On The Drinking Age

Today, I turn 21.

For five full years the government has trusted me to safely operate a motor vehicle. For three full years, it has considered me capable of making my own decisions regarding tobacco products and tattoos. And, most importantly, for three full years I have been an adult in the eyes of the law. I am responsible for my own actions. I am bound by the contracts I make and I am regarded as an adult who can make decisions and deal with the consequences.

But for three full years, though I could operate a potentially deadly vehicle, though I could marry, though I could enter into contracts and take out loans, though I could be employed and make my own decisions about whether to smoke or to permanently tattoo my body, though I could join the military or be drafted into service, I have not been trusted to make my own decisions about alcohol.

Isn’t there something wrong about that? Isn’t it wrong that I could be an adult, but could not make my own decisions for three full years? Isn’t it wrong that I should be barred from making decisions about putting a legal substance into my body for three years after I become completely legally responsible for the actions I conduct in it? Isn’t there something wrong with a system where I am an adult, but not—permitted to buy cigarettes but prohibited from buying beer?

It’s absurd. Even worse than the absurdity of the drinking age, though, is that everyone knows that it is absurd.

We live in a society where it is not just common, but expected that adults under the age of 21 will break alcohol laws. It’s almost a rite of passage. No one looks forward to their 21st birthday thinking of the day they’ll taste their first drink. They look forward only to the day they can drink in a public environment—a safe, secure environment.  They’ve already had their first drink. We live in a society where you are an anomaly if you have not broken the law by your 21st birthday.

Today, I turn 21. My consumption of alcohol will not break any laws, but that doesn’t mean this issue ceases to be important. If society as a whole expects and encourages the violation of a law, it does not mean that there is something wrong with society. It means there is something wrong with the law.

 

Students for Sensible Drug Policy works to lower the drinking age. Check out our resources to advocate for a more sensible policy.