The drinking age should be 18, in Wisconsin and nationally.
It is absurd that a man or woman can vote, join the military, marry and divorce, start and own a business and make all the choices of an adult at age 18 and yet be barred from buying a beer.
It is even more absurd that politicians and pundits would suggest that concerns about the judgment of adults aged 18, 19 and 20 make an argument for denying them the same rights and privileges that are afforded adults who have turned 21.
If we respect the rule of law, and the concept of equal protection under law, it is wrong to establish different rules and different protections for adults who fall on opposite sides of arbitrarily established age limits.
Just as The Capital Times argued in the 1960s for lowering the voting age to 18, we argued in the 1980s for keeping the drinking age at 18 — as a matter of principle.
We have not changed our view.
Adults are adults. Period.
That is why we are not overly impressed with the proposal by three Republican state representatives — Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake, Rob Swearingen of Rhinelander and Cindi Duchow of Delafield — to lower the state’s drinking age from 21 to 19.
In making the case for the legislation, Jarchow advanced all the logical arguments for lowering the drinking age to 18. But then he said the sponsors had decided to draw their own arbitrary line at 19 because they wanted to prevent high school students from drinking and “causing unnecessary distractions while still in school.”
Jarchow and his colleagues are missing the point. Yes, of course, it is wise and good to set strict rules to ensure that drinking does not occur at high school (and college) events where students who are minors might be attending with students who are adults. But when 18-year-olds are off campus, they should be treated as the adults that they are.
With that said, we are glad that legislators are exploring the prospect of lowering the drinking age. This is a debate that should be had. Despite the fact that federal financial pressures will continue to make it difficult to pursue reforms at the state level, we appreciate Jarchow and his colleagues for opening the discussion in the Assembly.
Wisconsin is known as a state that enjoys its cool beverages. We recognize that this can be a problem at times. There are many sensible ways to address the problem, but prohibition has never been one of them. Prohibiting younger adults from drinking until they are 21 will not make them more responsible drinkers. In fact, there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that prohibiting Wisconsinites who are 18, 19 and 20 from drinking pushes the problem underground.
Treating Wisconsinites who have reached the age of 18 as the adults that they are and encouraging them to drink responsibly is the far better approach. We hope Wisconsin legislators from both parties, and both chambers in the statehouse, will explore it.
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