Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Vermont Mulls Drinking Age Reform

Loyal readers of this blog will recall that, back on March 8, I posted an article with arguments for returning to the 18-year drinking age.

I refuse to take credit, but now there is a robust debate in the state of Vermont on this issue. A Republican state legislator has introduced a bill that would reduce the drinking age in Vermont from 21 to 18.

According to this morning's New York Times:

[Richard C.] Marron, a four-term legislator who is vice chairman of the appropriations committee, decided that the law needed changing, and he has introduced a bill to lower the drinking age to 18, setting off a debate about public safety, age discrimination and the rights of young people as well as whether it is possible to teach teenagers to drink responsibly.

"Now we have a legal age of 18 to do everything else, but you can't drink until you're 21," Mr. Marron said. "I'm not pushing it to the level of it being unconstitutional, but I do think it's a form of age discrimination. If we did something else, like said you couldn't use a public campsite until you're 21, we would have an equal-protection-of-laws issue."
Although the bill is considered unlikely to pass, because Vermont would lose millions of dollars in federal highway funding, the Times notes that
17 lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors, and other legislators said they might be willing to consider such a bill if not for the loss of federal money. Even Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, might see some logic in the proposal if the federal highway money was not involved, said his spokesman, Jason Gibbs.

"Philosophically, it's difficult to reconcile the notion that you can enlist in the military, serve your country, go to war, but not go into your local pub and get a draft beer," Mr. Gibbs said.
There used to be an expression about presidential politics: "As Maine goes, so goes the nation." That was changed in 1936, when Maine was one of only two states to vote for Alf Landon instead of Franklin D. Roosevelt: "As Maine goes, so goes Vermont."

Now it seems that the roles may be reversed: "As Vermont goes, so goes Maine." At least, that is what is implied by the headline of an opinion piece in Monday's Kennebec Journal, "Maine should lower drinking age to 18." Unfortunately, it turns out to be a response by Alex Koroknay-Palicz of the National Youth Rights Associationto a pro-prohibitionist editorial published in the newspaper on April 2. Koroknay-Palicz writes:
As the newspaper wrote, it is "impossible to count the number of lives that have been saved as a result" of the 21 drinking age -- impossible because it has not saved anyone's life. In the three years after Vermont raised the drinking age, alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the state increased an average of 20 percent. Nationally, studies prove that raising the drinking age to 21 had no effect on reducing drunken driving. All it did was transfer the lives lost from 18-to-20-year-olds to 21-to-24-year-olds.

This proposal is not a reckless or dangerous idea done with no regard for the health and safety of the nation. It is reckless to pretend our law is working and ignore the facts that show otherwise.

The truth is that a drinking age of 21 is bad for health and safety and bad for the civil rights of our young adults. It is bad for Vermont and for Maine.
The debate is reaching beyond New England. In Indiana, a columnist for the Ball State Daily News recalls a conversation with a parent:
My mother shares stories with me about her college days. She tells me about the parties that she would go to and the sit-ins and the activism and protests. We then get into a discussion about drinking now.

"You should be able to drink alcohol legally," she tells me, and of course, I agree.

Why shouldn't people under 21 drink? Why is the drinking age so high? Why am I, and others like me, unable to enjoy all of the rights of a citizen in the United States? Isn't this supposed to be the "land of the free"?
The writer, Jessica Kerman, concludes:
The drinking age needs to be lowered. Eighteen-year-olds should be considered complete citizens of the United States and not a lower class of individuals who must pay taxes and still not receive full rights from the government.
In Virginia, a number of readers of the Radford Tartan at Radford University weighed in on the topic, sparked by an opinion article by freshman Catherine Maurakis, who wrote:
Not being able to drink until I am 21 is an insult to my integrity. The youth of America is not all hooligans and crazies. We are working to be the future of this country. Many of us can handle theorems and processes and do calculations, in not just math class, but any other science related courses. And if those of us don’t know something, we will spend hours in the library learning it, so we don’t fail. Plus after all of that, we all have to go back to our dorm rooms and apartments and clean, do laundry, cook and put up with our annoying roommate. Yet we cannot be trusted to have a drink. We spend our days living as adults, and if we don’t we are chided for it. But when it comes nighttime, we are still treated as children.

I for one am getting tired of the black “NO’s” on my hands when I go to a bar and reveal my age. I think it is time for the government to shape up a little bit. Maybe they should start looking at the young adults of this country as young adults and instead of lecturing us about how we will hurt ourselves, they could show a little trust and really make us feel like adults.
Of course, this whole debate could be moot, since underage drinking will occur regardless of laws against it. You could lower the drinking age to 16 (as it is set in Germany and other countries) and 15-year-olds would drink or you could raise it to 25 (as is being discussed in Massachusetts) and 24-year-olds would drink. As noted in C-Ville, a weekly tabloid published in Charlottesville, in its April 12-18 issue, "Underage drinking is a prominent issue in Virginia, where 76 percent of high school seniors and 66 percent of 10th graders said in a 2001 survey that they drank."


Anonymous said...

Actually, we should do like Virginia had when I was in college: a lower age for some alcoholic beverages than others. When I was in college, there was a lower age for beer than for wine and liquor.

However, I think the choice of which beverage to allow younger drinkers to consume was wrong. The correct starter beverage is dry red wine, not beer. Chug dry red wine and you get sick from the acid content.

Young people should learn to drink in a civilized fashion. Then, they can be turned loose.

Carl Milsted
Libertarian Reform Caucus

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