The Arizona Desert Lamp

Brewer’s postulate

Posted in Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 2 April 2009

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer held a press conference on underage drinking Wednesday, and Daily Wildcat reporter Cody Calamaio brought back her thoughts on the un-safety epidemic plaguing properties around the UA:

With the recent passage of the Pima County “Social Host” Ordinance, property owners who are over the age of 21 are held accountable for underage drinking on any property that is under their control.

The ordinance, which was adopted by the Pima County Board of Supervisors on March 3, is set to take effect tomorrow.

“Underage drinking continues to be the number one substance abuse problem facing youth in Arizona,” Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said during a press conference yesterday at the Pima County Consolidated Justice Court east courtyard, 115 N. Church St. “Adults must learn that there is no such thing as safe drinking for anyone under the age of 21.”

Except, you know, just about everywhere else in the free world. But pay no attention to that little bit of unreason. Look! A beauty pageant winner!

Tanya Valladares, Ms. Pima County 2009 and UA physiology junior, endorsed the underage drinking crackdown by the county.

“As a member of the Greek Life at the University of Arizona, I’ve seen firsthand the negative effects of underage drinking. I’ve heard the stories of friends being sexually assaulted,” she said. “This ordinance will help reduce off-site underage drinking parties held by fraternities at private houses.”

A nice thought, but I’m skeptical. The city of Tucson has had a “social host” ordinance since 2007, along with the more onerous Red Tag provisions. Unless most students are getting their underage drink on in the Benson Highway corridor or north of River road, this seems like a law and order publicity stunt more than anything else.

Plus, it may well be that Ms. Valladares has never let a drop of the demon rum seep between her prizewinning underage lips, but even if she’s teetotal it’s totally ironic to see a representative of the Greek community–the very organizations that have transformed underage drinking “risk management issues” from an amateur art to a plausibly-deniable science–throw her support behind this ordinance.

And I thought it was bad when President Shelton brushed off the Amethyst Initiative. We don’t need yet another crackdown on underage drinking. We need sensible alcohol policy that treats students like the adults they are.

8 Responses

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  1. Laura Donovan said, on 3 April 2009 at 12:37 am

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to recognize that “property owners who are over the age of 21 are held accountable for underage drinking on any property that is under their control.” There’s no reason to let our guard down just because there are spoiled underage students who feel a false sense of entitlement to alcohol, as I’ve said before.

    What kind of sensible alcohol policy do you propose? I don’t mean to sound defensive, I see where you’re coming from, I just don’t see why it’s a problem to prevent underage drinking.

  2. mattstyer said, on 3 April 2009 at 9:31 am

    21 years old is an unreasonably high age to to legally drink. The “free world” link Connor has isn’t really even accurate, especially with regard to Europe. In most countries, you can buy beer at at 16, and hard liquor at 18. But that’s “official” – and I quote official because the official policy seems to be that it isn’t enforced harshly. It’s more informal, left to prudence: if the person behind the register/bar thinks you look like you can hold a drink, you’ve got a chance. And that doesn’t even say anything about drinking with your parents around. It’s perfectly fine as a kid to have some alcohol (usually wine) in public with your parents over dinner or something, especially in the latin countries. Or to be a 14 year old in the biergarten in Germany and get a little sloshed. Plenty of people are around watching you after all, to make sure you don’t do anything too stupid. That’s the benefit of keeping it in the open.

    The sensible alcohol policy is to start from day 1 not treating it like mysterious forbidden fire water, and to let people make their own decisions about it from an early age. Our drinking policies don’t do anything but hide it away and make people wild-eyed crazy about drinking because it’s the forbidden fruit.

  3. Laura Donovan said, on 3 April 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Unreasonably high age? I can agree to an extent, but Europe is a poor example. As you’ve even stated before, people drive less in Europe, and this reduces the risk of drunk driving. We as Americans live in cities where you need cars to get around. They’re the most popular source of transportation and we don’t want to promote drinking and driving.

    Last semester, I wrote a column about Britain’s consideration of banning happy hour due to so many alcohol related deaths in youth. The article can be found here:

    We have to do more than just “not treat it like forbidden fire water.” Normally, I think people should have the freedom to make their own mistakes, but alcohol related mistakes can hurt others, as shown in drunk driving fatalities and drunken violence against others. The government cannot simply lower the drinking age and instruct everyone to be “smart about it.”

    I don’t mean to come off as rude at all, I’m just extremely passionate about this issue as you are about certain things, and I’d be very worried if the US decided to lower the drinking age simply because it seems to work in other countries, when in reality, it does not.

    • Evan Lisull said, on 3 April 2009 at 5:11 pm

      “Normally, I think people should have the freedom to make their own mistakes, but alcohol related mistakes can hurt others, as shown in drunk driving fatalities and drunken violence against others.”

      Right – except that this has very little relation with the drinking age, if this WHO report is to be believed. If you check out the graph on page 4, you’ll see that the US has the third-highest percentage of fatal crashes with alcohol as a factor, ahead of France, Ireland, Mexico, Australia, and the U.K., among others.

      Yet even if we accept the assertion limiting liberty decreases death rates, then why not increase the drinking age to 25? 30? Why not ban the substance outright, if it is so dangerous? Operating a motor vehicle while sober is far riskier than drinking in a stationary location – should we raise the driving age to 35 to cut down on this risk?

      This analysis also ignores the costs of enforcing the current drinking age. The police officers that spend time busting up these house parties are not on the roads enforcing drunk driving laws, protecting students on campus, or patrolling for other more serious crimes. Drunk driving is a serious issue, but it’s quite the logical leap to say that the current drinking age policy is helping to solve the problem.

  4. Laura Donovan said, on 4 April 2009 at 12:17 am


    Drunk driving isn’t the only issue, you’re right about that. I see that I ignored the cost of enforcing the current drinking age, but police have to monitor underage drinking for a reason. House parties disturb the peace of the neighborhood, and they can be potentially danger if they get out of hand, hence, police officers arrive before this can happen. Do you really think the police are wasting time by busting these parties? They’re also on the roads checking for drunk drivers.

    You may think there are “more serious crimes,” but alcohol has the potential to spark serious crimes such as alcohol related deaths and abuses, which I listed above.

    I can see that I’m starting to have trouble defending my case here, but I believe that most Americans underestimate how dangerous alcohol can be for naive youth.

  5. mattstyer said, on 4 April 2009 at 5:29 pm

    But part of the solution to naive youth is to make them not so naive with regard to alcohol. Make it part of their lives, make it public and they’ll be less likely to do terribly stupid things with it. Put a culture around it, instead of trying to hide it away and let it develop its own ridiculous culture.

    The other thing you do is to make drunk driving laws extremely harsh. From Evan’s linked WHO report, it appears that lowering the BAC has a generally positive effect for decreasing fatal drunk accidents. From there, make people above that BAC subject to pretty harsh penalties. Revocation of license, jailtime for significantly above, things like that. I believe that’s the approach Germany takes. Give it a little bit of time, and people will figure out that those risks of drinking and driving (which people have a better sense of than dying – “that can’t happen to me”) far outweigh spending a couple bucks on a cab. And it might even lead people to favor public transportation next time it’s on the ballot. Win-win to me.

    Rowdy house parties disturbing the peace of a neighborhood is hardly a good enough reason to raise the drinking age. And yes it is a waste of time for cops. If you’ve got sympathy for college or high school kids with their parents out of town who party once a weekend, buy some earplugs. If it’s disturbing the peace of your neighborhood, go over to the house and tell them to tone it down. Go over when they’re sober the next time and try and work something out. No need to involve the cops in all but the worst cases.

    Raising the drinking age won’t cure more serious abuses like alcoholism or possibly more serious crimes that can be related like domestic violence. These probably aren’t that common among 18-21 year olds.

  6. Connor Mendenhall said, on 6 April 2009 at 5:43 am

    My fellow commenters have done a good job here, but to answer Laura’s question, I favor decoupling the drinking age from federal highway funds, and letting the states set a drinking age on their own as the first step towards sensible policy. Within my own state, I’d like to see the age lowered to 16-18, or abolished altogether along with all prohibitions on other drugs. But from a pragmatic standpoint, I see diminishing marginal returns: the easiest and most sensible thing is to defer to federalism, then to lower the age, then to abolish altogether.

  7. […] Why US Alcohol Laws Should Remain Jump to Comments This article is a response to recent Desert Lamp discourse on strict alcohol policies in the United States. […]

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