Students protest drinking age

A youth advocacy organization is recruiting D.C. college students in its campaign to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18. While flyers from the National Youth Rights Association have been posted around campus, GW students have yet to officially join the group’s effort to change the nation’s drinking laws.

Alex Koroknay-Palicz, the non-profit organization’s president and executive director, said America’s youth are unfairly denied the right to consume alcohol.

“When you are 18 to 20 years old you have to pay taxes and you can vote,” he said. “We’ve got thousands of soldiers (who are under 21) in Iraq right now putting their lives on the line and they can’t even have a beer.”

The organization’s American University chapter has set up information booths at the MCI Center, American’s Bender Arena and several anti-war protests.

“We are always out (recruiting) at conferences, concerts and protests in order to get these issues out,” said Koroknay-Palicz, an American graduate who started his school’s chapter in 2000 to raise awareness about youth rights.

The group has also called on states to repeal curfew laws and lower the voting age.

“Right now it’s a volunteer-run organization,” Koroknay-Palicz said. “The most important thing students can do is to start a local chapter and to work on whatever issues they care about strongly.”

Although GW does not have a chapter, many students expressed support for lowering the drinking age, and said it is an issue they cannot avoid because of drinking’s widespread acceptance on campus.

“I personally think that it’s kind of a culture in college and it’s arbitrary to say that some students can drink and some can’t,” said first-year graduate student Bo Peery. “I think that they should either raise it to 23 or lower it to 18 so all undergraduates in college either can or can’t drink.”

The National Youth Rights Association has proposed that the United States adopt laws similar to those in France, Germany and Spain, where the drinking age is as low as 16.

“If we had a different, more European approach, it would make drinking safer,” he said. “I think that it would cut down on binge drinking and encourage drinking in moderation.”

Prior to the 1980s, especially during the Vietnam War, many states, subscribing to the argument that people old enough to fight in wars should be able to drink alcohol, lowered the drinking age from 21 to 18.

In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which required “all states to raise their minimum drinking age to 21 within two years or lose a portion of their federal-aid highway funds.”

The Mother’s Against Drunk Driving Web site notes that researchers saw a 28 percent decrease in teenage highway fatalities after the nation raised the drinking age to 21.

GW law professor Peter Meyers, who specializes in drug policy, said it would be possible to change the alcohol laws, but noted that politicians have sought to crack down on youth drinking in recent years.

“Sure you could pass a law lowering the drinking age,” he said. “There might be financial consequences, but there is no legal reason why they couldn’t do it, and there is nothing in the Constitution or an overriding law. There is nothing to preclude it. So, it is purely a policy question.”

The Metropolitan Police Department received a $1 million grant in August to curb underage drinking.

Koroknay-Palicz said there has been nationwide support for changing the drinking laws, despite efforts by groups such as MADD and the Center for Science in the Public Interest to make them stricter.

“We are getting growing public support,” he said. “I’ve seen polls even without public education effort, where 45 percent of the sample was in support of lowering the drinking age. We are getting momentum behind us.”

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