Now that Mardi Gras is over, open containers can mean jail time

Cities open container laws usually waived for big drinking events, individuals go to jail


   Now that Mardi Gras is over, the city will resume arresting citizens for conduct it permitted for one day for the Krewe of Janus.

  The City of Monroe has an open container law that is supposed to promote public safety and sobriety by prohibiting the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages in public places. However, it is a law that is waived whenever a large number of people plan to gather, get drunk and act recklessly.

   During Mardi Gras, the City of Monroe expected to have between 100,000 and 150,000 people visiting the city; about three times the city’s population. They visited the city for fun and entertainment, but the primary purpose was to watch the Krewe of Janus parade.

   The nature of Mardi Gras is that for a few hours the public is allowed to “Let the good times roll.” Government drops the rules and thousands party, drink in public, dance and maybe even get drunk without fear of being arrested or charged with public intoxication.

   Herein lies the conundrum. The city has an open container law on the books (City Code Section 12:231) but it is only enforced against individuals who are acting alone. If there is a large crowd, party or parade, the city will give the group a permit to drink in public, get drunk and go crazy without a fine.

   Throughout the year individuals are charged with violating the open container law. That law says a citizen cannot stand on a sidewalk, street, alley, or even a privately owned parking lot holding an alcoholic beverage that has been opened.

    Holding it, even if the citizen is not drinking it, can mean a $500 fine and six months in jail.

    If the container is in an automobile and has been opened, even if it’s on the back seat laying on the floor, nets a $500 fine and six months in jail.

    A person who holds a beer can or drinks out of it while sitting in his own parking space can be fined $500 and be given six months in jail. (The law says if you allow people to park on your land and don’t charge them, then your land is public and you can’t possess alcoholic beverages on it or consume beverages on it.)

   All year people are arrested for these personal violations, but the city routinely grants waivers to organizations that plan drinking, drunkenness, or possession of open containers as part of their event. There is very little city council discussion about granting waivers for group drunkenness, waivers are routine, but individual possession is never waived.

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    It gets even uglier. A person can be busted for having a cup filled with alcohol, spiked punch or beer. However, if that person buys a Daiquiri, he can possess it, and drink it in public without going to jail. The law was written to help the Daiquiri companies in town; it pretends that Daiquiris are not alcoholic beverages.

   Here’s how that section of the law reads: “Unless the method of closing and sealing any drinking glass or cup which is filled with an alcoholic beverage at the point of sale has been submitted prior to its use to the chief of police or his designee for approval.” Of course, the chief has precleared all daiquiris in cups. The message: possess an open bottle of beer and go to jail, but you can drink daiquiris without going to jail.

    It would appear that the open container law should apply to everyone with no exceptions or it should not apply to anyone.

    If possessing an open container in public is against the law, there should not be a time when it’s OK?

    If it’s against the law to drink or sell alcoholic beverages in the presence of minors, it should not be OK if you have a waiver.

    The City should revisit the whole idea of its open container law. If it is only going to be enforced against individuals and all groups will be waived, then the law needs to be dumped. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.

    A daiquiri may look like a Smoothie, but its mostly alcohol, juice and sweeter served with crushed ice. It should have the same penalty as all others or none at all.

    Who goes to jail for these violations?

    Those who are poor or without political connections get the fine or the jail time. Everyone else gets a waiver or gets their kind of alcoholic beverage preapproved.

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