More GW students have become caught up in the dragnet of the Metropolitan Police Department’s initiative against underage drinking. In November alone, 200 people were arrested for underage drinking in the second police district, which includes GW and Georgetown University. While arrests have clearly increased, the problem has not gone away. And underage drinking is not likely to be solved through aggressive police tactics. Police, educators and lawmakers should work together to examine alcohol use and find policies that will address dangerous behavior regardless of age.
Setting the drinking age at 21 is a completely arbitrary decision. The law could just as easily allow anyone 18 or older to drink alcohol. Some argue that the higher age cuts down on drunk driving and that 21-year-olds are more responsible. While these arguments are debatable, the fact remains the drinking age ignores reality. People under 21 drink alcohol, and some do so in a very dangerous manner.
The danger of alcohol comes not from how old someone is when he or she takes a drink but in drinking too much. Alcohol poisoning and the comas and deaths it causes are the result of over-consumption of alcohol, not of underage drinking. True, underage drinkers are more likely to drink themselves to death, but that is the product of underground use of alcohol by students and others afraid of being hauled away in handcuffs. Bringing alcohol use – by adults between the ages of 18 and 21 – into the open would cut down on problematic drinking and hospitalizations as young people learn to use alcohol responsibly.
Barring a change in the law, changes in how the law is enforced should be made immediately. Rather than spending thousands of dollars arresting students, the government should mandate training for bouncers, liquor store clerks and others who check identification. Provide ID scanners to bars and clubs to prevent underage people from getting in. Police should write tickets with large fines rather than arresting students. The prospect of higher fines would go further than a night in jail in deterring alcohol use.
Nothing will stop underage people from obtaining alcohol. Of age students can still supply their younger friends with alcohol. Instead of attempting to do the impossible in preventing underage drinking, government should re-examine its policies and focus on those that work to prevent dangerous use of alcohol, no matter the drinker’s age.