BY KIM HYATTHyatt045@d.umn.edu
Minnesota is considering lowering it’s drinking age after a proposal made by a state representative.
If passed, the bill would lower Minnesota’s Minimal Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) to 18, and in some cases 16 with the supervision of a parent or guardian. The bill would only apply to the purchase of alcohol in restaurants or bars, and not to the purchase of off-sale liquor.
The bill was introduced in January by Minnesota State Representative and DFL member Phyllis Kahn.
“My argument is that I make lowering the drinking age for drinking in public only, for on-sale only,” said Kahn in a recent telephone interview. “Limiting the lowered drinking age to on-sale only, underage drinkers can be introduced to alcohol use in controlled environments where dangerous binge drinking is less likely to occur.”
Today, 38 million adults binge drink, averaging eight drinks in a setting approximately four times a month, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They define binge drinking as consuming four drinks (women) or fives drink (men) within two hours. Every year, excessive drinking, including binge drinking, causes more than 80,000 deaths in the U.S. per year.
The current 21 MLDA was signed into law in 1984 in response to an alarming increase of deaths among teenage drunk drivers. Due to the efforts made by the non-profit organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the law gained the support of federal agencies across the country. Consequently, states that chose a MLDA lower than 21 would lose ten percent of its annual federal highway allocation.
Attention is still being drawn to the MLDA debate 28 years later.
Kahn’s bill would reflect legislation similar to that of Wisconsin. However, studies from the CDC show that Wisconsin is leading the U.S. in binge drinking rates with 22.8 percent of adults considered binge drinkers. Seven of the top ten states with the highest binge drinking rates are located within the Midwest: Wisconsin, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota.
“Legalizing drinking for ages 16-20 wouldn’t fix any issues,” said UMD PD Interim Director Sean Huls. “It would only make alcohol more available by bringing individuals that wouldn’t normally drink into the arena of drinking earlier in life.”
Binge drinking is a greater issue today than ever before, especially between the ages of 18-34. Still, CDC’s research continues to prove the current legal age of 21 is best to reduce binge drinking and other alcohol-related issues.
While binge drinking rates are highest in the Midwest, studies show the drinking behavior is actually decreasing on the UMD campus.
A 2010 Boynton College Health Survey, to which 1,198 UMD students replied, saw an overall decrease in binge drinking. The percent of male students having five or more drinks the last time they drank dropped by 11 percent between 2007 and 2010 from 63 to 52. The percent of female students saw a nine percent decrease from 47 to 38.
The UMD Police Department is seeing decreases as well. Consumption arrests dropped from 402 in the 2009/10 school year to 315 in 2010/11.
According to Director Huls, these drops can be contributed to greater enforcement and outreach efforts. Huls believes that lowering the drinking age would not contribute to these dropping numbers.
Representative Kahn argues students drinking with the accompaniment of others who are responsible under the law, such as bartenders, is preferable to students hiding away in dorm rooms without any sort of supervision.
Twins Bar, located downtown at 501 East 4th St, could be considered one of the many controlled drinking environments in Duluth if Kahn’s bill were approved.
Mark Glad, Twins Bar owner and manager, said receiving an additional three years of customer basis that would normally not exist would be great business for his bar as well as all other bars in Minnesota. Glad went on to support Kahn’s proposal, claiming bars could assist in reducing binge drinking amongst underage drinkers.
“At a bar, you’re not just drinking,” Glad said. “You have games, dancing, pool, and darts. It slows down your pace of drinking when you have other activities to do.”
Removing alcohol from the perceived classification of a “forbidden fruit” is just what young adults need, according to UMD German Instructor Michael Mullins.
“Waiting until the 21st birthday doesn’t seem rational at all. I always have and always will be a supporter of introducing alcohol into young people’s lives in a responsible manner,” Mullins said. “We don’t give students a chance to ask serious questions and think about things from an adult prospective.”
Although Kahn’s bill could spur an increase of new drinkers to bars, Spanish and studio art double major Meghan Tupper raised her eyebrows in doubt.
“It almost seems like it wouldn’t change much—I mean, it only applies to bars. I don’t know if it would be discouraging underage drinking or encouraging it. They might drink more just because it’s available,” Tupper said.
Dani Barto, a freshman Psychology major, thinks that Kahn’s proposal has a lot of merit by encouraging underage students to be more responsible in decision-making.
“It will keep kids from running away in fear of facing repercussions. This law would make kids more willing to be responsible and not so worried about getting caught or getting in trouble,” Barto said.
However, UMD Police Officers already allow for responsible decision making, according to Director Huls.
“An instance where a friend or roommate calls for an alcohol emergency, if they have been drinking and they are acting in good faith, we won’t issue them with tickets. We stress that fully. We don’t ever want the fear of getting in trouble to be a hindrance when a call for help is necessary,” Huls said. “We won’t punish someone for doing the right thing and I think that word is getting out. It’s a philosophy we operate upon, to allow students to do that right thing. When it comes down to it, it’s all about students’ safety.”
Regardless of students’ stance on the bill, Kahn stressed the importance they can have in the process.
“I think this is an issue that is very relevant to college students; everyone in college is between the ages of 18-21, so I think they ought to care about it,” Kahn said.
Time will tell whether or not Kahn’s bill will pass, as she currently waits for it to be
introduced in the House and Senate. But while it sits, the bill is doing just what she had hoped.
“You don’t always introduce bills to have them pass, you introduce them to keep the discussion on the table,” Kahn said.
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