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The Last Word for June 5, 2000


Prohibition


     Today a study came out about drinking arrests across the US at college campuses, and it bothered me. Every single media organization (newspapers, news shows) declared that this was indicative of the drinking situation getting worse. Can any of them explain to me how arrests and use are related? To the best of my information, most college campuses follow the intention of the fourth amendment by refusing to randomly search and enter rooms to search for underage drinking. The study shows that students are getting dumber about hiding it.

     Personally, I feel that as with most other statistics, these prove absolutely nothing. Drinking has been around college campuses for quite a while, it's simply a part of the culture. Suddenly, people are coming out left and right saying this has to change. That much I agree with. There shouldn't be underage drinking on college campuses, simply because the average student on a college campus shouldn't be underage.

     I'm 19 years old. That makes me underage. I can kill my lungs with cigarettes, vote for president, vote for local office, even run for political office -- but I can't drink. What furthers the problem on college campuses is you have the largest mix of underage and of age people concentrated in one area. If you want liquor, someone can buy it for you, you'll probably know someone who's a couple classes ahead of you to do that.

     Binge drinking is a terrible thing, and I don't want to sound like I support it. But no matter what happens in respects to the law, you're still going to have people doing it. Prohibition lasted for 11 years in this country, and what did that amount to? The rise of organized crime and widespread law-breaking. For that reason, Prohibition disappeared -- it was more trouble than it was worth.

     So what happened? Well, the drinking age was taken down to 18-21, depending on the state. New York used to have a drinking age of 18, but that caused people to go over the border into New York just to drink themselves silly, and then drive home. For that reason, the age was bumped up to 21 across the board essentially. There was even a Supreme Court case stemming from a law in Oklahoma regarding the sale of non-intoxicating beer to men and women at different ages (18 for women, 21 for men).

     Now let me try to bring this into perspective. Prohibition was abolished because of the incredible opposition to the bill and inability to enforce it. The current situation is identical minus one critical part -- the opposition is far weaker. The only people who really care one way or another are those in college. Those in college are less likely to be motivated to oppose the law because they have access to liquor and will be legal in a couple years anyway.

     There is widespread violation of the law. Alcohol is not hard to come by on most college campuses, regardless of age. The law is incredibly difficult to enforce as well, since I tend to like to think that colleges have some respect for our privacy as students and won't do random searches and ID checks. But the simple fact that opposition is divided and short-lived prevents any serious organized opposition by students.

     This country is based on freedom of choice, and with that comes a huge amount of responsibility. Freedom entails responsibility. Take a look at European countries, where the drinking laws are far less strict. Granted my knowledge of statistics from those countries is extremely limited, but I do know what I've heard from speaking to several students from those countries -- there is far less of a tendency to binge drink. I don't know why, and it's not important, what I've seen is enough proof for me without understanding the different mentality completely.

     College students aren't going to get this law changed, and society is going to keep pushing for stricter liquor laws, because it's the "moral" thing to do. I simply see it as repeating the mistakes of Prohibition, only on a smaller scale. Studies about liquor-related arrests won't solve the problem, and neither will stricter laws. Prohibition doesn't work, and the only reason that no one will say anything about it is because of the way the law divides the potential opposition.



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