Article by Richard Cowan, former NORML National Director and author of A Guide To Using Cannabidiol As A Functional Food.
Threatening the loss of Federal funds is a common way to get around limitations on Federal police powers, so in 1984 (how appropriate) the enactment of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act prompted states to raise their legal age for purchase or public possession of alcohol to 21 or risk losing millions in federal highway funds.
It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it inevitably had the perverse consequences that prohibitions usually have. Now decades later as the US seems to be recognizing that marijuana prohibition is a disastrous failure, the states are setting 21 as the legal age for marijuana as well. (It was politically necessary to have 21 as the age limit in the various initiatives.)
In The Netherlands, the legal age for buying cannabis in the “Coffee Shops” is 18, but it was only 16 until about 20 years ago. The legal age for buying beer was 16 until 2014. In Canada the legal age for alcohol is 18 or 19, depending on the province. In Mexico the legal drinking age is 18, and that will also be the legal age for marijuana under the proposed law for legalizing marijuana sales.
As of Jan. 1, 2020, the legal age to buy or possess cannabis in French speaking Quebec is 21, the highest minimum age for cannabis use in Canada. Elsewhere in Canada, cannabis is permitted at age 19, except in Alberta, where the legal age is 18.
According to the US National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse alcohol about 1,519 college students ages 18 to 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes. The most recent NIAAA statistics estimate that about 696,000 students ages 18 to 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking, and about 97,000 students ages 18 to 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
Clearly, alcohol causes a lot of problems on campuses, far more than does marijuana, but mightn’t many of these problems be aggravated by prohibition?
First, remember that these problems are happening with alcohol supposedly restricted to those 21 and over. Prohibition creates an environment that encourages binge drinking, and it is necessarily without adult supervision. Colleges should also be where students can learn how to drink responsibly, which is impossible with the legal age at 21.
A website with the wonderful name of Cognac.com offers 15 Reasons Why Drinking Age Should or Shouldn't Be 18. Obviously, these same reasons apply to cannabis, which is far less dangerous than alcohol.
- An 18 year old in US has the right to vote, and serve in the military. If an 18 year old can make up their mind as to who the potential leader of the country should be and take a bullet for their country, they should have every right to purchase and drink alcohol. Serving one’s country, however, is different some might argue than serving a teenager a drink. There is honor is serving in the military but little honor in being drunk.
- It is usually said that an 18 year old has less tolerance as compared to a 21 year old. Although this might be true, in most cases you don’t really know how much you can handle as long as you try it out. Some argue tolerance doesn’t come with age, tolerance come with realization of responsibility and there are people that are more responsible at 15 than some are at 50. Others point to medical studies that show “learning tolerance” with alcohol often leads to life long addition which may have been avoided if alcohol use had not started as such an early age.
- Anyone under 21 sees alcohol as a “forbidden fruit.” The curiosity leads to more people under the age of 21 drinking anyway. If drinking is made legal for the 18 and older, it will serve much better as the curiosity isn’t as high and the fruit isn’t forbidden anymore. Others argue that the desire to have forbidden fruit is not a major reason teenagers or anyone drinks alcohol. Heroin is illegal and is considered forbidden fruit and only a small percentage of the population use it. If the dangers of alcohol use and abuse are widely publicized, fewer people of all ages will shun it.
- When in college most students under the age of 21 can get hold of drink through their seniors. They are not allowed to drink at events where others might be able to drink. This once again makes them want to be a rebel and try out what it is they are being kept away from. They will give it a shot. The fact that they don’t know when they will be able to drink again is the reason most college students tend to get overly drunk when they get a chance. As a result there are problems as serious as deaths. The argument above indicates precisely why 18 year olds lack the judgement to make rational decisions about alcohol. Eighteen year olds are impatient and rebellious, the argument goes, so just give them what they want!
- Countries such as Italy, China, Greece are some of the countries where the legal drinking age is lower and they seem to have fewer alcohol related problems. Culture indeed plays a major role on how a society views alcohol. The United States is not Italy, China or Greece and indeed has a different culture regarding alcohol. As such, the United States should have laws regarind alcohol that match its culture.
- When drinking is made legal for anyone under the age of 21 and over 18, drinking takes place in public. It can then be supervised by police, security guards and health workers as well. Many would reject the argument that a police state is the best environment in which to consume alcohol. Indeed, such survelliance of drinkers, may cause more of those rebellious teenagers to seek to drink in private.
- Colleges and Universities often argue that the legal drinking age should be 18 because outlawing alcohol consumption in colleges for those under 21 is making the problem worse. These colleges and universities say that allowing alcohol consumption legally might help cut down alcohol related deaths in colleges. Other college administrators argue that allowing the entire campus to consume alcohol leads to more hazings by fraternities of 18 year old freshmen that involves binge drinking and possibly death.
- People under the age of 21 tend to drink more when they get hold of alcohol because of the uncertainty as to when they might be able to drink again. This argument is similar to number 4 above, except it may apply to those under 21 who do not reside on a campus or even attend a college or university. If indeed 18 year olds are impatient and will drink every chance they can, making alcohol available to them by changing the law, may have teenagers drinking as much as they can before the law gets changed again.
- Whether the legal drinking age is 21 or 18, there are going to be problems related to alcohol. And making 21 the legal age to drink doesn’t solve that problem. As a matter of fact, this is one of the reason why we see so many alcohol related deaths among teens. They get their hands on alcohol and get overly intoxicated as they are never sure if they will have access to this forbidden fruit ever again until they are 21. Lower the drinking age to 18 years old also doesnt solve the problem of alcohol abuse as those younger than 18 will get overly intoxicates as they also will not be sure when they will have access to alcohol again. Lower the drinking age then to 17? or 16?
- An 18 year old is considered an adult and can be tried in court if he makes false judgement and commits a crime. So an 18 year old is capable of making every other decision as an adult but perhaps is incapable of making a decision whether or not they should drink.The 21 year old age limit for alcohol consumption sounds somewhat hypocritical, but may indeed serve teeneagers and society alike with fewer alcohol related deaths.
- If you are legal to get married at the age of 18 and end up getting married, you are not allowed to drink in your own wedding? That doesn’t sound right. Some might say getting married at 18 doesn’t sound right either and argue for raising the legal age to getting married to 21!
- According to a study, 22% of all students under 21 compared to 18% over 21 years of age are heavy drinkers. Among drinkers only, 32% of under age compared to 24% of legal ager are heavy drinkers.
- If the legal drinking age were to be 18, colleges would be able to regulate alcohol use so students don’t get overly intoxicated. They can be monitored whereas when they are hiding and drinking you can’t really go sniffing their cups or making false accusations. How would college campuses regulate teenage drinkers? The same way they regulate speech? Will there be “18 year old safe space drinking zones”? Who will monitor these safe drinking zones?
- Drinking under the age of 21 is seen by most 18 years and older as a sign of adulthood. They are allowed to do everything else and call themselves an adult and they don’t want to be stopped from being an adult when it comes to drinking. Those seventeen years of age and younger also don’t want to be stopped from being adults, should the drinking age be lowered to 17 or younger to accommodate teenagers who wish to self identify as adults?
- Some argue that we have tried prohibition legislation twice for controlling irresponsible drinking problems in the past. Once in 1850s and again in the 1920s. These laws were repealed because they could not be enforced and the backlash caused other societal problems. The law didn’t work then and as we all know isn’t working now. It’s time for a change. This argument is disingenous as drinking age laws are not a form of prohibition but rather of reflective of what rights teenagers have in society