Friday, May 11, 2007

In Support of Underage Drinking

I recently received an email from the Oregon House Representative representing southern Southeast Portland, Representative Carolyn Tomei, indicating her support for a bill increasing penalties for Underage Drinking, HB 2766. HB 2766 increases the fines for minors who attempt to purchase, successfully purchase, or otherwise acquire alcoholic beverages. The fine for a first conviction is $350, and for a subsequent convictions, $1000. Rep. Tomei wrote that "This measure cannot stop underage drinking, but we need to make sure that the sanctions imposed are sufficiently severe. "

I'm saddened by her support for increased youth prohibition.

Let me tell you, I have no shame in admitting that I began consuming beer and wine at the age of 15 with parental consent, in moderate quantities. I then left high school early to enroll in a college early admission program at the age of 16. I graduated from college with my bachelor's degree at the age of 20. Don't think for a second that I didn't celebrate with a keg of beer!

My family, which is partly from the old German stock, has always had a different approach towards alcohol -- that is, learn how to drink responsibly around family, that way you don't go embarrassing yourself in public. It follows that young people should learn to drink responsibly, starting with beer and wine first, while they're young, so they don't go embarrassing themselves when they get older and have more responsibilities!

In Europe, according to this Washington Post article,the drinking age for beer and wine varies from... NONE, in Poland and Portugal, to 14 in Switzerland, to 16 in the rest of Europe. At the age of 18, in most European countries, hard liquor becomes legal. The 21st birthday has no real legal meaning in most of Europe.

The problem in America is that it's too easy to DRIVE at an early age without adequate training, and that because we have a culture that is, basically, uneducated towards alcohol, there is no legit way for somebody to learn to drink responsibly prior to achieving the legal drinking age. It's just this assumption that for 21 years, you don't touch the stuff, then all of a sudden at 21, you know how to consume it responsibly, and have somehow gained this knowledge... by osmosis?

That's unhealthy.

To just increase the fines for underage drinking solves nothing, except maybe a budget shortfall at the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which levies the fines mentioned in the bill above).

Rather, we should be taking steps to encourage a more European approach to alcohol. I recognize that Ronald Reagan made the drinking age a federal policy, but perhaps Oregon could experiment with... going it's own way on this matter. Starting with beer/wine at 16, hard liquor at 18, and stiffer policies against DRIVING WITHOUT ADEQUATE TRAINING. If all young folks FIRST learn how to drink responsibly, and when to NOT drink, and THEN receive the right to drive, don't you think that might be a better situation than FIRST getting the right to drive, THEN at some point receiving legal permission to drink, without adequate preparation?