Monday, September 10, 2007

It Is Time For Maine to Consider Lowering the Drinking Age to 18

From The Daily Bulldog
By Woody Hanstein

During the 1980s, the federal government strong-armed all 50 states into passing laws to raise the drinking age to 21. Rather than face the loss of much-needed federal highway funds, Maine went along with the notion that prohibiting young people between the ages of 18 and 20 from consuming alcohol would keep the roads safer and those young adults healthier.

Throughout the country now, intelligent voices are re-examining the logic of this policy, and making a strong argument that it has done little to improve public safety and has, in fact, placed many more underage drinkers at risk. If you examine national data (like the federal government’s most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health which found that 85 percent of 20-year-olds had consumed alcohol and 40 percent of them binge-drank) it is clear that our current laws are about as effective in prohibiting underage drinking as Prohibition was 80 years ago in keeping all Americans from enjoying the fruit of the vine.

Examining the local Franklin County scene yields the same result. If you think the alcohol laws in Maine are effectively keeping our 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds from drinking, you should have a candid talk with some high school seniors or college freshmen you know to find out what is really going on in our world.

The initial argument most people make for lowering the drinking age to 18 is one of basic fairness – if you’re old enough to join the military and vote and marry, why shouldn’t you also be able to legally enjoy a cold beer on a nice summer day? As appealing as that argument is, there is actually an even better one.

The better argument for lowering the drinking age is that it will let the young adults who are already consuming alcohol do it in a much safer and controlled way. If you want proof, you need look no further than the misguided effort taken by the University of Maine at Farmington security officers two years ago who cracked down on campus drinking by summonsing 40 college students for underage drinking at the start of the school year. From all the conversations I had with UMF students after that crackdown, it did nothing to stop them from consuming alcohol. What it did do was cause them to drive off campus to go to parties where they were far less likely to be bothered – and far more likely to have to drive a vehicle to return to campus.

Under our current laws, when your 20-year-old comes home from college for the summer you can only hope for one of two things. One is that he is among the 15 percent of people his age who aren’t consuming alcohol. If he’s like the other 85 percent though, you can only hope that when he meets his friends for a drink or two that none of them drive and none of them get caught for breaking a law that maybe should be changed.

Under our current laws, you’d be crazy to even think about buying a case of beer for your 20-year-old daughter and her friends so they could drink it in your basement while you kept a firm grasp on their car keys for the night. Instead, you’ll do the only thing parents can do – hope that wherever she’s headed she’ll be safe and that her choices will be good ones.

What we’re doing right now in Maine to keep young adults under 21 from drinking alcohol certainly isn’t working. We have driven these young adults underground to consume alcohol in places and under conditions over which we have absolutely no control. Maybe it’s time to consider changing the law to allow adults between the ages of 18 and 21 the chance to drink responsibly in a way that their parents and other adults can better supervise.

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