Lenient Alcohol Policy Is Needed
The Massachusetts Superior Court will soon issue a ruling as to whether the Crimson Sports Grille should face a six-day suspension of its liquor license for serving underage drinkers. The appeal is premised on the tenuous claim that one particular underage patron on the night of a sting operation used a fake Massachusetts driver's license to gain entry to the Grille. The bar's lawyer rightly holds the case is important because it will determine the degree of responsibility that a pub has to check the validity of a license. But we believe this issue is secondary to the very real question of the legitimacy of a drinking age placed at 21 years.
Drinking, everyone must acknowledge, is a perennial college pastime, which has contributed to the gaiety of the undergraduate experience for centuries. The current laws of the United States, which effectively impose a minimum drinking age of 21, have not changed for the better the cultural mores of the people whom they attempt to regulate. Rather, they have served to infantilize the entire collegeaged population and create taboos which make alcohol all the more desirable. And when such individuals are legally excluded from bars and clubs, they are denied legitimate access to public places.
The access they do have is to immature watering holes like the Grille, which seems to be eager to accept any sort of identification, even if it might be fake. Fortunately, at least one state, Louisiana, has started to make strides towards recognizing that those capable of making decisions about political candidates can also make decisions about drinking alcohol.
But the Grille is not the problem, contrary to the continual citations of the Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission (ABCC). The problem is that the laws of this nation (which penalize states' highway funding if they do not conform to the federal drinking age) are hypocritical in their construction. In the first place, 18-year-olds have always imbibed and will always imbibe alcohol.
Second, they should be allowed to do so under the law. To repeat the old adage, anyone old enough to vote and to be drafted, is certainly old enough to drink. Third, a basic premise of American liberalism is that freedom allows for the flourishing of virtue--why shouldn't this tenet be applied to mature drinking laws? Fourth, allowing those 18 to 21 to drink will produce a mature youth corps which very well might choose to regulate their appetite for drink with temperance.
Richard V. Scali, executive director of the Cambridge Licensing Commission (CLC) and liaison to the ABCC, has publicly stated, "Harvard Square has consistently been a problem spot for underage drinking." Well, at least he's competent enough to identify where Harvard College students choose to drink. But why he must focus on this aspect of the drinking culture, and why he selects Harvard Square in particular, are questions which we, unfortunately, have to answer. Scali surely doesn't intend harm, for he is trying to carry on with a decent job as a political appointee (but don't forget the fact that Harvard students don't vote in great numbers in Cambridge).
However, Scali's police actions as well as his August declaration that the CLC "will be prosecuting each and every underage person in the court system and they will not just get community service" seem to indicate an unreasonable animus directed at college-aged drinkers. Additionally, stricter enforcement in Harvard square might create a greater hazard by driving underage drinkers (and their legal friends) off campus to drink.
Now the laws of the United States, and therewith those of Massachusetts, are not going to be altered anytime soon. So the state, and Cambridge in particular, must live with the hypocrisy. The best way to proceed is by a policy of leniency on the part of the CLC and the ABCC. Punishing college students will not force them to conform to legal norms, primarily because social norms often encourage an undergraduate drinking culture. Temperance, which should be the objective of the state with regard to such an appetite as that for alcohol, will best be served by allowing the college culture to function autonomously and for students to discipline themselves. The state has no particular interest in preventing students from drinking, only in receiving federal highway funding, so lax enforcement seems to be the most appropriate compromise.