WASHINGTON, October 23, 2013 — Conservatives generally regard the years of the Reagan Presidency as the halcyon days of conservatism. While conservatives look back at them with rose-colored glasses, those years were not perfect.
During the Reagan years, some bad laws were passed. One in particular should be repealed as a legal affront to liberty, and at the same time as a way to reach out to the youth vote.
What is this law?
In 1984, Congress passed and Reagan signed “The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984.”
This was not an idea from the Reagan team or the conservative movement. It belongs to Elizabeth Dole and the RINO wing of the GOP.
The federal government lacks the inherent power to control the drinking age, so it did what it could do. It used the power of the purse. It used its power to bribe the public and the states with their own money.
The federal government told the states that either they passed laws that complied with a federal edict, or they would lose federal funding. In this case it was federal highway funding. States were required to raise the age to purchase or possess alcohol to 21 or lose federal highway funds.
The states quickly fell in line. Today, all fifty states have passed laws that outlaw the purchase or possession of alcohol by minors.
What is the effect of these laws?
They have been a failure. Drinking by those 18 to 21 has not been reduced. On college campuses, binge drinking is a major problem. On college campuses, female students are routinely warned about the dangers of being raped while they are intoxicated, and it seems they are just as routinely raped in that condition.
By contrast, in most of Europe there is no drinking age, and the purchase age is 18. Binge drinking and drunkenness among college and high school students there is relatively rare. Rather than punish drinking, European laws severely punish drunk driving: Young people who drive while intoxicated can face hefty fines, jail time, and lose their drivers’ licenses for a year or more. In addition, in Germany the maximum permissible alcohol level in a driver with less than two years driving experience is zero.
There are even worse consequences to America’s alcohol laws. By prohibiting the purchase, possession, and even consumption of alcohol by minors, the government has criminalized tens of thousands of young people for no good cause.
In Tennessee, for example, there are four separate laws that criminalize either the possession or consumption of alcohol by people under 21. Three of the four are Class A misdemeanors, with penalties up to 11 months and 29 days in jail.
That means a 19-year-old kid can spend a year in jail for having a 6-pack of beer.
Another part of that law made it a criminal offense to use a false ID to by alcohol. Some states make it a criminal offense for a store clerk to sell alcohol to a minor, even by accident if the clerk failed to check an ID.
This is utter insanity.
Most Americans over 50 can remember their teens, when many had their first beer. For many, trying to buy beer underage was a rite of passage. The clerk might say no, but sometimes you could get away with it.
Today, it could mean a year in jail and a criminal record that follows you for the rest of your life. That is insanity.
The American legal system is over criminalized. There are too many laws that make too many behaviors into criminal offenses without protecting society. Many of these laws are complete failures. The only thing they succeed in doing is turning harmless people who do harmless things into criminals.
There are a lot of criminal laws at both the state and federal level that need to be repealed. Conservatives should start with this one. It is cruel, it destroys lives, and it is a failure.
Repealing “The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984,” is an action that would resonate with the young voters conservatives need to connect with, and it is simply a good idea.
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