Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Responsible drinking

A group of college and university chancellors and presidents have formed an organization to reduce the drinking age from 21 to 18. The Amethyst Initiative outlines the realities of the current age requirement that was forced on the states by a congressional mandate that withholds 10% of federal highway funds for non-compliance. The group believes the 21 age requirement actually promotes alcohol abuse. Here is their statement:

A culture of dangerous, clandestine “binge-drinking”—often conducted off-campus—has developed. Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students. Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer. By choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law. How many times must we relearn the lessons of prohibition? We call upon our elected officials: To support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21 year-old drinking age. To consider whether the 10% highway fund “incentive” encourages or inhibits that debate. To invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol. We pledge ourselves and our institutions to playing a vigorous, constructive role as these critical discussions unfold.

I agree that an 18 year old should be able to have a drink. Not because they can vote and fight for our country, but because it is right. If anyone thinks their kids abstain when off at college, let me assure him/her they don't. Making it illegal just gives them a rationale to disrespect other laws, not just the drinking age law. This country tried an experiment with Prohibition in the 1920’s and early 30’s. Not only did it encourage lawlessness in so many forms, it fostered one of the wildest and most alcohol abusive generations ever. Both my wife and I had a parent who became an alcoholic during the "Roaring Twenties." Theirs was a culture of bathtub gin, speakeasys (illegal taverns) and bootleggers.

Yet we decided to serve a glass of wine to our children at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner starting at 14 or 15. We did it to show our acceptance for it in a social setting and that it wasn’t a “forbidden fruit.” All are now responsible drinkers. Did they ever over indulge when they were younger? Of course. But they knew there was a history of alcohol abuse in their families and it tempered their behavior, as it had tempered ours.

Those promoting strict anti drinking laws are the same “drys” that brought us Prohibition, the greatest social experiment disaster this country has seen. They just have different faces now. It was done with the best of intentions but gave us the worst of results.

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