I turned 31 this past September. In our family, we joke that, really, you’re not turning 31 or getting older — you’re just celebrating the 10th anniversary of your 21st birthday.
I certainly can’t admit to being an “innocent angel” at that age. I’m a bit ashamed to admit I snuck into my fair share of establishments that I shouldn’t have been in locally. We figured out early on how to swap wristbands with already carded friends for beer gardens and festivals. I don’t think there are many people I grew up with who can say they didn’t dabble with potential underage drinking violations.
Here’s another fun fact: I am the step-daughter of a former Chehalis police chief. Looking back, my decisions were incredibly stupid. Had I been caught, I have no doubt that The Chronicle would have probably run a story about me and my dumb decisions. Even freelance columnists and employees of The Chronicle don’t get their names kept out of the paper — and a cop’s kid certainly wouldn’t either.
For me, it wasn’t so much about drinking as it was feeling “left out.” Most of my friends were older than me. I was the last in my circle of friends to turn 21. I can’t even say it was peer pressure. I just flat didn’t want to be left out. That’s tough. I can say first-hand: “I get it.”
I didn’t go back to school for my criminal justice degree until after I turned 21. And, I can honestly say that it wasn’t until that point that I realized how much trouble I could have gotten myself into — legally and financially.
Washington State has what’s called a “Zero Tolerance Law” for persons under the age of 21. Until the minute you turn 21 — it’s zero-tolerance. If I would have been caught with any alcohol (Possession is defined as having alcohol anywhere around you), I could have faced losing my license for 90 days or until a certain age.
It’s worth noting here that being in a bar under the age of 21 is actually legal in some other states — you just can’t be served alcohol. But Washington is not one of those states.
If I would have been caught with alcohol (or cannabis) under 21, I could have been charged with an “MIP” (Minor in Possession). The maximum penalty for that is up to 364 days in jail or up to a $5,000 fine (or both). Although, most are not sentenced to the maximum.
If it could have been proven that I purchased or even attempted to purchase alcohol under the age of 21, I could have been charged with that misdemeanor, as well. That’s up to 90 days in jail, and or a $1000 fine, or a minimum of 25 hours of community service.
Now, fake IDs were not nearly as sophisticated 10 years ago as they are today. 10 years ago, people were still using scanners and other rudimentary technology that just couldn’t reproduce anything that was worth the risk. Today, fake IDs are a huge problem for law enforcement and bartenders.
A quick Google search this week revealed numerous websites where you could purchase “novelty” IDs. The sites had names like “Fake Your Drank,” “Premium Fakes,” “Fake ID Vendor,” and the like. They call them “novelty” licenses, but very clearly intend them to be fakes.
One site that offered a Washington State fake ID said: Yes! Our Washington ID’s “even have the sexy tree on them.” Sites also have videos of their IDs under blacklights to demonstrate the reproduction of official state holograms and other authentication measures.
IDs seem to start at about $100 each. You can order them with completely digital currency, like Bitcoin, or even use money orders to pay for the ID order completely anonymously. These sites even instruct you on how to pose for a photo so that it looks like a legit DMV photo.
Just having a fake ID is actually illegal in Washington state. It’s a minimum fine of $250, a maximum of $1000 fine, up to 364 days in jail, or another minimum of 25 hours of community service. Just for possessing one.
Federal investigators have even tracked orders of fake IDs coming in from China and other foreign countries and charged individuals with federal crimes of importing false documents. That federal charge carries a penalty of up to a year in prison.
Here’s another thing that I feel really guilty about: If a bartender would have gotten caught serving me underage, I could have cost them their job. Serving someone under 21 (again, zero tolerance) is a gross misdemeanor, punishable up to 364 days in jail, or up to a $5000 fine.
I have friends who are bartenders now. They are exceptionally proud of the work they do and the level of service they provide to legal patrons. And I could have ruined that for them because I didn’t want to feel left out.
Looking back, I can honestly say I would have made different decisions. Maybe someone else reading this will make a different decision, too.
Brittany Voie is a columnist for The Chronicle. She lives south of Chehalis with her husband and two young sons. She welcomes correspondence from the community at firstname.lastname@example.org.