Maryland seeks to ban grain alcohol to curb college binge drinking

March 8, 2014

The road to a serious drinking problem and the need to go to alcohol rehab can start in the most innocuous ways. Many Americans begin drinking heavily for the first time during college, where parties and other social events can encourage and even require the activity. In response to a recent spike in binge drinking on its state’s college campuses, the Washington Post reported that the Maryland Senate overwhelmingly passed a ban on the sale of grain alcohol within the state. The infamously potent drink sometimes known as Everclear or moonshine is so cheap and powerful that it is often used on college campus as an effective way to get extremely intoxicated with minimal effort. For that reason, lawmakers are hoping to decrease the instances of dangerous drinking on college campuses.

Burden of proof

If passed by the state’s House and signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley, the bill would ban the sale of any alcoholic product at or over 190 proof. Any retailer caught selling the spirit would be punished with a misdemeanor and a fine of up to $1,000.

“Because it takes such a small amount, and it’s so cheap, it’s seen as one of the big contributors to alcohol poisoning,” Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr., the primary sponsor of the bill, told the Washington Post. “That’s why the universities have said, ‘Please get this off the market.'”

One of the complicating factors for grain alcohol on college campuses is that in many cases, it is not clear to students that they are even consuming such a potent drink, as it is usually used as an ingredient in other drinks.

“Most of the time students don’t even know they’re consuming it,” Frostburg State University president Jonathan Gibralter told the Baltimore Sun. “It really should not be for human consumption.”

Not just a stiff drink

While the bill would not penalize anyone found in possession of grain alcohol, lawmakers still hope that it will decrease the occurrences of the drink being used on college campuses. Because it has no taste or smell of its own, it is a favorite of binge drinking students looking not to enjoy the taste of an alcoholic beverage, but to get uncontrollably drunk. Grain alcohol is usually mixed with a variety of other flavored drinks and served at parties as a cheap way to intoxicate many people.

According to statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking on college campuses is a widespread problem. Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to the deaths of 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 each year. Over a half a million young adults sustain inadvertent injuries as a result of binge drinking. It also factors in to hundreds of thousands of cases of assault and sexual abuse on campuses across the country.

Drinking at college has become a ritual that students often see as an integral part of their higher­education experience,” the NIAAA explained in a report on college drinking. “Many students come to college with established drinking habits, and the college environment can exacerbate the problem. Research shows that more than 80 percent of college students drink alcohol, and almost half report binge drinking in the past two weeks.”

The Baltimore Sun reported that a similar ban on grain alcohol has been up for a vote in the Maryland State Senate twice before, but it failed to garner enough votes each time. With the sobering statistics about the harmful effects of repeated heavy drinking – especially on developing minds and bodies – growing every day, college administrators hope that this will be the time that their campuses take the first step towards safer drinking.

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