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Understanding the exceptions to Maryland's underage drinking laws

As we near the end-of-year holidays, many parents let their teens have a glass of wine during a holiday dinner or party.

While alcohol consumption is illegal for anyone under 21 years of age in Maryland, there are exceptions. Parents should understand under what circumstances their kids can legally drink. Most importantly, if parents are going to serve alcohol in their home, they need to ensure the safety of their children and any other young people involved.?

Maryland's law allows those under 21 to consume alcohol if they're in a private residence or the "curtilage of the residence" -- for example, the backyard, patio or pool area. However, they must have the consent of a family member who's of legal drinking age and be supervised by that person. Under Maryland law, the person giving the consent and the minor must be "members of the same immediate family."

Underage drinking is also legal if it's part of a recognized religious ceremony. These often take place in houses of worship, but also may be held in a home or other location.

The police aren't going to barge in on your Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah dinner and arrest you for letting your child have a drink -- unless your celebration has gotten so out-of-control that the neighbors have called them. However, adults have an obligation to ensure that young people under their supervision don't overindulge and endanger themselves or others.

Of course, driving while under the influence is one of the most dangerous potential outcomes of underage drinking. If you allow your teen and/or other young guests to consume alcohol in your home, you can't let them drive afterward. Even a small amount of alcohol can significantly impair a young person who's not used to drinking. It's also essential to make sure that your young guests don't raid the liquor cabinet before they leave.

If your child is charged with DUI, regardless of how they obtained the alcohol, it's essential to take the matter seriously. A DUI conviction, even as a juvenile, can have repercussions for a young person's education and even beyond their school years. Don't let them go through the justice system alone.

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