It only takes a quick scan of the public safety section of area newspapers to see what alcohol can do to people, and a state legislator is suggesting — again — that one answer to the problem is to allow more people to drink at a younger age.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, the Minneapolis DFLer, is no stranger to filing bills that are dead on arrival at the Capitol, and this year’s bill probably isn’t going to go anywhere. But the issue probably isn’t going to go away, either.
“It’s a very good way to deal with the serious problem of binge drinking, particularly on college campuses,” Kahn tells the Pioneer Press.
She says the idea is to allow young people to learn how to drink socially.
Kahn’s bill doesn’t allow 18 year olds to buy at a liquor store, but Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, said he plans to introduce legislation to lower the drinking age for both bars and liquor stores, on the theory that 18 is the age of legal adulthood for everything else.
We tried this once before, during the Vietnam War. We used the same rationale that appears again in the Pioneer Press story.
“If you can go and die for your country but you can’t have a beer, I can’t understand that,” said Andrew Deziel, 18, of Bloomington, Minn.
As I recall the early ’70s, those of us who made that point were doing everything we could to keep from being drafted.
But there is some evidence that a lower drinking age has some impact on the drinking problem.
“In general, the younger people start to drink the safer they are,” said Brown University anthropology professor Dwight Heath, the go-to expert on the matter, it appears. “Alcohol has no mystique. It’s no big deal. By contrast, where it’s banned until age 21, there’s something of the ‘forbidden fruit’ syndrome.”
In an editorial this week, the University of Virginia Cavalier Daily says with a lower drinking age, college kids with a drinking problem might be more likely to seek help.
It also makes another true point — kids are going to drink anyway.
If restricting the legal drinking age to 21 doesn’t successfully address the problem of drunk driving, the value of such a law seems minimal. The law effectively punishes under-21-year-olds who don’t drive drunk or even drive at all, and there is no reason to believe those who would drive drunk at 18 wouldn’t do so at 21. Especially since 18-year-olds are given all the markers of adulthood — the right to vote and legal adulthood in court, among others — refusing them the authority to drink is at the very least inconsistent. Thus, this law is ineffective at best. But its negative consequences make it an obvious area of concern for colleges and universities, on whose campuses this issue can even be a safety and legal concern.
Even if Rep. Kahn’s bill passes the Legislature — it won’t — Gov. Dayton says he thinks the current drinking age is fine where it is.