Drinking Age Debate Brewing

SPOKANE — You can get married, fight in a war, and be bound to a legal contract at the age of 18, but you can’t drink a beer. The decades-old drinking age debate hits center stage as the school year is almost ready to start.

Jack & Dan’s is a popular watering hole for Gonzaga students. It would be a lot busier if some college presidents get their way. They want the drinking age lowered because of concerns about college binge drinking.

A quiet debate is brewing when it comes to how old you should be to have a drink. A hundred college presidents from across the country have joined the Amethyst Initiative. They’re calling for a drop in the drinking age from 21 to 18.

“There should be opportunities for students to be educated about alcohol, and right now we can’t do it in good conscience,” Pomona College president David Oxtby said. “We have to tell students it’s illegal to drink but if you’re going to drink here’s the way to do it. It’s a very mixed message.”

But news of the movement doesn’t sit well with Jana Craven, the former president of the Spokane chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“I am appalled. We have a drinking age of 21 for a reason. People that are under the age of 21, their minds are still not developed yet,” Craven said.

Craven lost her only son, Nicolas, to a drunk driver back in 1997. She says 18-year-olds aren’t ready to handle the possible consequences of drinking.

“The woman who killed my son was 55 years old. I mean, she wasn’t handling her alcohol at the age of 55, how at the age of 18 can you handle the same consumption,” Craven said.

Some Gonzaga students say lowering the drinking age would in fact encourage responsible drinking.

“Over a long period of time, it would probably be a good thing,” Gonzaga student Kathryn Parker said. “It would get students to stop binge drinking at an early age.”

Others say college students wanting to binge drink will do it no matter what the legal age might be.

“I could care less if it’s 18 or 21, but I don’t think it will help reduce binge drinking because once you’re away from home, people are going to want to get crazy,” Gonzaga student Matthew Bejar said.

So far no president from any Inland Northwest colleges or universities has signed up in support of this initiative.