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Michigan Liquor Control Commission Announces Pilot Program to Curtail Sale of Alcohol to Minors in Michigan's College Towns

September 1, 2021 - Mystery shoppers will be checking liquor licensees for the safe, lawful sale and service of beverage alcohol starting in the university communities of Ann Arbor and East Lansing, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) announced today.

The Michigan Alcohol Responsibility Program (MI ARP) will serve to enhance the MLCC's own highly successful Controlled Buy Operation Program to curtail the sale of alcohol to minors. The MI ARP is sponsored by the MLCC through a funding grant from the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA)* of which the MLCC is a member as a state regulator. The program is being administered by the Responsible Retailing Forum (RRForum)

"As parents, educators, businesspeople and those in law enforcement, we all have a vested interest in preventing underage drinking," said MLCC Chair Pat Gagliardi. "We must continue to be vigilant and engaged in our collective efforts toward keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors by cracking down on the use of fake IDs and promoting the legal sale of alcohol by licensees in our university and college communities."

Through the MI ARP, alcohol retailers and serving establishments will be visited by young, legal-age mystery shoppers who will provide on-the-spot feedback on whether staff are correctly verifying age and the authenticity of IDs. Owners and managers will receive confidential follow-up reports and assistance in implementing Responsible Retailing Best Practices. The ARP model has been proven in federally funded research to achieve consistently high ID-checking rates. 

The RRForum will issue reports that summarize the aggregate "Mystery Shopper" results for each "town & gown" community. These reports will be shared with the MLCC, local law enforcement, public safety, health, and prevention agencies from the colleges/universities and their host communities to foster a cooperative, problem-solving approach to address underage alcohol access and alcohol abuse.

"This program will enhance the tremendous work of our Enforcement Division to further protect public safety," said MLCC Commissioner Geralyn Lasher. "Enforcement staff take a proactive approach by working with licensees and providing information to them on important issues such as how to avoid sales to minors and intoxicated persons. This grant will allow greater focus for this important work in Ann Arbor and East Lansing." 

For decades, the MLCC's Enforcement Division has protected public safety by verifying licensees' compliance with the Michigan Liquor Control Code and Promulgated Rules through conducting investigations on the illegal importation of beverage alcohol into the state and vetting potential licensees.

The MLCC's statewide Controlled Buy Operation Program checks businesses for sales to minors with decoys who go into various types of licensed businesses: stores, bars, bowling centers, microbrewers, winemakers, special licenses, watercraft, etc. These operations utilize underaged individuals, under the guidance of the Enforcement Division, who enter licensed establishments and attempt to purchase alcoholic beverages. Under Michigan Law, licensees may be randomly selected for a minor decoy compliance check or will be checked if there is a documented complaint of sales to minors.

Since the Controlled Buy Operation Program began in the 1990s, there has been a steady and significant rise in licensees' compliance rate with Michigan's liquor laws. In 2019, more than 2,100 businesses holding a liquor license in Michigan passed controlled buys as reported by the MLCC. This represented an 82 percent compliance rate among licensees checked and documented for not allowing sales of alcohol to minors. In 2020, 86 percent of licensees checked refused sale of beverage alcohol to a minor. 

"We commend liquor licensees who make diligent inquiries as to the age of purchasers, who properly check IDs, who train their staff regarding laws and rules, and who consistently refuse sales to minors and intoxicated patrons," said the MLCC Enforcement Director Tom Hagan. "Today, licensees are embracing the use of vertical ID and various scanning devices to help ensure Michigan's underaged population is not purchasing and consuming alcohol." 

The MLCC also credits its invaluable partnership with local law enforcement agencies in its work toward reducing illegal liquor sales to minors and thwarting underage drinking.

The MLCC supports local law enforcement for the specific purpose of enforcing the Liquor Control Code and Administrative rules. As prescribed by law, the MLCC pays 55 percent of its retailer's license fees and license renewal fees on a quarterly basis to counties, cities, villages, or townships in which a full-time police department or ordinance enforcement department is maintained or, in the alternative, the funds are credited to the sheriff's department of the county in which licensed premises are located. The MLCC dispersed more than $7.3 million in Fiscal Year 2020 Law Grant Payments to 1,560 municipalities.

"The sale of alcohol to a minor is a serious violation against any liquor licensee," said MLCC Commissioner Dennis Olshove. "It's just good business for licensees to be viewed as responsible retailers who know and abide by our state liquor laws and are concerned with the health and safety of their customers, staff, and their community."

The MLCC will continue to actively engage licensees, industry partners and stakeholders with a cooperative, problem-solving and educational approach to effectively curtail underage access to alcohol, consumption and abuse.

The mission of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) is to make alcoholic beverages available for consumption while protecting the consumer and the general public through regulation of those involved in the sale and distribution of these alcohol beverage products.   

* NABCA provides such grants to support efforts toward protecting public health and safety and strengthening responsible and efficient alcohol regulatory systems.

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