#babysister | #nanny | Keeping the drinking age at 21 is nanny-state insanity

With the prevalence of fake IDs and frat parties on college campuses, the drinking age of 21 is seldom seen as anything more than a nuisance. But that doesn’t mean we should just accept it.
I’m 20 years old, and I could be arrested for drinking a beer. That’s absurd.
It’s also why drinking is fun, because I’m not supposed to do it. Just look at alcohol use patterns among college students before and after graduation. The hard partying usually collapses into a more tame pattern of social drinking.
We should have learned this lesson in the 1920s. When drinking is criminalized, college students have an incentive to drink as much as possible, as quickly as possible, in isolated and unsafe conditions to avoid getting arrested. And even then, luck is the only thing standing between them and a lifelong criminal record.
The commonly cited justification for the current drinking age, a reduction in drunken driving fatalities, doesn’t even hold true. Drunken driving has been on the decline since 1982, two years before the federal law enforcing the age requirement was passed. And one report from the Cato Institute concluded that the current drinking age is a “policy of little use in promoting highway safety.”
Another popular justification for a 21-year drinking age is some variation of “it’s bad for you.” Of course it is! You know what else is bad for you? A criminal record from drinking a beer in college. Oh, and soda, not going to your 8 a.m. lecture, and almost anything else fun in life. The fact that something is bad for you doesn’t justify the government preventing you from doing it.
The law itself doesn’t actually set the drinking age at 21, as that would be unconstitutional. What it does do is authorize Congress to withhold highway funding from any state that doesn’t. As it turns out, that’s quite a bit of cash, enough to effectively tie the hands of states that would like to lower the drinking age to 18.
It’s a stretch to tie the drinking age to infrastructure funding. In a dissenting opinion for South Dakota v. Dole, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor cites the ridiculousness of tying highway funding to drinking age laws, saying, “establishment of a minimum drinking age of 21 is not sufficiently related to interstate highway construction to justify so conditioning funds appropriated for that purpose.”
But unfortunately, the drinking age is unlikely to change anytime soon, because it’s not far off from the voting age. This means the only voters who are directly affected by it are 18- to 20-year-olds. And that’s hardly enough of a constituency to elect candidates who support reform.
That’s what happens when you pass a law that only affects a small percentage of the voting population — others are just going to say “not my problem.” This won’t change until people realize that a legal age of 21 causes problems for everyone by encouraging dangerous drinking patterns in college which can persist even after graduation.
So until young people mobilize, we’ll be stuck with the status quo: dangerous, isolated college parties, forced underground by our broken laws.
Devin Lynch is a computer science major at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and the North Carolina state chairman of Young Americans for Liberty.




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