Duxbury Decriminalizes Underage Drinking

The South Shore town voted 181-9 to pass the measure.

Duxbury residents voted 181-9 to decriminalize the possession of alcohol by anyone under 21 during their annual town meeting on Saturday.

Teens caught drinking in Duxbury will now face a $150 civil fine on their first offense and a $300 fine for all subsequent offenses. The change makes the penalty in Duxbury more expensive, but removes the permanent criminal record component. Massachusetts state law penalizes minors in possession of alcohol with a criminal conviction, a fine of $50, and the suspension of their license for 90 days.

The new municipal ordinance still leaves the door open for officers to charge minors with criminal violations if they deem it necessary. Similar ordinances exist on Cape Cod, but it is believed this is the first one to pass on the South Shore.

Duxbury Police pushed the decriminalization measure by saying that the change does not mean they’re condoning underaged drinking, but instead trying to improve the town’s enforcement of existing prohibitions and try a new approach in the fight against teen substance abuse.

“Under some new strategies that we are working on, we are looking to be more consistent with the enforcement. You’re going to see more enforcement action. We want to see if we have the opportunity to at least not bring some of these kids on their first offense with a record that could follow them for the rest of their lives,” Duxbury Police Chief Matthew Clancy told WATD.

The new ordinance is seen as a middle ground between giving teens a criminal record for poor youthful decision-making and merely calling their parents to come pick them up, the preferred method of dealing with underage drinking by Duxbury police. Local officials tasked with dealing with the town’s substance abuse issues found young people were emboldened by this no-arrest approach, and were more likely to try harder substances.

The new fine system creates a significant consequence for violators without ruining their lives, a major improvement over a system that encouraged drug and alcohol abuse in the shadows.