Sunday, February 3, 2013

Lower the drinking age? Good idea -- for everybody!

Colorado Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) will be stunned when he learns that he and I agree on something. Greg and I have clashed repeatedly in the past, mostly over what I view as his allegiance to the right wing fringe (I’ve never actually called him a teabagger, but I wouldn’t argue with anyone who did) and his unrepentant support of torturing “terror” suspects. So it was with some surprise that I learned of Greg’s latest attempt to knock common sense into the Colorado Revised Statutes.

Sen. Brophy has proposed a new law that would allow young people 18 and over to drink alcohol with their parents under certain circumstances. The generally accepted genesis of the bill was a dinner at which Brophy and his wife celebrated their daughter’s 20th birthday but were distressed to realize that said daughter could not even have a glass of wine with dinner. The assumption is that the new law would cover restaurants and other public venues, as long as the “minor” was accompanied by parents. I was astonished to learn that Greg Brophy is old enough to have a 20-year-old daughter. Of course, I’ve never met the man in person (a lapse that I need to correct forthwith) but his official Colorado portrait is of a much younger man. But I digress.

Of course, the opposition to Sen. Brophy’s bill has come out of the woodwork, most prominently in the form of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which has, over the past two decades, gone from being a driving force behind drunken driving reform to its current role as irrelevant cultural scold. Of course MADD will oppose anything that liberalizes the consumption of booze, and I think Greg hit that finger directly on the nail when he said MADD “just (doesn’t) like demon rum.”

There is some credible opposition, however, and it comes from the Colorado Restaurant Association. According to ABC News, via the Huffington Post, Pete Meersman, who is CEO of that group, has serious misgivings about the onerous burden Brophy’s bill will place on restaurant owners. Most restaurant owners also are owners of Colorado liquor licenses, which are got by a byzantine process that rivals the Court of the Queen of Hearts. If you doubt the puritanical roots of all that is American, attend a hearing of your local city council when it sits as a “liquor board.” Cotton Mather would blush at the self-righteousness of the average council member when considering licensure of spirits. The process itself is nothing short of restraint of trade, and if gun stores were licensed and policed the way liquor stores are, there would be nary a one in business today. Nothing freezes the heart of a liquor peddler faster than a summons before the local “liquor board” to plead for license renewal. The mere suspicion of dealing demon rum to anyone several minutes too young is enough to shutter a store until everything gets sorted out.

So Meersman has a point. Who is a minor’s parent? The question goes to the heart of the definition of family. (I’ve tried for years to get Webster’s Dictionary to accept my definition of family: Those who love you because they have to. So far they haven’t answered.) Does a foster “child” who is 19 qualify if celebrating her birthday with foster parents? Is any legal guardian considered a parent? Would the guardian have to present papers proving such guardianship? The problems are myriad, and on that point, I have to agree with the restaurateurs. Both of my sons and one daughter-in-law have been or are currently engaged in restaurant food service, and their horror stories of liquor service to the public are, well, horrifying. For that reason alone, Brophy’s law is probably doomed.

Greg might have gotten the CRA’s endorsement, however, if he’d been bold enough to go the distance on his proposed legislation. The answer is obvious: Simply lower the drinking age to 18. The arguments against such a law are illogical and steeped in emotion, superstition, and bad science. Arguments in favor of it are completely rational, regardless of what your local Baptist preacher tells you.

Look, the U.S. Government, in its wisdom, has decided long ago that 18-year-olds are mature enough and smart enough and wise enough to vote for president, mayor, state senator, and other offices of similar gravity. The U.S. Government, in its wisdom, has decided long ago that 18-year-olds are mature enough and smart enough to fight and die and become forever maimed in combat in service to their country. The states have decided long ago that people even younger than 18 are mature enough and smart enough to marry and have children, to work for an adult’s wages, to be tried as an adult for crimes they commit. In fact, in every aspect of life in America, the magical age of adulthood is 18.

Well, in every aspect except one. At an age when every nation in Europe allows its citizens to imbibe alcohol, we Americans still treat our 18-year-olds like children. The United States is one of only seven countries with minimum drinking ages set at 21. The six others are Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, Palau and Sri Lanka. Four of those six are populated largely or almost entirely by Muslims. Palau and Sri Lanka have no such excuse. Three nations -- Iceland, Japan, and Paraguay – set the minimum drinking age at 20 and two more – Nicaragua and South Korea – at 19. The rest of the world sets the minimum age at 18 or, in some cases, even lower. Interestingly, an Australian web site about talking to teens about drinking specifically set the ages of "teen" as between 12 and 17.

It’s time to recognize that the true age of adulthood, in all aspects, is not 21, but 18. It is time to allow wounded 19-year-old combat veterans returning from America’s wars to enjoy a drink at the local American Legion. It is time to allow college students to have wine with dinner. It is time to allow all of America’s voters to hoist a glass in celebration or in sorrow on election night. It is time to catch up with the world.