Opinion: Face the Facts and Lower the Minimum Drinking Age

On July 17, 1984, Congress passed The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. It punished every state that allowed persons below 21 years of age to purchase and publicly possess alcoholic beverages by reducing its annual federal highway apportionment by ten percent.

By 1994, every state had raised the drinking age to 21 in compliance. Only seven other countries in the world have a drinking age as high. The federal government overstepped its boundaries in doing this and should repeal the act. The national minimum drinking age (NMDA) is an infringement on states’ rights, a disregard for the rights of a group of legal adults and is completely ineffective.

Eighteen is the legal age of adulthood in the United States, and adults should be able to make their own decisions regarding alcohol. An 18-year-old receives the rights and responsibilities of being able to vote, smoke, serve on juries, get married, sign contracts, be prosecuted as an adult, act in pornography and join the military. However, they aren’t considered legally responsible enough to decide if they can drink. This is a flagrant disregard by the government for the rights of citizens.

18-20 year olds are responsible enough to understand the law and be treated as adults if they break it, to judge and condemn a peer while serving on a jury, to decide to serve their country in war, a decision that can lead to death, but they cannot decide when it is appropriate to drink?

If the government is not going to take away the right to drink from all adults, or treat those under 21 fully as minors, with the protections and limitations of responsibilities that minors have, the drinking law needs to be lowered. The government can’t tell 18-year-olds they have the responsibilities of all adults but not the rights.

Jono Keedy / Gavel Media

Jono Keedy / Gavel Media

Additionally, it is a clear overstep of the federal government to try and control the drinking law. It is the states’ rights to establish a drinking law that is compatible with the demographic, legal context, and history of the state. The federal government does, however, control how much funding it gives to the states. Under the NMDA, Congress slashes 10-percent of crucial highway funding to states that do not comply. States that were perfectly happy with a drinking age of 18 were forced to change or lose millions in aid. The federal government ought to back down and let the states work on their solutions on the local level. This will ensure any proper limitations on drinking are more appropriate and effective.

The NMDA is ineffective. The government can rest assured that underage college students are breaking it every weekend. Hinda Miller, a former Vermont state senator, has brought up a bill to the state congress where a committee is studying lowering drinking age.

"Our laws aren't working. They're not preventing underage drinking. What they're doing is putting it outside the public eye,"Miller believes. "So you have a lot of kids binge drinking. They get sick, they get scared and they get into trouble and they can't call because they know it's illegal.”

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, underage drinking accounts for 17.5-percent ($22.5 billion) of consumer spending for alcohol in the United States. In 2006, 72.2-percent of twelfth graders reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lives. The legal drinking age does not prevent underage consumption. Instead, it encourages students to drink in secret and to binge drink.

Lowering the drinking age could make it easier to regulate consumption among younger adults as well as encourage healthy drinking habits. Allowing 18-20 year olds to drink in a regulated, normal environment instead of secretly in basements off campus and in dorms would decrease the instances of binge drinking and prevent freshmen from forming unsafe habits. People drinking in bars and restaurants would be much less likely to binge drink and would drink more slowly. Even when going out to parties, they would not feel the need to pregame and get really drunk quickly when they know they will be able to get alcohol later on. This would reduce the number of people who end up hurting themselves from binge drinking and from fear of getting assistance. Hopefully, this would even phase out the binge drinking culture and make it socially unacceptable to drink this way.

Photo courtesy of Josh Nativio / Flickr

Photo courtesy of Josh Nativio / Flickr

The National Minimum Drinking Age is a violation of the rights of individuals and the states, as well as being completely ineffective and encouraging underage drinking. Remember when Prohibition was equally as ineffective? Let's not repeat history.

Furthermore, as a college these laws are directly affecting our community and hurting students. Many of these dangerous practices are happening here on our campus because students have to hide their drinking. Boston College officials have to find a way to deal with the problem of enforcing the law when so many of its students are breaking it. They have to find a way to help students who need it while also holding a policy of zero tolerance.

This burden shouldn’t be on students and college officials. The government needs to acknowledge the hypocrisy of the law and encourage American youth to form safe drinking habits without simply driving the problem out of sight and prompting more risky behavior as it currently does. The law is simply unsafe and unfair.

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