Guest Post: Bad Policy, Bad Outcomes

Eric Wilson, a political strategist in Washington, D.C., interviewed former [CR] president John McCardell last week. Today he offers CR’s readers his thoughts on the legal policy surrounding the drinking age.
Drinking Age 21: Bad Policy, Bad Outcomes

The primary argument in support of adjusting the drinking age are well-known, and Dr. McCardell, founder of Choose Responsibility, sums it up in his recent New York Times op-ed:
Although our laws acknowledge that at age 18 young adults possess sufficient maturity and judgment to operate a motor vehicle, serve in the military, perform jury duty or sign a contract, those same laws deny 18-year-olds the right to purchase, possess or consume alcohol.

Dr. McCardell also points out that the law is routinely evaded by those under 21. From my own experience, as a proctor during my undergraduate years, charged with enforcing drinking rules, I can say that administrators, like Dr. McCardell, are placed in the unenviable — and unsustainable — position of enforcing two different sets of rules.
In fact, administrators are stretched in two, opposite directions: on one hand you have a legal responsibility to enforce a law that says no one under the age of 21 may consume alcohol at any time. You also have the responsibility of ensuring that your students, who, despite the law, decide to drink — just like the vast majority of their peers under the age of 21 — are doing so safely.So why would anyone oppose the return to a drinking age aligned with the age of majority in this country?Critics of a more reasonable drinking age point to the success of Age 21 in lowering alcohol-related traffic fatalities, but a closer look at the statistics show that fatalities are down across the board. By making the practice of drunk driving, and not the drinking itself, taboo, safe driving advocates have succeeded in preventing countless deaths and injuries.

Drinking Age 21, however, does nothing to prepare young adults for that day when they do turn 21 and are able to drink alcohol legally. Dr. McCardell proposes a license that would allow young adults under 21 to drink legally, if they complete a course of education, much like we do with driving.

I had the opportunity to discuss this licensing proposal in a recent video chat with Dr. McCardell, which you can watch by clicking here.

The conversation in the public square is an important one to have, but we have to follow it up with action. The drinking age is set by the individual states, but federal law imposes severe penalties with respect to transportation funding, if they don’t meet the national of Age 21.

The states, long-envisioned as the laboratories of our Democracy, should be free to explore alternatives, like a licensing system, without fear of being punished by the federal government. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), make it impossible for lawmakers to have a reasonable discussion about Drinking Age 21 as a failed public policy that needs to be changed, but Americans — especially my generation — are learning to recognize and support bold leadership that isn’t afraid to make much needed reforms.

Lawmakers should be most concerned about the impact of the failed drinking age policy on young adults’ views of our legal system. As Dr. McCardell notes, young adults “know that a law perceived as unjust, a law routinely violated, can over time breed disrespect for law in general.”


2 Responses to “Guest Post: Bad Policy, Bad Outcomes”

  1. Edwin Bonilla Says:

    I give credit to Eric Wilson for strengthening Choose Responsibilty’s platform by interviewing Dr. McCardell. MADD is an oppressive organization that is disdainful of debate about the drinking age so that is wrong. I believe that Choose Responsibility’s platform should use the age of 20 as an age to work with the alcohol license. People who are 18 and over are adults; they are young women and young men. Eric Wilson is right by pointing out that college administrators are “stretched in two, opposite directions.” There is no preparation at all for people who are 21 to drink alcohol so the attitudes sometimes continue. Lowering the drinking age will require strong leadership and we all should welcome such leadership.

  2. Ajax the Great Says:

    The article is very good overall. The 21 drinking age clearly does more harm than good, and certainly stretches college administrators in two opposite directions. And MADD is clearly part of the problem, not part of the solution. In fact, I will go so far as to consider them to be an anti-youth hate group that really has no place in a free society but on the trash heap of history.

    However, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. While I clearly support CR’s goal of lowering the drinking age to 18, the drinking license aspect of the proposal has got to go. There are several reasons why I respectfully disagree with it:

    1) It has become a lightning rod for criticism from both sides, especially the pro-21 groups like MADD and GHSA.

    2) It makes us look quixotic.

    3) It makes us look ambivalent about lowering the drinking age and about whether 18-20 year olds can be trusted with alcohol.

    4) It adds unnecessary complexity to the issue.

    5) It would be a bureaucratic nightmare to actually enforce.

    6) Other countries with a drinking age of 18 don’t have a drinking license rule.

    7) But most importantly, since it applies only to 18-20 year olds and not those over 21, it is just as ageist as the current 21 drinking age.

    In contrast, my proposal for Twenty-One Debunked would allow 18-20 year olds the same drinking rights as people over 21 currently enjoy, with the following safeguards:

    1) The age limit for the zero tolerance law for DUI will remain as it is now, at 21. That should alleviate any fears of increased DUI among 18-20 year olds.

    2) The purchase age for kegs, cases, and other large bulk quantities of alcohol will remain at 21 (or 20). That should alleviate any fear of increased high school keggers.

    3) DUI laws would be tightened for all ages and enforcement would be significantly increased.

    4) Any person of ANY age who is convicted of DUI, drunk violence, drunk vandalism, furnishing to minors under 18, or repeated drunk and disorderly conduct would be blacklisted and banned from purchasing alcohol (or even entering a bar) for a year or until they turn 21, whatever is longer. And their ID would have to read “Do not serve alcohol under penalty of law” in big red letters. In addition, problem drinkers can also have themselves voluntarily added to the blacklist for a period of time, much like problem gamblers are currently allowed to do.

    5) Alcohol education would be increased for all students at all levels.

    6) In addition, the alcohol taxes should be raised and equalized to the inflation-adjusted 1991 spirits level ($21 per proof-gallon) for all alcoholic beverages, proportional to alcohol content.

    Do all or even some of these things and there will really be no need to have a drinking license.

    Let America be America again, and lower the drinking age to 18. If you’re old enough to go to war, you’re old enough to go to the bar. ‘Nuff said.