I’m not sure how the discussion on the legal drinking age got started again, but it’s out there. There’s this opinion piece from the Bloomington Pantagraph which prompted this post at Capitol Fax Blog and today Richard Roeper tackles the issue in his Chicago Sun-Times column.
First, whether lowing the drinking age to a more reasonable (in my opinion) 18 or whatever is a good idea or not doesn’t matter much because there’s no way it’s going to be lowered. That smacks of being “soft on crime”. Rarely any more are laws relaxed. No we must always be tough, tough, tough or the terrorists win or something. Additionally, those directly affected, 18 to 20 year olds, have no political power. So this is merely an academic discussion.
I often tell my own story of getting caught up in the politics of the drinking age. When I turned 19, the drinking age in Illinois was 19. Hooray! A few weeks after my 19th birthday, legislation was passed raising the drinking age in the state to 21 effective the following January. So, a few months after becoming legally able to drink, I became underage again. D’oh! Talk about pissed. That was beyond insane to me then and still makes no sense to me now. But that was the past; now I’m an adult and drinking ages have no direct affect on me anymore and never will again.
Still, perhaps because of my bad experience, I still wonder from time to time about the 21 age limit. And when I do think about it, I just don’t see the justification for it being anything over 18. 18 is the age at which one becomes an adult in almost every other way, legally speaking. Buying and consuming alcohol should be part of the adult package.
I remember well, back in 1980 when Illinois went from 19 to 21, the main rationale was that raising the age would curtail older kids buying booze for younger kids. (It wasn’t until 1984 that the federal government began threatening to withhold highway funds for the remaining states that had not yet raised the age to 21.) That rationale seems to still hold some sway today. I’m not sure the law had the intended effect (I really doubt it) but even if it did to some extent, I don’t believe the ends justified the means. Additionally, making alcohol illegal and allegedly harder to get only makes the stuff MORE enticing to underage kids.
So for what it’s worth, as long as we are talking about it, but me down for lowering the drinking age to 18. And I’ll add the idea to the long list of good ideas that will nefver happen.
Update: I find it particularly odd that you can buy and own guns at 18 but not a can of beer.
Update 2: Getting the drinking age lowered would actually be a two step process, neither of which is likely to happen. First, the federal government would have to drop the highway funds restrictions and then the state would have to lower the age limit.