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?


Anonymous said...

It's not a bad idea in principle, and certainly something I would support, but ever since South Dakota v. Dole (or was it North Dakota?), it has been legal for the Feds to withhold funding for programs if the States don't do as they say. Because of the high rate of drunken driving by underage drinkers, in the late 80s or early 90s -- I don't remember that time well, I was partying in New Orleans -- the Feds made receipt of highway funding for States contingent on adopting a drinking age of 21. That law is still in place, so any movement in the drinking age in OR would be accompanied by a massive budget shortfall for road maintenance -- roads that, in most Oregonians' opinions, are already pretty bad. So, the idea is a political non-starter.


Garlynn Woodsong said...


Yes, I remember that Louisiana used to play a little game with the Feds, whereby they had a drinking age of 18, the Feds cut off their highway funding, so they raised it to 21, received their funding again, then dropped it back to 18, lost funding, raised it again...

...meanwhile, I don't think anybody in New Orleans was carding for alcohol, ever... were you ever carded?

I agree that Oregon would need to start a national movement, otherwise they'd just lose federal funding. Maybe, however, what I'm really advocating for is a national movement?

I certainly don't think it helps to make the punishment more severe at the state level, however. The law already isn't working. What makes anybody think that just making fines stiffer is going to magically sweep away a structural problem?

adron said...

Louisiana... yup. That's exactly how it went down. At one point they didn't even have one. The problem lies the fact that the feds have the power to either A: overule the state if they want or B: cut off some subsidized service (like road funds).

I WISH Oregon had the TRULY rebellious nature Louisiana does/did though. I moved to Portland thinking that it was a rebellious, think outside the box place, but have found that it's kind of a weak state, that is somewhat spineless when actually standing up for what it believes (at least on a federal level).

As for the whole Feds withholding monies, they also technically occupied and started a war (look at the dates and actual events) to remove states independance to make decisions/legislative actions on things like "drinking ages".

But I digress. Gotta get some sleep.

Good blog, keep up the good work. :)

Anonymous said...

I live in Switzerland since two months ago. Just let me say that I am tired of seeing kids around 16 drunk hanging out at the trainstation every single time I have to take the train. It is a serious problem in Switzerland. The kids aren't nice quite drunks. They are loud and annoying. Yet, noone does a thing about it. I can't imagine it is helping tourism here. I have lived in France as well and never experienced this behavior. I never saw young kids walking around with cans of beer unless they were German kids.