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. This can include alcohol, drugs, tobacco products, or related items, such as fake IDs.
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. 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).
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]
This 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
- Possession of alcohol by a minor. Student Life. Accessed October 17, 2023.
- Overview of minor in possession ordinances. Prevention First. Accessed October 17, 2023.
- Blood alcohol level. National Library of Medicine. Published September 28, 2022. Accessed October 17, 2023.
- Minor in possession. Washington State Department of Licensing. Accessed October 17, 2023.
- Teens & alcohol. California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Accessed October 17, 2023.
- Bonnie RJ, O'Connell ME. Reducing underage drinking: A collective responsibility. National Academies Press (US); 2004. 3, Consequences of Underage Drinking.
- 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).
- 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).