Federal Drinking Age Breeds Contempt for Law

Michelle Minton (Competitive Enterprise Institute) has a piece advocating rolling back the drinking age. She observes:

Statistics aside, the drinking age in the U.S. is difficult to enforce and discriminatory toward adults between 18 and 21 years old. The current age limit has created a culture of hidden drinking and disrespect for the law.

I want to emphasize the last point, disrespect for the law. In my long gone youth, drinking was illegal for me in Virginia, so my friends and I would drive to DC where we could drink and dance legally; so much for breaking the link between drinking and driving. At school, I knew of several people making fake ids; one trick was to make driver’s licenses for a distant state that would be unfamiliar locally. Far from limited access to alcohol, moonshine was readily available. Further, as long as it was all illegal, liquor was preferable to beer.

Those early adult years are a particularly bad time to subject citizens to irrational legal restrictions as they make personal choices about the ideas that will guide their lives. Some will learn that it is valid to abuse politics to impose the irrational on others. Others will learn that legal standards are arbitrary and not tied to protecting individual rights. A few will be punished and have their futures compromised in order to make an example for others; teaching the sacrifice of the individual for the good of the many.

As a parent, I looked at these restrictions and the hidden culture of drinking from a different perspective. In our community, a young man died from alcohol poisoning. Despite being in the company of others, no one attempted to get him help when he was having convulsions, because the law would get them into trouble. To avoid the penalty from underage drinking, one young man died and several went to jail for his death. The legally imposed restrictions upon honest communication are harming and killing our kids.

As Minton mentions in her piece, countries with less restrictive drinking laws have fewer problems with youthful drinking. Without the interposition of government threats, parents and their kids can have honest and responsible interactions about drinking without being distracted by the draconian risks imposed by statute.

While President Obama claims to have been elected with the youth vote, what has he done on this issue? Individuals who voted for him are made criminals by an irrational law and his Administration has proposed nothing to correct this injustice.

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