A License to Drink- the Debate Nobody is Talking About

Alcohol. It is one of the world’s favorite and most profitable things to drink. The manufacturing, distributing, and selling of alcohol is a multi-billion dollar industry. People all around the world drink everything from Keystone Light to 200 proof Everclear. The drinking of alcohol is a popular and common cultural practice in almost every country. However there are laws specifying at what age you can consume and purchase alcohol. It varies by every country but for the most part the average age for legal purchase and consumption is 18. Some countries, like Argentina and Jamaica have no restriction on alcohol consumption. Other countries, such as the United States, have a drinking age that is 21. Almost every other western country has a drinking age that is at the highest 18. Most third-world countries do not even have a drinking age.

Alcohol and alcohol legislation has a long history in the United States. The first prohibition in the United States was in 1657, back when the thirteen colonies were still part of the United Kingdom, when the General Court of Massachusetts made the sale of any type of alcohol illegal. Gradually after the United States won its independence from the British empire, many groups, mostly religious, started a campaign to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol. This started to happen in about the 1840s. Eventually, state by state started to ban alcohol use, until the complete ban of alcohol was passed in the 18th Amendment on January 17, 1920. Despite this law, much of the public rebelled against the law. This also lead to the rise of organized crime, specifically the Mafia, whose criminal operations even after the abolishment of prohibition, are still around today. Prohibition was eventually repealed on March 23, 1933. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 mandated that federal funding be withheld from states that did not make their legal drinking age 21. By 1988, all 50 states as well as Washington D.C. raised their drinking age to 21.

The first reason for the drinking age to be changed to 18, is that a person in the United States has many other rights at this age. One right is that they can buy tobacco. Tobacco is a very dangerous substance that kills over 435,000 people per year compared to the 85,000 deaths caused by alcohol. Also an 18 year old can vote in the United States. It seems strange that the government thinks that a person is mature enough to vote in this country but not mature enough to have a drink. All of us have known or heard of people as young as 15 years old who are more mature than some 50 year olds. A third right is that a person can enlist into the United States military at age 18. A common phrase heard in my family at gatherings and holidays, is that “If you’re old enough to take a bullet for this country, you’re old enough to have a drink in this country.” Yet another right is that a person can buy a gun when they are 18. An 18 year old can also be called into jury duty, which can be a huge responsibility. Furthermore, teenagers can be tried as an adult sometimes when they are as young 16. If the government recognizes that a person that is 18 years of age as an adult, then they should make sure the rights that adults are allowed and not allowed are consistent.

There are many reasons why a person under the age of 21 should not drink alcohol. One may be that the drunk driving rate would go up. This probably would happen, but education on the dangers of drinking and driving would have to be increased in school to accompany the drinking age change. Also, another reason may be that the brain is not fully formed until a person is in their early 20s. This may also be true, but if considering that a large number of college students drink anyways, I do not think that many are concerned with how their brains are developing.

In a amazing survey over 100 college professors would like to see the drinking age lowered to 18. They call their movement the Amethyst Initiative, after the Greek gem used to ward off drunkenness. They believe that the 21- year-old drinking age is impossible to enforce because somehow, someway college-aged students find a way to get alcohol. It is the new-age prohibition. The former president at Middlebury College in Vermont, John McCardell, states that the current drinking age has been an abysmal failure. He says that the consumption of minors should not be targeted, but rather the abuse should be targeted. He also states that because of the ban, drinking goes underground and behind closed doors with no supervision. Whereas in a bar or nightclub, bartenders and bouncers would be able to control their patrons intake. This approach is endorsed by Mark Beckner, the chief of police in Boulder, Colorado. Boulder is home to the University of Colorado at Boulder, Playboy Magazine’s No.1 party school for 2011. This has been met with much opposition though, with MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers) leading the way. They have support from many other transportation and anti-alcohol groups.

But McCardell has yet another proposal. He thinks that teenagers should get a drinking license, similar to a driver’s license, when they reach the age of 18. Prior to the issuance of such a document, students would be required sit in on AA meetings, learn about the chemistry of alcohol, and be shown the harm of alcohol abuse. He argues that this would be practical because it would teach kids about moderation before they decide whether to engage in heavy drinking. He used a great analogy that no one just gives a kid a car and lets them figure it out.

The drinking age in the United States, while having good intentions, is flat out unjust and unfair. An 18 year old in almost every other country in the world is deemed responsible enough to have a drink, but for some reason in our country they are not. The lowering of the alcohol age would reduce alcohol abuse on college campuses. It would also teach teenagers about responsible drinking habits before they arrive in college. At the age of 18, a person is legally considered an adult by the United States government, so why are they still in some ways treated like a child? That is something every politician and citizen must ask themselves.

Works Cited

Edwards, Griffith. Alcohol: The World’s Favorite Drug. 1st ed. London, United Kingdom: Penguin Books, 2002.Print.

“Drinking Age Debate.” 60 Minutes. CBS: 22 Feb 2009. Radio. 26 Apr 2011.

“Annual Causes of Death in the United States .” Get the facts n. pag. DrugWarFacts.org. Web. 26 Apr 2011.

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