Will Some 18-Year-Olds be Able to Drink Alcohol Legally this Year?
Eighteen to 20-year-olds everywhere have their attention turned to three states who are may be in the process of lowering the drinking age to 18-years-old. California, Minnesota, and New Hampshire all have legislation in the works that would allow people under the age of 21 to drink in certain circumstances. Though each plan is unique, with its own caveats and rules, it looks like this time next year 18-year-olds may be able to enjoy a drink every once in a while in these states.
New Hampshire’s proposed plan, House Bill 1606-FN, was introduced to its legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Thursday and is sponsored by Republican Max Abramson. The bill’s aim is to try to dampen the binge drinking culture we see so much of in today’s society by allowing people between the ages of 18 and 21 to drink beer and wine in the presence of someone over the age of 21. The bill states that lowering the drinking age in this capacity will make it so that “younger people will no longer be initiated to alcohol consumption in the absence of adult supervision.” Essentially, the state wants to introduce kids to alcohol in a safer, more controlled environment than what a lot of teens are currently experiencing.
Binge drinking is a big problem in our country today, especially among underage drinkers. According to the CDC, “about 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.” The CDC also notes that excessive drinking costs the United States “$249 billion in 2010, or $2.05 a drink, from losses in productivity, health care, crime, and other expenses. Binge drinking was responsible for 77 percent of these costs, or $191 billion.” Many people who talk about lowering the drinking age cite European habits when it comes to alcohol; younger teens can drink beer and wine at a young age and are generally introduced to casual drinking in a family setting. This then leads to lower levels of underage binge drinking, which the United States clearly has a problem with.
Minnesota’s bill is slightly different and would allow people over the age of 18 to drink any kind of alcohol, but only in bars or restaurants. This new bill is an extension of Senator Phyllis Kahn’s proposal from this time last year, which would allow 18-year-olds to drink in bars as long as they are with their parents. This idea comes with the hope that teens will stop drinking to excess at dorm parties in favor of drinking responsible amounts in public. People under the age of 21 still wouldn’t be able to purchase alcohol from liquor stores–they’d only be allowed to drink under the supervision of the general public at restaurants where they can be easily cut off by bartenders or waiters.
Governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, who currently opposes to the bill, said of the bill,
I think we are better off staying where we are. I haven’t talked to any of the legislators about it, I don’t have an etched-in-concrete position, but this debate has been going on appropriately for many years now, and the middle ground comes down to: It should be 21, where it is now.
The governor’s statements are technically correct, and we have some existing legislation like this to judge whether or not letting kids drink with their parents helps reduce binge drinking. For example, in Wisconsin, anyone under the age of 21 can drink alcoholic beverages in licensed establishments if they are with their parents or legal guardians. This law is technically at the discretion of the restaurants, so they can prohibit minors from buying or drinking alcohol even if the underage patrons are supervised. Unfortunately, for those hoping Wisconsin may be a shining example of how our country should lower the drinking age, statistics show that Wisconsin is actually one of the states with the biggest binge drinking problem in America. To be fair, this data was taken from adults ages 21 and over, but, it certainly doesn’t help further the theory that teaching people young will promote healthier drinking habits overall.
The final state that is considering lowering its drinking age is California, this time in the form of a ballot initiative. The initiative was drafted and last year by Terrance Lynn, who is now in the process of collecting signatures so the measure can be placed on a ballot this coming April. Lynn will need 365,880 signatures in order to have the general public vote on whether or not they want to lower the drinking age, which may be an entirely separate battle if the initiative makes it that far.
Because this law doesn’t have any financial backing and it would directly allow 18 to 20-year-olds to purchase and consume alcohol legally, California could lose up to $200 million in highway funds. Why? After the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 was passed, states that lower their drinking age to below 21-years-old can have their highway funding cut by 10 percent. This act was passed with the support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), an organization working to prevent the thousands of drunk driving deaths every year, in an attempt to decrease the number these deaths substantially. While the measure would significantly reduce funding from the federal government, an estimate from the state’s Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance said that the measure could increase sales tax revenue by several million dollars per year.
People under the age of 21 shouldn’t get too excited just yet, as all of these bills and initiatives still need to be voted on before they can become. Although many people may assume a lower drinking age popular among the general public, a public opinion polling suggests otherwise. According to a Gallup poll from 2014, 74 percent of Americans claim they would oppose legislation to lower the drinking age to 18 while only 25 percent say they would support it. These rates are about the same as they always have been, so these efforts may have an uphill battle when it comes to getting enough public support.