Undercover Metropolitan Police officers arrested five GW students in front of Tokay Liquors in Columbia Plaza – an apartment complex partially owned by the University – for underage possession of alcohol Friday. The arrests are indicative of a city-wide effort by D.C. authorities to curb underage drinking. These efforts to enforce the law are admirable, but the laws regulating alcohol ignore reality.
The law in the District and every state sets the age for possession and consumption of alcohol at 21. But underage students at GW and elsewhere have little difficulty obtaining alcohol in bars or liquor stores with or without false identification. Underage students return nightly to residence halls intoxicated after visits to area clubs and bars. Some even smuggle alcohol into their rooms. The simple fact is students under 21 already posses and consume alcohol. The law and whatever consequences it may employ have not and will not change this situation.
Alcohol is a dangerous substance. Several students this year have been hospitalized due to over-consumption of alcohol. Students at other universities have died in recent years as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol leads to traffic deaths, date rape and abusive behavior. But it is a substance that is ingrained in our national identity. Beer logos appear on blimps at sporting events. Alcohol is celebrated in movies like Animal House and PCU. Liquor advertisements appearing in popular national magazines, like the image of the Absolut Vodka bottle, have become collectibles.
America is still searching for the proper response to alcohol use by all adults, particularly those under 21. Clearly the current system of prohibition of alcohol to those under 21 does not work and needs re-evaluation.
But unless and until the law is changed to affect reality, students under 21 take substantial risks in drinking alcohol. They must recognize and weigh the consequences of their actions before choosing to drink and know that making that choice violates the law.