Always a contested topic, the United States legal age for consumption hit national headlines this past July as a South Carolina Judge ruled that it was unconstitutional for any American over the age of 18 to be legally forbidden to posses and consume alcohol. Attorney Joe McCulloch states, “Article 17, Section 14 of the state constitution conditionally gives those 18 and over the ‘full legal rights and responsibilities’ of all other adults, with one exception — the General Assembly can restrict the sale of alcohol.”
While many accept rulings and national legislation at face value, it never hurts to question the reasoning behind such accepted laws, as McCulloch has (Note Florida’s protest as well). After all, this particular piece of legislation is a bit peculiar when considered globally. If one peruses the vast online world of foreign brewery websites, they will notice a difference in law and attitude regarding this topic, as many sites only restrict those under the age of 18 from entering, contra a typical US website that insist on 21. If one looks at world wide alcohol laws, the United States is the minority in requiring a citizen to attain to the age of 21 before purchasing and/or consuming a beer. In fact Palau and the United Arab Emirates aside, the United States is the only nation holding to 21.
Besides, as Legal Libations points out: In the United States you can drive, buy a house, go to war, marry and divorce before you may even legally hold a beer. Think about it this way: The federal government will entrust an eighteen year old fresh out of high school with a brand new, fully loaded M16 but not a license to buy a beer.
So why 21?
Oddly enough, the federal government does not mandate and enforce a nationwide drinking age of 21; kind of. Remember, this is The United States of America. States’ rights are built into the constitution as the U.S. first existed as individual territories so to speak, even using different forms of currency. Most states had set the age to 21 by the time of the Vietnam war. However, as hordes of youngsters were drafted in to battle the Vietcong, many states responded sympathetically by lowering the legal age down to 18. Who wants to forage througha sweltering booby trapped jungle and not be allowed a cold one to relax to in the evening? But in the late seventies and early 80′s, the nation began to notice a rise in alcohol related automobile accidents. Several states responded by raising the legal age of consumption back to 21, but not all. In response to the unfortunate new trend Ronald Reagan, in 1984, signed into law The Uniform Drinking Age Act, that pressured states into mandating a legal drinking age of 21.
States still have somewhat sovereignty, however, and can choose to disregard this act, yet not without consequences. Over the years since our existence as a nation, the states have grown more dependent on federal funding for all sorts of programs. Under the Federal Highway Act, states who choose to ignore the Uniform Drinking Act are subject to a penalty of 10% less of an annual federal highway apportionment. Whether good times or bad, this is quite a chunk!
It always seems to come down to money.
With South Carolina’s recent defiance of status quo, the question again is up in the air. Is 21 too old? If a man or woman is willing (or forced) into dying for their country, should they be allowed a brew? Or, should military enlistment age be raised to 21? Is this a denial of a right of adulthood; a.k.a. Age Discrimination?
Who is responsible for the responsibility of a fledgling adult? Themselves? The State? Parents?
The President of Johns Hopkins Recently Said: “Kids are going to drink whether it’s legal or not. We’d at least be able to have a more open dialogue with students about drinking, as opposed to this sham where people don’t want to talk about it because it’s a violation of the law.” I see his point. Binge drinking seems more likely to occur when the very act of drinking an alcoholic beverage must be done in secret.
So we ask you, should the drinking age be lowered to 18 in your state, and why or why not?