Wednesday, August 20, 2008


The presidents of numerous colleges and universities have joined the so-called Amethyst Initiative, releasing a statement expressing their support for lowering the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. Their rationale? Because drinking is illegal for most students, they resort to binge drinking rather than the more sensible consumption pattern of someone who is able to purchase alcohol legally.
The Amethyst Initiative, launched in July, is a coalition of college presidents who say that the legal drinking age of 21 encourages binge drinking on campuses. William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland; William Brody, president of Johns Hopkins; C.D. Mote Jr. of the University of Maryland; and the presidents of Washington and Lee, Sweet Briar, Towson, Randolph-Macon, Duke, Tufts, Dartmouth and others have signed on to the effort.
Predictably, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) has taken the opposite position, citing the likelihood of more highway deaths should the drinking age be lowered.

When I was a young College-Age Snot-Nose, I attended school in a state (New Jersey) where the drinking age was 21. We had no problem getting alcohol and other Consciousness-Raising Substances, although we could not simply waltz into the local A&P to buy our beer. And the parties on Prospect Street, where sat the eating clubs - Princeton’s answer to the Greek fraternity system - were fueled by plenty of ethanol-bearing liquids.

At home in New York, where the drinking age was 18, I could drink legally. I developed a taste for vodka Gimlets and blended Scotch. Not at the same time, of course. [Hey - I was young, and single malts were still pretty much unknown over here in the States.] I also began learning about wine. Ripple with meat, Boone’s Farm with chicken - that sort of thing. Ya gotta start somewhere.

I had my share of Drunken Evenings, sure. But I quickly learned that imbibing to excess has Painful Aftereffects. And the kids who didn’t figure that out pretty quickly on their own went on to have problems...and Wall Street careers. It’s the phenomenon of the Learning Curve.

New Jersey lowered its drinking age to 18 right around the time I turned 20. Thanks a lot, guys, for waiting. The biggest benefit for me was the conversion of part of the Student Center to a Student Pub, where pizza and pitchers of beer were the order of the day. My ass still carries a few pounds of Student Center pizza embedded within its fleshy cheeks.

She Who Must Be Obeyed and I have discussed this issue many times over the years. The problem seems to be the national hangup with the two specific numbers 18 and 21.

If the drinking age is 21, most college students (who are under 21) will drink illegally if they drink at all. Whatever impact the larger society might want to have on the formation of healthy, reasonable attitudes toward drinking is muffled, robbed of effect. And kids being kids, they will find ways to get in trouble, especially when they are away from home’s guiding influence for the first time in their lives.

If the drinking age is 18, college students can drink legally. Problem is, there is a small cohort of high school students who can also drink legally...and serve as a supply conduit for all their younger friends. So what’s the answer?

How about...a drinking age of 19?

Most kids are out of high school by age 19, so the risk of increasing the supply of illicit alcohol into the high school environment is minimal. Or at least, not much greater than it is today. And because most college students are 19 or more, they can drink legally, as befits people who are old enough to vote...and old enough to get their asses shot off while serving their country.

Nineteen - the new twenty-one!

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