DEBATE: Nothing wrong with drinking age
Twenty-one is a completely arbitrary age requirement for drinking alcohol, and it is routinely ignored by underage drinkers to the point where it has become a joke. But these are not serious reasons to lower the drinking age.
I will concede that 21 is no more worthy an age to start being able to legally drink than 20 or 18, but to change it now would create more problems than it solves. When a government makes legal something that was previously illegal, whether this be marijuana, or just drinking beer at 19, it constitutes a strong endorsement of the behavior.
Not because the government is now shouting from the rooftops that alcohol is so harmless it should replace mother’s milk, but because the very admission that the original age was arbitrary sends a powerful message. Suppose the age was lowered to 18. Sure, new voters could join the rest of us in drinking away their sorrows when their candidate loses, but imagine how 17-year-olds feel. They’re now on the cusp of being able to drink legally, and the government has basically said that the age requirement doesn’t matter. If it did, they wouldn’t have lowered it by an arbitrary three years.
Seventeen-year-olds are now going to feel as though the government really doesn’t care about the age requirement, and will now feel justified in finding their way around the law as 19- and 20-year-olds have done for decades.Lowering the drinking age won’t stop underage drinking, it just gets teenagers started even earlier.
But stopping underage drinking by legalizing it isn’t a solution anyway, the same with any other banned intoxicant. Call me an idealist, but people routinely breaking the law isn’t a reason to get rid of the law, it’s a reason to increase enforcement.
Besides, in most states it isn’t illegal for minors to consume alcohol. Only in 15 states and Washington, D.C. is underage consumption banned entirely. In most states only the purchase of alcohol is illegal under the age of 21, and in private settings or with a family member of legal drinking age, consumption is perfectly legal.
That law works fine as it is. It promotes moderate, controlled consumption in a safe setting so minors can get used to alcohol before being able to buy as much as they want and going crazy with it, which would be dangerous.
This helps prevent people from turning 21, never having had a drink in their life, and overdoing it. That would be dangerous. Sure, the existing law is inconvenient for college students who already have enjoyed the occasional glass of wine with their parents and would like to now enjoy as much as they like while away at school. But the convenience of college students has never been the primary goal of this or any other law.
The law as it exists now already promotes responsible drinking before the age of 21, it doesn’t need to be changed just so irresponsible drinking can begin a few years earlier.