C’ville Debacle Raises Questions About Drinking Laws

One of the issues with being a state agency is that no one pays attention to you unless something goes wrong.  So let it be this week with the ABC.

The ABC does a lot of good things, such as regulating alcohol distribution, enforcing laws against businesses, and collecting millions in revenues.  Arresting individuals is not their thing, nor should it be.   That is the role of local law enforcement or the State Police.

The unnecessary use of force at UVA raises a larger issue — why are we devoting any law enforcement resources to arresting 20 year old college students for drinking alcohol?

The shift to the “21 or over” drinking age was led in the Eighties by the Federal government, who tied Federal highway funds to mandatory changes in state law.  (Talk about coercion!).  Virginia, like every other state, had no other choice but to fall in line. While the Federal effort had the laudable purpose of reducing DWI violations, it created the absurdity that college-age young people could not legally drink any form of alcohol.

Welcome to the world of “Baby Prohibition” on college campuses.  And just as unsuccessful and fruitless an effort.

Having done a fair amount of global travel, I can promise you that nobody else maintains this kind of legal over-reach against young adults presumably enjoying the best days of their lives.  (On the other hand, we have college football and March madness.  So maybe it balances out.)

This policy has forced otherwise law-abiding young people to evade an over-inclusive law, which is largely ignored on campuses and will always be.  And that’s not counting the irony of denying alcohol to 19 and 20 year olds serving in the military.

It may still be impossible to legally reduce the drinking age.  One fact is clear to me:  possession of alcohol, as opposed to DWI or public drunkenness, should not be a criminal violation, at least for 19 and 20 year olds.

That doesn’t mean it can’t still be a civil violation (and potentially an ABC license revocation) for businesses that serve “under-age,” but arresting individual students is ridiculous and self-defeating.  We’ve all got better and more important things to do.

And that includes the ABC.

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  • AMCIT

    I doubt you would find a lot of disagreement that the 21-year-old drinking age is ludicrous, given everything else an 18-year-old can do.

    I’m concerned at this column though. You speak of “collecting millions in revenues” as a good thing. In and of itself, collecting millions for the State is not a good thing. Add to that the amount it costs to hire, arm, and train a separate police force, and you’ve cut your the force of any power your argument might have.

  • Chap

    Thanks for the comment. I have no problem with ABC collecting sales proceeds and taxes from alcohol sales. That is their job. The police aspect is not necessary.