Ever since the end of prohibition in 1933 the United States government has placed the
issue of MLDA (minimum legal drinking age) sensitively in the hands of the states, letting each
decide for itself what the minimum age should be. At that time all agreed that the minimum
legal drinking age should be 21, where it remained for all states until 1970. Between 1970, and
1975 a number of states (29 to be exact) played around with the idea of lowering that age to 20,
19, and even 18 for some states. At this time the minimum age for other activities, like the right
to vote were being lowered as well. The argument was that if a person is considered an adult at
18, and can serve his or her country and vote in it’s elections, he or she ought to be able to have a
drink.(Toomey 1) This is exactly the way I feel about it. The drinking age should be lowered to
18.

During the period in the 70’s when many states were lowering their drinking ages
scientists started doing studies to determine whether or not the younger drinking ages had any
effect on automobile accidents. These studies generally concluded that traffic accidents
significantly increased among teenagers after the MLDA was lowered.(Toomey 1)It can,
however, easily be argued that since these studies came out right after the drinking ages had been
lowered, they would naturally show that there was an increase in death among teenagers.
Anytime you change something dramatically it takes a while for things to settle into a routine. If
all of a sudden, for instance, you allow 18-year-olds to drink alcohol when before they couldn’t,
it’s going to take a while before that becomes the norm, and therefore less exciting and alluring.
These studies would have been far more accurate if they had been done after society had adapted
to the change.
When the government found that many of the states were lowering the drinking age to 18
and 19, it began to worry about the safety of teens in those and neighboring states. One of the
ways that the government tried to discourage this was by offering increased highway incentives
for any states who maintained a minimum. The states were only to quick to volunteer to raise
their minimums. The government also threatened to reduce the amount of federal money offered
to the states for improvement of the highways. Obviously the states didnt want to lose any
money so they complied with the government.

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Many people believe that there are other ways to decrease the number of accidents and
teenage deaths associated with teenage drinking. Many states have “Zero Tolerance Laws”
which severely punish underage teens who are driving with any blood alcohol in their bodies at
all. The punishment is usually the loss of the offending teens license, and those officials who
stand on the side of lowering the drinking age feel that this would be enough of a deterrent to
keep underage teens from drinking and driving. The current standard MLDA is 21, many feel
this is unfair because it crosses to many age and social barriers. For instance, many college
juniors and seniors can drink, but sophomores and freshman cannot. This automatically breeds
unlawful activity, because college freshman and sophomores can’t “party with their friends”
according to the law. By the time most high school seniors graduate they have already turned
18, and those who haven’t soon will. If the minimum drinking age were lowered to 18 or 19 it
would dramatically cut down on the number of incidents of illegal drinking on college
campuses.

A minimum drinking age of ten obviously makes no sense because no one would expect
a 10-year-old to be able to distinguish between an alcoholic beverage and a non-alcoholic one.
However 19 as a minimum drinking age is a much more realistic goal. The theory is that by 19
most people have completed or are at least out of high school and are out functioning in a world
much older than that of their days in school. They are expected to be more mature, and to act as
adults in all other ways. They can smoke, marry, have sexual relationships, have children, buy
lottery tickets, make contracts, and die, but in most states are still not old enough to have a drink,
and many people feel this is wrong.(Drinking 1)
By making young adults wait until their 21st birthday only breeds disaster, and makes
underage drinking seem more mysterious and desirable. Prohibition didn’t stop the American
people from drinking, it just forced them to do it in secret, much the way in which states with an
MLDA of 21 do today. Popular thought dictates that lowering the MLDA to 19 would not have a
harmful result, but a positive one instead.(Drinking 1)
Representative Scott Klug from Washington visits many University campuses, and is
always asked by students why the federal government sets the legal drinking age at 21. Klug
who agrees with young adults, and is in favor of lowering the drinking age to 18 has recently
introduced “The States Rights Act of 1996” which would end Washington’s financial coercion to
adopt a national standard. Although the states are actually individually responsible for setting
their own standards the government, in an effort to reduce the number of teenage deaths
associated with drunk driving, have imposed restraints on states who don’t have MLDA of 21 by
taking away part of their federal aid for highway projects. By 1989 all 50 states had agreed to
raise their MLDA to 21.

In Klug’s plan the government would completely let the states choose their own
Minimum Legal Drinking Age and stay completely out of it. Klungs proposal is strong, he has
many supporters who back him and his proposal. Three house members in particular are in favor
of Klug’s plan. Representatives Collin Peterson from Minnesota, Gary Condit from California,
and Bill Tauzin from Louisiana are all co-sponsoring the proposal along with Klug. Collin
Peterson, when asked about the proposal said, “states should be left on their own,” and added,
“I’m not in favor of the federal government tying transportation aid to anything.”(Tumulty 1)
Representative Klug notes that as society has changed, and made people more aware of
the dangers of drinking and driving, lowering the drinking age would not be the detriment to
society that it’s oppositions believes it would be. The opposition to the proposal is weak, but
likewise, it also has many supporters. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), in Dallas are
strongly opposed to the plan, but haven’t as of yet rallied it’s troops because support for the plan
is still in its infancy and doesn’t seem to have much support yet. Katherine Prescott, MADD’s
national president speaks on behalf of the organization and is quoted as saying, “For the last 15
years we’ve been marching in one direction and this looks like a small group of people who are
trying to go backwards.”(Tumulty 1)
Recently, in Louisiana, two bar owners and two youths under 21 have challenged the
MLDA in Louisiana, arguing that 18-year-olds should have the same constitutional rights as any
other adults. When the State Supreme court agreed in a 4-3 ruling, this lead state officials and
national safety experts to wonder if a lower drinking age in Louisiana would spread to other
states as well.State officials also warn that a decrease in the MLDA could also re open the
“Blood Borders” issue. Blood borders refers to the term used to describe what happens when
teens who are not allowed to drink in their own state cross over the border into states where they
become legal.

The controversy over lowering the MLDA is a seemingly endless one that affects more
people than just the ones who live in the states that propose change. This is why Jason Gain, a
19-year-old student at West Virginia has created a web site devoted to this sensitive issue. Gain
is quoted in his web site as saying, “I don’t see how 21 keeps alcohol out of the hands of younger
people. They are drinking anyway,” Scott Gorton Marine spokesman at camp Pendelton in San
Diego also feels as Gain does and adds, “`If you’re going to ask a young man or young wife to go
to war and potentially spill blood or die for their country, I think it’s safe to say they’re old
enough to handle alcohol.”(Castaneda 1)
Alcohol consumption is part of the American culture, and creates many opportunities.
The manufacture and sale of alcohol produce revenue for the government, and employment for
many people who work in breweries, liquor stores, and restaurants. Some people even argue that
small amounts of alcohol may even have medicinal, and health benefits. Local, and federal
government policies work hard to regulate issues for economic health, and social purposes, but
choosing among policies to accomplish the greater good is not any easy task. Government
policies always run the risk of contradicting each other, so often it is necessary to look to science
for answers.(Gordis 208)
Science can often help make the task of choosing among policies easier by providing
statistical data on moderate drinking and its effects on teens and by extensively researching the
effects moderate drinking has on the body. Alcohol policy in the United States is generally split
into two categories. Those intended to influence individual drinking practices, and those aimed
at regulating the supply of alcoholic beverages. In the first category, where those policies
intended to influence individual drinking practices, are generally those that publicly finance
information and education programs, and fund state and local laws that establish penalties for
drinking and driving. Examples of these policies is the requirement for a health warning label
on alcoholic beverage containers sold in the U.S, and the requirement of individual states for
mandatory sentencing of persons convicted of drunk driving.

Those policies in the second category that are designed to limit access to alcoholic
beverages include raising the minimum legal drinking age, restricting the number, location, and
hours of sale of stores that sell alcohol, and prohibiting the promotion of alcoholic beverages on
college campuses. Still other laws like “Dram shop” laws, hold drinking establishments and in
some cases private individuals, responsible for consequences due to underage drinking.(Gordis
208)
Choosing, implementing, and administering alcohol related policy in the United States is
complex, and agencies other than those run by the government seek to influence policy, which
can make the job of the federal, state, and local governments less burdensome at times and
aggravating at others.Regardless of what the nay sawyers think about it, the ultimate authority
in the debate over the legal drinking age should rest with the states. The government had
originally given the states the right to choose their Minimum Legal Drinking Age, and I think
that it should continue to be that way. However, it’s also unconstitutional, in a way, to deny
18-year-old adults the right to drink when they are afforded all others. If the United States
expects 18-year-olds to act like adults, register for the draft, and be responsible for themselves in
legal matters they ought to be able to have a drink now and again.


Works Cited:
.Castaneda, Carol J. “La. drinking-age ruling rekindles debate.” USA TODAY 17 March 1996,
natl. ed.: A3.


“Drinking age is too high”. The Observer. http://www.cwru.edu/orgs/observer/083096/
forum1.html (Febuary 18, 1998: visited site September 30, 1998).


Gordis, Enoch. “Alcohol research and social policy: an overview.” Alcohol Health ; Research
World September 1996: 208.


Toomey, Traci L., Carolyn Rosenfeld, and Alexander Wagenaar. The minimum legal drinking
age: history, effectiveness, and ongoing debate.” Alcohol Health & Research World
September 1996: 213.


Tumulty, Brian. “Should the Drinking Age Be a Federal Issue?.” Gannet News Service 24 June
1996, eastern ed.: S11.