• Mr. Steven J. Muehler

Steve Muehler's Plan to Reduce the Legal Drinking Age of Beer and Wine to 18

Updated: Apr 23

In America, eighteen-year-olds can vote, operate a motor vehicle, pay taxes, marry, become a legal guardian, own a gun, and fight and die in a foreign country. One could easily argue that one or many of those bears way more responsibility than drinking alcohol. But until you pass America’s arbitrary drinking age line (the highest in the world), cracking open a beer while watching the Game, the Fights, or even the Bachelor from the comfort of your home is totally off limits.

Under my Administration, we would roll back the drinking age for "Malt Beverages" (primarily beer and wine) back to the age of 18, while leaving the legal age to consume "liquor drinks" at the age of 21.

Why is the drinking age 21 in the first place?

The legal drinking age in the United States has been 21 since the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984. When President Ronald “Just Say No” Reagan signed the act, he issued a blanket requirement for all states to raise their drinking age, or risk losing highway funding from the government. Previously, states had varying drinking ages (from 18 to the now-standard 21), some of which had separate laws for beer and hard liquor (for instance, 18 for beer, 21 for liquor, a concept my Administration would be implementing Nationwide). So at this time in history, you could be legally withheld from buying a fifth in one state, but then physically walk over an imaginary line in the ground into another, buy all the bottles of sweet whiskey, have drinks with your friends, and then just go home. And people did this. Frequently.

People who grew up in Western PA in the 1970s were just a short drive away from Ohio, where the drinking age throughout most of the decade was 18 (though in the early ‘80s, it was 21 for liquor). According to stories from the parents of my friends, it was common for kids close to the border to cross over for a night out, or to pick up beer and smuggle it back over state lines. And obviously, that makes sense. When I was 18 growing up in North Dakota, we went to Canada (drinking age was 19 in Winnipeg) just to drink. Unsurprisingly, this type of behavior was a key impetus in the decision to introduce the National Minimum Drinking Age Act.

The “interstate beer runs” as people would call them, led to what MADD and other similar organizations would call “blood borders.” These were stretches of highway known to bring liquored-up kids back to their own, less-alcohol-friendly states... with predictably disastrous results. MADD claims “...the 21 minimum drinking age law has saved about 900 lives per year as estimated by the National Traffic Highway Administration (NHTSA). In short, there are more than 25,000 people alive today because of the 21 minimum drinking age law in every state.” From 1982 (remember, this is pre-reform) to 1995, fatal car crashes involving young people with positive BACs dropped from 61% to 31%. That’s a considerable difference.

Though maybe the higher drinking age wasn’t actually the solution — it is my belief, that if the drinking age was congruent across state lines, this would have prevented kids from drinking legally in one state, and then driving home. I believe that if this was the case, the same results would have been achieved had Reagan made the national drinking age 18 for Malt Beverages (beer and wine) and simply left the hard stuff until the age of 21.

Europe is a model for lowering the age?

Most proponents for a lower minimum age immediately point to Europe as an example, where the drinking age is lower than 21 almost everywhere. Most Americans who have spent time in Europe can tell you the difference between the way they drink and the way we drink is akin to comparing someone who enjoys an after-dinner mint to the fat kid who dove headfirst into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate River.

I am constantly fascinated by the level of respect and control young Europeans have when they drink alcohol (for the most part). Their explanation (for the most part) was they had been exposed to alcohol almost their entire lives, as enjoying a glass of wine at dinner is not uncommon for children as young as 12. These kids knew how much alcohol they could handle because they were taught about it in an upfront, in a transparent way. That’s not to say Europeans won’t sometimes overdo it, but as a whole, they seem to approach alcohol more responsibly than young Americans do.

A study conducted by the Prevention Research Center, contends that European teens spend more time intoxicated than Americans, which is to some, example enough that the European model of a lower drinking age would be harmful. But, the research never fully details if this intoxication leads to problems like more frequent car crashes, violent crimes, cases of alcoholism, and alcohol-related illnesses and/or deaths, which is pertinent information given that a study by the World Health Organization showed that even though Americans drink less than Europeans, we die more from alcohol-related causes.

And even despite the age-based prohibition, young drinkers still overdo it. The number of reported cases of alcohol poisoning rose from 779 to 2,290 between 1998 and 2005 for 18-24-year-olds in the US.

Alcohol to an American under age 21 is a “Forbidden Fruit,” that entices with its “Don’t do this” mystique, and forces kids into risky behavior. We do not need a study to back up this theory, every American has experienced it. I was a teenager who — to be totally honest — engaged in a fair share of illegal drinking. The illegal aspect encouraged me away from any controlled settings like bars and restaurants, and forced me to drink and have parties wherever and whenever we could find a secret and often unsafe location.

My Administration would lower the Drinking Age to 18 Years Old for Beers and Wines, and leave the 21 Year Old Age Limit in Effect for Liquor Drinks.

Steve Muehler is the Founder & Managing Member of the Private Placement Markets:

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