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Is It Time To Change The Nation's Legal Drinking Age?

AP

Now that people are making wish-lists for the new administration, lowering the drinking age keeps popping up as one of the most common suggestions.

I think our national drinking age is an absolute travesty of justice.

The fact that Americans are allowed to smoke cigarettes, join the army, and vote for politicians (you tell me what's more dangerous) at the age of 18, but we can't drink until we hit 21 is unfair, unreasonable, and probably unconstitutional.

I'd even call it oppressive.

In principle, there's no legitimate rationale for keeping the drinking age at 21, it's just wrong. But in practice, and it kills me to say this, the drinking age should stay where it is. We have the right policy, even if it's for all the wrong reasons.

So what's the right reason, or have I just lost my mind? Here's the deal: no matter what, when you throw a bunch of people in their late—teens and early-twenties together at college, they're going to want to engage in illicit behavior. Or to put it more bluntly, they want to break the rules and get messed up. That's probably even more true of at least some kids in high school.

We have a choice.

What do we want that behavior to be? Drinking? Or something else? When proponents of lowering the drinking age say that making alcohol illegal for the under-21 crowd only increases its appeal, they're absolutely right.

They think that's a reason to lower the drinking age, but I believe just the opposite.

If alcohol stops being the forbidden fruit, then believe me, something else will replace it. Maybe marijuana, which might turn out to be a net positive as, unlike alcohol, it's not addictive and it's not a poison. Or maybe you'll get lots of college students experimenting with hard drugs that no one has any idea how to handle.

By making it illegal for people under 21 to drink, we ensure that alcohol is the de facto illicit substance that young people are drawn to. Make alcohol legal for people under 21 and it will lose its "contraband appeal." Something else will fill that vacuum, and it will probably be worse than whiskey.

In a perverse way our ridiculous drinking age keeps people from experimenting with, and getting addicted to, hard drugs.

Sometimes the unintended consequences are the best ones.

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