The drinking age problem

The value system this country places on age is funny. If it weren’t so sad, it’d be laughable.
At 19 years old, I can do a lot of things. I can go to war and die for my country (possibly forcefully if a draft were to ever occur … again). I can vote in elections. I can buy a pack of cigarettes. I can get married and start a family. I can work in most fields. I can decide where I want to go to school and what I want to study.
Just about the only thing I can’t do at 19 is drink a beer. Apparently, I’m only mature enough to get hitched, choose the leaders of our country or bomb our enemies into submission.
First of all, the very premise of a strict drinking age is ridiculous. To think some magical transformation occurs on the eve of your 21st birthday is about as far-fetched as a fairytale. At 20 years and 364 days, you’re immature, too naive to make wise decisions about alcohol. But when the clock strikes midnight (that line is actually out of a fairytale!), you become a sage, sensible enough to rip a shot. People mature at different rates, depending on their family, community and personality. Who’s to say a 35-year-old drug addict is more mature than a 20-year-old honor student?
Let’s take a step back in time. Before 1984, states were free to set their own drinking age. Many chose 18, after the passage of the 26th Amendment, which made the voting age 18. In 1982, when drunk driving was becoming a problem in America, President Reagan set up a commission to find the cause. The commission came back with 39 recommendations, one of which proposed raising the national drinking age to 21. By 1984, blaming society’s problems on minorities or immigrants was so 100 years ago. So our very own Senator Frank Lautenberg wrote the “National Minimum Drinking Age Act.” The act essentially told states if they didn’t raise their legal drinking age to 21, they would lose their highway revenue.
Groups like the NYRA began challenging the legality of the act, claiming it violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the 10th Amendment of the state’s right to jurisdiction in areas not explicitly guaranteed to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution. When people began suing, the Supreme Court responded by saying Congress could withhold revenues as long as “they promote the general welfare.” Essentially, the court is saying Washington knows better than you, and that acts of Congress can blatantly violate our Constitution, so long as they promote the general welfare in their eyes. Thanks again, democracy.
Twenty-one simply isn’t working. College students have engaged in dangerous, underground binge-drinking in unprecedented rates. Trying to create an abstinent environment has only served to legitimize fake I.D.’s, putting money in the hands of criminals. Lawmakers haven’t curbed underage drinking. They’ve simply forced minors to become more resourceful in getting their alcohol. Rather than promoting immature behavior, wouldn’t it make more sense to engage in a serious discussion about how to best prepare our young people to be responsible drinkers?
I once read a story about a young man in a bar, back when the drinking age was 18. He had a little too much that night, passed out, and stopped breathing. Because he was in an open, public place, the response was immediate. He went to the hospital, and fortunately, lived. I’m forced to wonder if that same young man would’ve survived had he been drinking in a locked dorm room or at a friend’s house whose parents weren’t home.
The drinking age is dreadful social policy and an appalling law. It’s dangerous, irresponsible, and it’s simply not working. But, I suppose I can always enjoy the other rights I’m deemed mature enough for. I’ll go smoke a pack or two, buy a home, go into debt, get married, have a kid and follow it all up by dying for my country. Like I said, if it weren’t so sad, it’d be laughable.