To the People

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or TO THE PEOPLE.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The 21 Drinking Age, Revisited

In 1984 Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which denied federal highway funding to states that did not raise their drinking ages to 21 within three years. This was the heyday of MADD and marked the federal government's first foray into alcohol legislation since Prohibition. I was born one year too late to be grandfathered-in so the memory of that Act is seared into my soul and it was a dark day in Reagan's presidency when he gladly signed it, surrounded by MADD staffers.

Twenty-three years later, it is time to reflect on the legislation that drove young adult drinking away from bars and college wine and cheeses and into the shadows. From the college perspective, former Middlebury President John McCardell supported lowering the age back to 18 in a letter last month to the NY Times:
So much of the drinking-age debate focuses on alcohol-related traffic fatalities, which have not changed much in the last decade.

Meanwhile, peer-reviewed studies have shown that more than 1,000 lives of 18-to-24-year-olds are lost each year to alcohol in places other than on the roadways -- behind closed doors, in dark corners, in remote and risky locations, where a law fundamentally at odds with social reality exacts its deadly toll. And these numbers are increasing annually at an alarming rate.

...Alcohol is a reality in the lives of young adults age 18 to 20. Most of the rest of the world acknowledges that reality with its laws. For some reason, the United States seems stuck in the virtuous mire of prohibition.
That sounds like the Drug War to me.

Any college student today can tell you about drinking in the shadows. I remember a day when it was done in bars and in college pubs (though for me in MA it was only the juniors and seniors who could drink) and it was a lot more "healthy."

Today William Saletan, a reliably libertarian Slate columnist, took up the issue.

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