Should Minnesota lower the drinking age to 18?

posted at 1:00 pm on February 21, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The argument over the legal drinking age will once again arise in Minnesota, and along with it, issues of states’ rights, citizenship, and public safety.  Four members of the state legislature will introduce a bill to lower the age to 18, the age when people have to face consequences of illegal actions in regular court and not in the juvenile system.  However, the rationale applied in this case is a little odd:

State lawmakers in Minnesota are bringing forward a plan to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18, and even allowing those sixteen and seventeen to drink in bars in accompanied by their parents.

There are at least four state representatives who are backing the plan.

Tom Hackbarth, a Republican from District 48A said, “I think that bars and restaurants are having a difficult time right now with the smoking ban that went into place. I think with economic times the way they are, I’ve never opposed the drinking age being 18.”

I’ve heard a lot of arguments against the prohibition on under-21 adults, but never an economic one.  Is this Minnesota’s own stimulus plan?  In fact, the economics of the argument are usually considered a wash, since one of the points made against the ban is that teens buy alcohol on their own anyway.

This has always been a tough question for me.  On the one hand, it’s hard to argue that someone should get tried as an adult for illegally purchasing or consuming alcohol for being a minor.  If full citizenship and responsibility come at 18, then the government should not impose limitations on those between that age and 21 for behavior that would be perfectly legal for all other citizens. I’m also opposed to the federal government dictating state policy on this issue, as it has ever since Ronald Reagan rejected the states-rights argument and signed the Uniform Drinking Age Act in 1984.

The safety issues also seem compelling.  Advocates for the higher age claim with some justification that the uniform imposition of the age limit reduced alcohol-related deaths.  However, at the same time, state and local governments began cracking down much harder on drunk-driving offenders, giving them longer sentences and putting some teeth in deterrence.  Did both have an effect, or did the latter make the former seem more effective?

When we traveled to Ireland, the Mathemagician (then 17) delighted in the freedom of the pubs, where anyone can get served as long as parents are present.  He pointed out on many occasions during those two weeks the wisdom of the Irish in having a sensible policy on alcohol access, very similar to what Minnesota proposes now.  The Irish are less convinced of their own wisdom these days:

Over 80% of adults believe that it is easy for people under the age of 18 to access alcohol in pubs and off-licenses, new research from the HSE indicates.

The preliminary results of the research indicate that the vast majority of adults – 91% – agree that underage drinking is a problem in Ireland today, while 50% feel there is nothing they can do to stop young people from consuming alcohol. …

The campaign hopes to increase awareness among adults about the extent of underage drinking, the ease of access which young people have to alcohol and the benefits in delaying the age at which they start drinking.

“We now have a problem which impacts negatively on so many areas of society, from increases in sexually transmitted infections, public order offences and young adult suicide”, commented Dr Joe Barry of the HSE’s population health directorate.

It’s a tough call.  I’m tempted to stick with what we have rather than experiment with a rollback to 18, especially given the winter road conditions and the fact that I drive these roads at night on occasion.  I’m certainly not convinced by an argument that it will stimulate the economy, which is a very strange basis for making this decision.

Update: Great debate in the comments, which mostly supports a lower drinking age.  I do sympathize quite a bit with “old enough to fight for your country, old enough to drink”.  A question for our military readers: can 18-year-olds legally drink on base?


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Comments

There should be no drinking age. But 18 is an approvement. I’d sign on to that.

Libertarian Joseph on February 22, 2009 at 9:14 AM

improvement* lol

Libertarian Joseph on February 22, 2009 at 9:15 AM

The difference between 21 year old drinking age and an 18 year old drinking age is that a 21 year old purchases beers for 18 year old friends, and an 18 year old purchases beers for 16 year old friends.

BKennedy on February 22, 2009 at 9:20 AM

The difference between 21 year old drinking age and an 18 year old drinking age is that a 21 year old purchases beers for 18 year old friends, and an 18 year old purchases beers for 16 year old friends.

BKennedy on February 22, 2009 at 9:20 AM

Oh well.

Libertarian Joseph on February 22, 2009 at 9:25 AM

In answer to Ed’s question, no, 18 year olds can’t drink on base, not legally anyways. The military changed its policy a few years back to say that 21 is the age all over the world. So even in countries like Germany and Korea, which have lower or no drinking ages, members of the military must still be 21.

There was a lot of press last month about the troops in Iraq getting two real beers for the Superbowl, but even then the age rule was enforced.

Unofficially, though, most first line leaders will let their troops enjoy a barley pop as long as they keep it low key and don’t get stupid.

thuljunior on February 22, 2009 at 9:25 AM

Here’s my 2 cents. I remember when I was growing up in Kansas back in the late 70s and 80s when we had 3.2 beer at 18. We also had no alcohol sales on Sundays and if you happened to live close enough to Mo. or Ok. you would make a jaunt there to get around the law. Fast forward to 1988, NTC San Diego, I am in “A” school, the drinking age on base is 18, we even have soda machines on base that dispense BEER. Why? To keep as many of the young Navy personnel from going over the border to TJ and getting drunk there like all the rest of SoCal teens did. BTW, this lasted in SD and other bases close to or in countries with lower drinking ages until about 94 when the feds told the military that they had to raise the legal drinking age to 21. Now you had the problem of when you went overseas and the drinking age was lower than 21, lots of time the CO would basically say (not loudly) “As long as you don’t get in trouble, go have fun.” Which has recently with the deglamorization of alcohol changed to, if your under 21 you better not get caught drinking or else.

ic1redeye on February 22, 2009 at 1:03 PM

If you are going to lower the drinking age to 18 then raise the driving age to 21. Otherwise you are going to have Sophomores just learning to drive getting alcohol from their Senior friends. THAT makes me extremely nervous.

Not to mention that at 18 most people are STILL going through developmental stages mentally and physically. Is it REALLY a good idea to introduce alcohol to them at such a sensitive point? With how moody and willing to take risks most teens are at such ages . . . it could be a very dangerous situation to put them in.
Also, for all of those who saying being raised with alcohol fixes the problem here is a story. I knew a guy in college who started drinking at 13, when he got to the LEGAL age of drinking he ended up with alcohol poisoning and had one of his friends (a nursing student) stick an IV in him so he wouldn’t have to go to the ER. Did he learn from that experience? No, he didn’t, he kept on drinking just like that until this day. Before you say that is just one instance, I saw PLENTY of these instances when I was in college. It was sickening.
Binge drinking occurs on the street just as much as it does in households.
Oh and if anyone is curious, I didn’t drink alcohol until a week before my 22nd birthday. I didn’t go crazy with it either.

Ingenue on February 22, 2009 at 1:03 PM

As to the military question – they stopped allowing military members under 21 to buy alcohol some time ago – When I first joined at 17 (in 1988) it was a ‘nudge-nudge wink-wink’ sort of enforcement, but it was still not legal to drink underage on post.

With the sheer numbers of military members dying due to alcohol-related incidents, the military has taken a hard-line stance against drinking, going as far as to all but outlaw drinking at official functions even.

RustMouse on February 22, 2009 at 1:20 PM

Ontario’s compromise is 19. (Government monopoly stores sell liquor,wine and foreign beer; a brewers’ monopoly sells domestic beer; and some wineries sell their own products on-site and in a very few boutique-style sites.)

andycanuck on February 22, 2009 at 3:13 PM

The difference between 21 year old drinking age and an 18 year old drinking age is that a 21 year old purchases beers for 18 year old friends, and an 18 year old purchases beers for 16 year old friends.

BKennedy on February 22, 2009 at 9:20 AM

So we’d go from people three years younger than the minimum age drinking to people two years younger than the minimum age drinking.

I think that’s called progress.

MadisonConservative on February 22, 2009 at 5:12 PM

RustMouse on February 22, 2009 at 1:20 PM

Maybe in pogue units, but in infantry units the “nudge-nudge-wink-wink” policy is in full bloom.

csdeven on February 22, 2009 at 6:26 PM

let me see they elected jesse the body ventra and maybe al franken so no i think they have had enough

wade underhile on February 22, 2009 at 7:48 PM

Rather than punish those who are legally adults because they might buy drinks for their underage friends, let’s punish the actual criminal activity.

1) Legalize drinking for those 18 and over.
2) Severely increase the penalties for ANY drunk driving
3) Severely increase the penalties for underage drinking (pre-18) and the penalties for buying alcohol for those under 18, making it a felony with mandatory jailtime.

That way, you are punishing the real undesirable behavior rather than preventing those who are otherwise adults from having a beer.

SalAOR on February 22, 2009 at 7:57 PM

re the military drinking age on base:

They used to be able to when I was active duty, but that changed in 80s too. Now, the base follows the legal age of the state (21) except in two cases:

Read here for much more info. I personally support an 18 drinking age.

http://usmilitary.about.com/od/justicelawlegislation/a/drinkingage.htm

Karl on February 22, 2009 at 8:14 PM

In Quebec, Canada where I got my undergrad the legal drinking age is 18. Personally I think this actually helped curb binge drinking problems. I remember how looked down on the Amrican students were for their immature attitides about drinking. As most of the local students could legally drink their last year of CGEP(sorta like Senior High) they did it at friends houses etc where adults where never to far away. In the US though it happens when kids are in College. They are at huge college parties with people they don’t know risking being taken advantage of, they can’t call mom and dad for a ride if they have one to many and mom and dad won’t chastize them in the morning when they have a hang over. Lowering the drinking age lets people experiment with alchol and still have parental support. This support fosters a more mature attitude about drinking.

DustyGreen on February 22, 2009 at 10:15 PM

Rather than punish those who are legally adults because they might buy drinks for their underage friends, let’s punish the actual criminal activity.

1) Legalize drinking for those 18 and over.
2) Severely increase the penalties for ANY drunk driving
3) Severely increase the penalties for underage drinking (pre-18) and the penalties for buying alcohol for those under 18, making it a felony with mandatory jailtime.

That way, you are punishing the real undesirable behavior rather than preventing those who are otherwise adults from having a beer.

SalAOR on February 22, 2009 at 7:57 PM

What a silly notion. That would require that the majority of laws be passed in order to actually curb harmful behavior, rather than to simply exert more behavior control.

MadisonConservative on February 23, 2009 at 12:54 AM

Yes.

gbear on February 23, 2009 at 5:59 AM

nothing else to do in the frozen tundra in the winter, let them all drink to soften the winter.

workingforpigs on February 23, 2009 at 8:55 AM

By almeans lower the drinking age to 18. They can join the army but not buy a beer. What idiot thought that up.

darktood on February 23, 2009 at 9:18 AM

I’m tempted to stick with what we have rather than experiment with a rollback to 18

I would choose to call raising the drinking age to 21 and experiment, one which has failed. But that’s just me.

Physics Geek on February 23, 2009 at 3:49 PM