Thurston County, WA – Thurston County became the first jurisdiction in the state to adopt a marijuana- and- alcohol-focused “social host ordinance”, a model policy to help prevent underage substance abuse and improve public health and safety. According to the most recent (2014) Healthy Youth Survey (HYS), more than half (56%) of Thurston County 12th graders who drank alcohol got it from a friend or at a party. Limiting access to alcohol and drugs helps prevent youth use and related harms, but parents also play a huge role. The new ordinance sends a message that while the majority of Thurston County parents already actively prevent underage drinking and marijuana gatherings on their property, all parents and caregivers are expected to do so. “Parents matter,” says Meghan Sullivan, Executive Director of a youth-focused agency, TOGETHER!. “This policy is another reminder of the import role parents play in their kids’ lives. Ask them where they are going, who they will be with, and whether or not an adult will be present. Tell them regularly that you don’t approve of them using alcohol, marijuana or other drugs.”
The ordinance also aims to address other factors affecting a youth’s decision to stay substance free. About one third (32% of 10th grade and 36% of 12th grade) of Thurston County high school students say laws and norms are favorable to substance use (HYS, 2014), a risk factor for youth use and related problems. Further, public and traffic safety were also considered. Aside from alcohol, marijuana is the most frequently-occurring drug used by drivers involved in deadly crashes in our state (Washington Traffic Safety Commission, 2015). Twenty-nine percent of Thurston County 12th graders report they’ve ridden in a vehicle driven by someone who had been using marijuana (HYS, 2014), and among those who current use marijuana, that number sharply increases.
In 2016, TOGETHER!’s partnered with County Commissioner Bud Blake to create a plan for introducing the model policy concept in Thurston County, building upon a foundation laid by Rainier, Mercer Island and other communities. On Tuesday February 28, the Thurston County Commissioners took a smart step to adopt the policy, which takes effect 30 days later. “I’m excited that Thurston County is taking a leadership role in encouraging responsible behavior with our youth. We hope parents and adults will use this as an opportunity to talk with kids about their expectations.”
Other key partners include Commissioners Hutchings and Edwards, Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, and Thurston County Drug Action Team. Social host ordinances are an effective environmental policy for communities interested in reducing underage drinking and marijuana use supported by the Washington State Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery, the Washington Healthy Youth Coalition, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
TOGETHER! is a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 to serve youth and families in the South Sound and beyond with a mission to advance the health and well-being of all young people. TOGETHER! offers direct service youth programs, mobilizes communities through coalitions, advocates for healthier laws, norms and systems and promotes health through community and individual education.
For further information, contact, Johnna Knoerr, Program Director at 360.493.2230 ext. 110 or jknoerr@ThurstonTOGETHER.org.
For the KOMO News story on this, click here.