Monday, December 1, 2008

Government Regulation of Alcohol

This past weekend was two of my friend's twenty first birthdays. They both had their first legal drinks, and we had a good time going out to eat and playing bingo. This really got me thinking about the legal drinking age.

I then decided that I did not want to drink on my 21st birthday. Don't I know better than the government when it is best for me to have a drink? Drinking on my 21st would just confirm the belief that government has the best ability to decide when I am 'ready' to drink. But there is also an obvious argument for a minimum drinking age: to prevent teenagers from drinking and driving, in which case fatalities will increase. This was Barack Obama's response to a soldier questioning why he is old enough to serve and die for our country, but would be committing a crime by consuming an alcoholic beverage.

Many, many, many people drink before their 21st birthday. Are they responsible enough to consume alcohol? Debatable. But then again, do you become responsible overnight when you turn 21? Absolutely not. I am sure there are many in their 20s and 30s who are still not responsible 'enough' to consume alcohol (just look at the number of people who drink and drive any given day). There is a fundamental problem when it is possible for a 16 year who cannot legally drink for nearly five years is much more responsible than a 30something who has been able to legally drink for years. There must be some sort of regulation to ensure the safety of a countries citizens. But, what would the minimum drinking age be replaced with? That is a question that may never be answered.

I have heard that a human's brain is not fully developed until they are in their early twenties, and alcohol can affect this development. But then again, cigarettes are damaging to someones body regardless of age and they are legal. Would more teenagers drink if the minimum age was 18? Perhaps, but at the same time there is something about doing an 'illegal' activity that makes it attractive to those taking part in it. Especially if they don't see a problem with it or believe they should be legally allowed to partake in the activity.

Dean Barkley advocated lowering the drinking age to eighteen. Will this ever happen? I doubt it. Politicians are not going to win a ton of votes by advocating this policy, as most people who vote are older than 20 so they really do not care at that point. Whenever it comes to substances, such as tobacco, marijuana, or in this case alcohol, the role of the government and what restrictions should be set becomes blurry.


Budsy Jean said...

I grew up in northwest Minnesota, about 35 miles from the Canadian border. At that time, the legal drinking age in Manatoba was 18. I believe that it still is 18. We used to go to Emerson, Manitoba to drink, and then go back over the border to Karlstad. Fun times! We thought we were so cool!

The legal drinking age in Minnesota for my siblings was 18. For me, the legal drinking age was 19, and changed to 21 when I was in college in the early 1980's. When it changed to 21, we 'under 21'ers' were 'grandfathered' in and could still consume alcohol legally.

I don't remember the exact reason behind the sweeping change, but I do know that Federal government funding was tied to it. (I think it is highway funding.) There is a similar tie with regard to the 55 mph speed limit. (Used to be 60 or 65 mph.) The states still have the ability to regulate the legal drinking age and speed limits in their respective states. However, I'm sure that most states don't want to lose the funding.

I would bet that there are some rebel states that have a lower drinking age. I thought that Wisconsin toyed with the idea of lowering the drinking age. Montana has a higher speed limit than other states, thereby losing their highway funding.

There is no drinking age in some countries, and the incidences of alcoholism is lower than in countries that limit the drinking age.

Go figure! It seems that if you make something taboo, it is more appealing. Human nature, I guess.

DC said...

Budsy Jean -

Interesting insight. I actually google mapped Karlstad a few weeks back just to see exactly where it was and wow that is the true north!

Of course it would have something to do with the federal government. What doesn't these days? It's a shame. I think you would agree that state rights are taken away when the federal government says, "if you don't do this, we won't give you that."

I found this on wikipedia:
"The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 states that revenue will be withheld from states that allow the purchase of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21. Prior to the effective date of that Act, the drinking age varied from state to state. Some states do not allow those under the legal drinking age to be present in liquor stores or in bars (usually, the difference between a bar and a restaurant is whether food is being served). Contrary to popular belief, since the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, few states specifically prohibit minors' and young adults' consumption of alcohol in private settings. As of January 1, 2007, 14 states and the District of Columbia ban underage consumption outright, 19 states do not specifically ban underage consumption, and an additional 27 states have family member and/or location exceptions to their underage consumption laws. It is an argument in this country whether the age should be 18 or 21 since 18 is the age of majority in most states.
Federal law explicitly provides for religious, medical, employment and private club possession exceptions; as of 2005, 31 states have family member and/or location exceptions to their underage possession laws."

and then this source: Alcohol Policy Information System which shows that Wisconsin allows exceptions to the minimum age when you are with family.