ve not taken time to completely understand the Libertarian party, but I do know what’s prompted it. I’ve just seen myself as Independent, Gandalf-like.)

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