Initiative seeks to lower drinking age from 21 to 18

The Amethyst Initiative is a group of American university presidents that is seeking to lower the drinking age. The group is led by former Middlebury College president John McCardell. McCardell and 128 other college presidents believe that the increase in the legal drinking age to 21 has spawned a dangerous epidemic of binge drinking on college campuses across the country; an epidemic that they are unable to adequately address. The group has petitioned state and national legislators to consider their call for change. So far, the initiative has met with stiff opposition from most elected officials, law enforcement, the legal system and youth organizations across the country.

A 2007 Gallup poll revealed that 77% of Americans opposed a reduction in the drinking age and in fact, 60% wanted tougher penalties for violators of the law.

The history of the legal age for drinking resembles a roller coaster and has been influenced by other emerging age related issues. In 1930, the age for legal use was 21 and was the legal age for the military draft as well. When President Franklin Roosevelt lowered the age of the draft during World War II from 21 to 18, it ignited an age debate. Many historians believe that it spawned the drive for lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. Eventually, some states lowered their legal drinking age but not all. A consequence of the age inconsistency came to be known as "blood borders." Youth from states with a higher drinking age would travel to a bordering state to drink and then on the way home, often intoxicated, were killed. The death toll was alarmingly high.

Legislation was passed in 1984 that raised the drinking age to 21 across the country. There has been a dramatic drop in the death toll since the drinking age was raised. There can be no debate about that. Still, many feel that it is unrealistic to think that youth will wait until the age of 21 to drink alcohol. Others say that focusing on "harm reduction," helping youth to survive a bad decision would be a better focus. The debate on this issue is likely to continue and adults and youth need to arm themselves with the best possible information from which they can reasonably debate this important issue. Remember, all kids count.

Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at hurlburt@wildblue.net

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