Opinion: Young people need to know of changes to MIP law

Montana’s minor-in-possession laws have changed slightly, but the results won’t change unless young people know about those changes.

The new law simply says that if underage people seek emergency medical attention for themselves or another person, law enforcement can’t ticket them for a minor-in-possession. This MIP medical immunity measure was passed by a strong bipartisan majority during the 2015 state Legislature.


Daniel Zolnikov

The rationale behind this policy change is straightforward. When first enacted, MIP laws were intended to protect young people by discouraging them from using substances that can be dangerous if consumed irresponsibly. However, too often the threat of an MIP citation has caused young people to avoid seeking medical treatment, creating the opposite of a “protective” situation.

When the outcome of a law contradicts its purpose, it’s time to update the law.

Some legislators said we shouldn’t pass this law. They said young people should make the right choice: get help, then “man up” and take the consequences. That argument ignores human nature.

When scholarships to universities, reputations at school, and parental tempers are on the line, many young people take the possible risks of overdose over the definite consequences of receiving an MIP.

One of the arguments in favor of MIP laws was that young brains aren’t fully developed and able to handle alcohol. Yet some think those same underdeveloped brains are going to make the choice to get help when they are intoxicated and also fearful of the consequences? The deaths of too many young Montanans to alcohol and drug overdoses tragically show the lethality of that double-think.

Fear of citations should not cause deaths in our state. The new medical immunity provision of Montana’s MIP laws removes the barriers between young, intoxicated, fearful minds and the right decision.

It does not give minors a free pass; they must proactively seek medical attention from law enforcement or directly from a healthcare facility. Medical immunity cannot be used as an excuse if law enforcement shows up at a party unexpectedly.

What this new law can and will do is save lives that might otherwise be lost to overdose, and it does so without spending any money or increasing the size of government. These are the type of common-sense conservative solutions that young Republicans like me want to continue providing in Montana.

Medical immunity from MIPs has already been mentioned at least once since the law passed, in a police blotter report in Helena. Please tell parents and teachers about this new law. And tell all young people in Big Sky Country: if you fear for your own safety or someone else’s safety because of intoxication, call for help immediately.

Don’t worry about anything other than getting medical attention as quickly as possible. The police won’t write you a ticket anymore when you’re trying to save a life.

Daniel Zolnikov represents House District 45 in Billings.

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