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Minor in Possession

Minor in possession (MIP) ordinances vary based on jurisdiction. Circumstances and penalties can include brief incarceration (more common for multiple offenses) and fines.

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A minor in possession (MIP) offense means that a person who is under the legal drinking or drug use age is caught in possession of a substance, such as alcohol.[1]

MIP ordinances vary based on jurisdiction. Circumstances and penalties can include brief incarceration (more common for multiple offenses) and fines. 

It is not uncommon for the minor to experience other adverse repercussions as a result of one or more MIP charges, including a negative impact on education or career opportunities and social stigma. If the MIP charge is in conjunction with other criminal charges, the adverse outcomes may be compounded.

What Is a Minor in Possession Offense?

With an MIP offense, a minor is discovered with alcohol or other controlled substances.[1] In most jurisdictions, the legal age for drinking or marijuana use is 21, so MIP misdemeanors are generally issued to those under 21 years old. 

These restrictions are intended to discourage illegal and reckless use of substances. It’s common for MIP charges to be issued alongside other charges, such as reckless behavior or DUI (driving under the influence).[1] 

What Are the Different Types of Minor in Possession Ordinances?

There are three common types of minor in possession ordinances that can be charged to an underaged person found in the presence or possession of an illicit substance:[2,3]

Actual PossessionThis ordinance prohibits minors from having any alcohol in their possession. If a minor has a bottle of liquor in their backpack, a container in their hand, or they are driving a car that has alcohol in it, they can be charged with actual possession.
Constructive PossessionConstructive possession refers to situations in which a minor may not physically possess alcohol but has access to or control over it. For instance, if they find themselves with keys to a cabinet containing alcohol they could face charges of constructive possession.
Internal PossessionInternal possession ordinances specifically target minors’ consumption of alcohol. If there is evidence that a minor has consumed alcohol even without physical possession of the substance, they could face charges under this ordinance. For example, any blood alcohol content (BAC) level in any amount, a witness testimony, or field sobriety tests conducted by law enforcement all constitute evidence of internal possession.

How Do Minor in Possession Laws Work?

Federal, state, and local laws regulate how MIP charges work. Understanding what they are could help you make better decisions about your substance use.

Federal laws cover alcohol in young people. Congress uses financial aid and tax incentives to encourage states to limit alcohol consumption in people younger than 21. While every state follows this standard, some have exceptions for religious ceremonies or alcohol provided by parents.

State laws often cover the possession of cannabis. In states that legalize cannabis for recreational use, you could face state MIP charges for weed possession when you’re not old enough to do so. The National Conference of State Legislatures says most states set the legal age at 21.

If you’re caught with a substance other than alcohol or cannabis, you could face other legal consequences. For example, if you are caught with heroin, MIP laws don’t apply. This drug isn’t legal for people of any age, so if you’re caught with it, you could face charges for simply having illegal drugs.

What Happens After an MIP Arrest?

If you’re caught in possession of a substance, you’ll follow a series of fairly predictable steps.

Here’s what typically happens:

  1. Citation: You’re caught with a substance, and you’re underage. The police officer on the scene will take down your details and transport you to the station for processing. You may have your photos and fingerprints taken, and if you’re acting erratically, you may have to stay there overnight. You should get a lawyer at this stage.
  2. Arraignment: You appear before a judge and are formally notified that you’re facing an MIP charge. You respond to these charges by entering a plea of guilty or not guilty. The judge will give you a list of conditions you must follow while you’re not in jail, and you might be required to pay a fine in order to leave.
  3. Trial preparation: Your lawyer might file motions to help explain your case and/or get the charges thrown out due to things like improper search or misconduct. Be as open and honest with your lawyer as you can to ensure you get the right representation.
  4. Trial: If your case goes to trial, your attorney will represent your side and help you get the smallest consequences possible. Do everything your lawyer tells you during the trial.
  5. Sentencing: At the end of your trial, the judge will decide on your punishment. It could involve jail time, fines, or both.

Risks & Consequences of MIP Offenses 

Penalties for MIP offenses vary based on factors like substance type, the minor’s age, prior offenses, and local laws.

Consequences could include fines, mandatory education programs, probation, or community service obligations, and potentially suspension or detention in some instances, such as for repeat or extreme offenses.

Here are some of the potential consequences of MIP offenses:[4,5]

Loss of Driver’s License

Various jurisdictions have laws that provide for suspension or revocation of a minor’s driver’s license upon conviction for alcohol-related offenses, including MIP. This could significantly disrupt daily life due to the impact on their ability to get to school and work.

Legal Fees & Fines

MIP offenses often incur legal fees, such as court costs and attorney’s fees. Additionally, minors may need to pay fines as part of their punishment, depending on their jurisdiction and the nature of the offense committed.


Minors charged with MIP offenses may be placed on probation that requires regular check-ins with their probation officer and strict compliance to various conditions, such as attending alcohol education classes. If they fail to meet these requirements, they may face more serious consequences.

Community Service

When dealing with MIP charges, courts may order the person to serve a specific number of community service hours within a given time frame. They’ll then have to report back to the judge at a set hearing to confirm that those hours have been completed.

Alcohol or Drug Education Programs

After being charged with MIP, certain offenders may need to participate in alcohol and drug education programs in order to learn more about the potential risks and repercussions associated with substance misuse as well as ways to cope with the urge to drink or use drugs. These courses aim to inform offenders of what could come as a result of substance misuse while teaching how best to avoid falling into the trap of addiction.

Criminal Record

Convictions under MIP can mean that a young person has a criminal history that could inhibit future academic and employment opportunities if they are over the age of 18. Expungement may be possible under certain circumstances, but removal of the charges cannot be guaranteed.

Reduced Opportunities

In some locations, online and in-print newspapers share information from police blotters about arrests. These accounts can include a person’s name, location, and the issue they were cited for. If someone’s name is published in this way, it might appear when someone conducts a pre-employment search or digs before accepting a date.

People who are already well-known could face even more serious consequences. For example, a very young politician in Arkansas was arrested for underage drinking in 2023, and his name was splashed across the papers. This account could make it harder for him to be reelected.

Minor in Possession: Simply Not Worth the Risk 

Underage individuals who decide to use alcohol or drugs expose themselves to significant consequences that just aren’t worth the risk. For this reason, it is not only people under the age of 21 who should recognize the hazards of this choice, but their parents and any other adult who might decide to give alcohol or drugs to anyone who is not legally allowed to use illicit substances.

In addition to legal consequences for the young person charged with MIP, adults over the age of 21 who are found to be facilitating the use of substances among young people may also face criminal charges. This includes any restaurant, bar, or store that sells alcohol to minors. 

Additionally, there are substantial health risks involved.[6] Young minds and bodies are still developing, making them particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of drugs or alcohol. Using these substances as minors can impede brain development, harm academic performance, and contribute to mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or addiction.[7,8]

For those who struggle with alcohol use and abuse — no matter their age — addiction treatment can help them to get back on track. 

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated April 29, 2024
  1. Possession of alcohol by a minor. Student Life. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  2. Overview of minor in possession ordinances. Prevention First. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  3. Blood alcohol level. National Library of Medicine. Published September 28, 2022. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  4. Minor in possession. Washington State Department of Licensing. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  5. Teens & alcohol. California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  6. Bonnie RJ, O'Connell ME. Reducing underage drinking: A collective responsibility. National Academies Press (US); 2004. 3, Consequences of Underage Drinking.
  7. Lees B, Meredith LR, Kirkland AE, Bryant BE, Squeglia LM. Effect of alcohol use on the adolescent brain and behavior. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. 2020;192(172906).
  8. Park SH, Zhang Y, Kwon D, et al. Alcohol use effects on adolescent brain development revealed by simultaneously removing confounding factors, identifying morphometric patterns, and classifying individuals. Scientific Reports. 2018;8(1).
  9. JP Held on Fake ID, Underage Drinking. Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Published August 18, 2023. Accessed April 24, 2024.
  10. Alcohol Policy. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed April 24, 2024.
  11. Cannabis Overview. National Conference of State Legislatures. Published April 9, 2024. Accessed April 24, 2024.
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