Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Better Alternative to Choose Responsibility's Proposal

Most people in the anti-21 movement are at least vaguely aware that the organization Choose Responsibility (with which we are NOT affiliated) has a proposal to lower the drinking age to 18, but with a notable catch:  in order to be allowed to drink alcohol, 18-20 year olds must take and pass an alcohol education course, and will be granted a "drinking license" that can be revoked for alcohol-related misbehavior.   While there may be some theoretical merits to the "drinking license" idea, there are several flaws that would become apparent upon any attempt to implement it:

1) It has become a lightning rod for criticism from both sides, especially the pro-21 groups like MADD and GHSA.
2) It makes the entire movement look quixotic (i.e. idealistic but impractical, like Don Quixote).
3) It makes the movement look ambivalent about lowering the drinking age and about whether 18-20 year olds can be trusted with alcohol.
4) It adds unnecessary complexity to the issue.
5) It would be a bureaucratic nightmare to actually enforce.
6)  As any libertarian (or even quasi-libertarian) would tell you, it kind of screams "Big Brother". (What's next, a license to breed?)
7) Other countries with a drinking age of 18 don’t have a drinking license rule.  (Dubai apparently does, but their drinking age is 21).
8) But most importantly, since it applies only to 18-20 year olds and not those over 21, it is just as ageist as the current 21 drinking age.

In contrast, our proposal for Twenty-One Debunked would allow 18-20 year olds the same drinking rights as people over 21 currently enjoy, with the following safeguards:

1) The age limit for the zero tolerance law for DUI will remain as it is now, at 21. That should alleviate any fears of increased DUI among 18-20 year olds.  In fact, it would be better if it was broadened to include all ages for the first 5 years of driving.
2) The purchase age for kegs, cases, and other large bulk quantities of alcohol will remain at 21 (or at least be no lower than 20). That should alleviate any fear of increased high school keggers.
3) DUI laws would be tightened for all ages and enforcement would be significantly increased.
4) Any person of ANY age who is convicted of DUI, drunk violence, drunk vandalism, furnishing to minors under 18, or repeated drunk and disorderly conduct would be blacklisted and banned from purchasing alcohol (or even entering a bar) for a year or until they turn 21, whatever is longer. And their ID would have to read “Do not serve alcohol under penalty of law” in big red letters. In addition, problem drinkers can also have themselves voluntarily added to the blacklist for a period of time, much like problem gamblers are currently allowed to do.
5) Alcohol education would be increased for all students at all levels.  Some successful models to follow can be found here and here.
6) In addition, the federal alcohol taxes should be raised and equalized to the inflation-adjusted 1991 spirits level ($21 per proof-gallon) for all alcoholic beverages, proportional to alcohol content.

Do all or even some of these things and there will really be no need to have a drinking license.  However, some folks in our movement may still be concerned about the absence of the alcohol education requirement as found in CR's proposal, especially for newly-legal drinkers in the first year or two of the new drinking age of 18.  That can easily be addressed by doing the following:

7)  Phase-down the general drinking age from 21 to 18 over a period of a few months, rather than immediately.  For example, lower it to 20 after 30 days, 19 after 60 days, and finally 18 after 90 days from the passage of the new law.
8)  For the first year or two of the new policy, require 18-20 year olds to obtain a certificate from an alcohol education course in order to be allowed to purchase alcohol or enter a bar.  The course should be an online one such as AlcoholEdu, which has shown dramatic results despite taking only a few hours to complete.  Simple, yet highly effective.
9)  For anyone who is currently 17 or younger, require such individuals to take and pass that alcohol education course before their 18th birthday (or very shortly after), whether they plan on drinking or not.  Those who do not fulfill this requirement would have their driver license or state ID card temporarily suspended or voided until they pass, and/or be prevented from graduating high school until they pass.  Take it as many times as you wish, but charge a fee for the third time and afterwards.

Note how this is very different from CR's proposal since there would be no special drinking license, and after the first year or two the right to buy alcoholic beverages would no longer be tied to the education requirement.  Also, the course would be a lot simpler and shorter than CR's proposed course, and far easier to implement.  We at Twenty-One Debunked are not wedded to any of these last three ideas (#7, 8, and 9), and would still support lowering the drinking age to 18 without them.  But it's still something to consider.  Not only would it help to change America's drinking culture, but it would also make it easier politically to lower the drinking age.

1 comment:

  1. This is a good proposal and it's better than Choose Responsibility's proposal. I think the reason why Choose Responsibility wants to require an alcohol license is because of the prevalence of binge drinking at many universities. It's a concern that I think would be reduced significantly with alcohol education. My proposal differs in some aspects from Ajax the Great's proposal but I also oppose an alcohol license. If a young woman or a young man has committed a crime relating to alcohol, then she or he should be punished like older people would. Choose Responsibility should improve its proposal because I think it would be impractical if it became a reality in any state or territory. We in the movement should be united to lower the drinking age to 18 in states and territories where the age of majority is 18, regardless of some details in which there is disagreement but which there is room for compromise.