Three U.S. states are currently weighing legislation that would lower the legal drinking age from 21 to 18 in a bid to curb the culture of secrecy and binging often associated with underage drinking.
The bills, currently under consideration by lawmakers in Minnesota, New Hampshire and California, would mark an about-face from Congress’ National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which passed in 1984 to decrease drunk driving and proclaimed that states would lose federal highway funds if they failed to implement the law. (In California, for instance, these funds could amount to roughly $200 million.)
In New Hampshire and Minnesota, the bills stipulate that those between the ages of 18 and 20 could drink beer or wine -- but not hard liquor -- in commercial establishments as long as they’re accompanied by someone over the age of 21, according to a report by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). The bills do not address purchasing liquor from stores or other venues in which alcohol might be consumed.
A ballot in California, however, which is expected to be voted on next November, proposes to lower the drinking age across the board.
While the states would lose federal highway funding, they would likely be able to make up for this in alcohol sales, according to the FEE.
“Every other western country has a drinking age of 19 or lower, and their teenage alcoholism rates are lower,” New Hampshire state Rep. Max Abramson, who sponsored the bill, told a local outlet of his reasoning. Another state representative in support of the bill, Renny Cushing, added he found it preposterous that his nephew could serve in Iraq but couldn’t have a beer.
In its report, the FEE likens current drinking laws to the Prohibition Era in that they encourage binge-drinking in clandestine and potentially unsafe places. Death by alcohol poisoning among college students, it notes, has substantially increased since 1984.
However, the laws are unlikely to pass anytime soon given that a 2014 Gallup poll found only 25 percent of Americans support lowering the legal drinking age to 18.
And detractors, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which heavily influenced the Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, argue that the 21-year-old limit has saved 25,000 lives since its implementation by reducing traffic accidents, and that alcohol causes different reactions in young people’s brains.