By Karen Zautyk
The legal drinking age in New Jersey is 21. Alcohol is not to be sold, in bars or stores, to anyone younger than that. According to the rules of the N.J. Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC): “If there is any doubt that the purchaser is under 21 years of age, the sale should not be made.”
Hence, the practice of asking for proof of age.
On Dec. 30, the eve of New Year’s Eve, when lots of folks were stocking up on alcohol for their celebrations, the Hudson County Coalition for Drug Free Communities (HCCDFC) conducted an interesting experiment in Kearny, Harrison and East Newark.
The results were discouraging.
In the three towns are a total of 21 liquor stores.
The Coalition said it randomly selected 11 of them and sent a 23-year-old staffer, dressed as a typical college student — including a New Jersey City University sweatshirt — to the shops to try to buy alcohol.
“Though this HCCDFC member is of legal age, he appears young . . . ,” said Yaisa Coronado, assistant director. “Based on his appearance alone, his age would be hard to determine.”
According to the Coalition, only three of the 11 stores requested identification to ensure the customer was 21 or older. “The other eight stores conducted the sale without age verification, which is about a 62% rate on noncompliance,” the HCCDFC reported.
It also noted: “While no laws were violated [the prospective buyer was of legal age], these are alarming figures considering this study was carried out just a day prior to New Year’s Eve, a holiday largely associated with excessive drinking.”
One of the three exceptions in the test was the Liquor Warehouse in East Newark, whose owner, Dilip Patel, was quoted as stating, “We always check ID, doesn’t matter: New people, those in their 20s and 30s, and all credit card sales, to make sure names match up.” Patel said he has a strict store policy, with his staff instructed to do the same with all the customers they serve.
According to published reports, the Coalition declined to name the liquor stores that had failed the test, “citing the potential that those stores could now attract more minors.”
However, this applies only to a public release of the information. The Observer learned from Karena Malko from Partners in Prevention that the Coalition has reached out to local police departments and has already provided the stores’ names to the Kearny PD.
“The Kearny police have been really excellent,” she said.
Malko is troubled by the apparent lack of concern by the clerks in the shops that flunked. Many teenagers, she noted, are already more inclined to get into trouble, and fights, than are members of other age groups. “But when you add drinking into the mix . . . . Why would anyone want to contribute to potentially violent or risky behavior?”
“Supplying alcohol to minors is a serious offense that can incur infractions to liquor-license holders who choose to ignore it,” the Coalition noted in its press release, which quoted the N.J. ABC Handbook:
“If there is any doubt that the purchaser is under 21 years of age, the sale should not be made.
“Licensees have the right to refuse a sale if they believe a purchaser is under the age of 21.
“A license which has four such violations (of providing alcohol to a minor) within two years presumptively will be revoked.”
The HCCDFC, formed in 2004, says it “has prioritized underage drinking as a primary public health concern with a high correlation rate of injury and social consequences, including but not limited to: binge drinking, driving while intoxicated, alcohol poisoning, and high-risk behavior.”
It is also offering free training to liquor store employees, providing vendors “with the skills necessary for the prevention of illegal sale of alcohol beverages to underage persons.” That includes teaching them how to identify counterfeit and/or altered photo driver’s licenses or photo identification cards.
In addition to local police, the Coalition says it will be providing results of the West Hudson survey to local ABC boards and alcohol vendors.