I am a long time NYRA member and thanks to my petitioning efforts, next month in Amherst Massachusetts voters will be able to vote on whether or not the drinking age should be lowered to 19 for beer & wine.
The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 was passed on July 17, 1984. It forced states to have a minimum age of at least age 21 to purchase and possess alcoholic beverages. States with a minimum drinking age lower than age 21 would lose ten percent of their annual federal highway funds. Therefore, although each state legally sets its own minimum drinking age, we have a de facto national drinking age of 21.
Over 30 years later, we still have a national drinking age of 21. Every few years there is a legislative effort at the state level to loosen the drinking age. A state legislator is able to introduce a bill into committee but the drinking age bill dies in that committee and never faces a vote before the full legislature. Direct democracy through the ballot question process is the best way for an issue with popular support but is politically incorrect to advance. In Massachusetts, the statewide ballot question process have been used twice concerning alcohol. In 1930 an initiative petition question supporting the repeal of prohibition was passed. In 1972 an initiative petition question supporting the lowering of the drinking age from age 21 to age 18 passed.
I chose to lead an effort to put a public policy (non-binding, advisory) question (PPQ) on the ballot that asks the state representative to support legislation that would lower the drinking age to age 19 for wines and malt beverages (i.e. beer) and to maintain the drinking age at age 21 for all other alcoholic beverages (i.e. hard liquor). This question will appear on the November 2016 ballot in the 3rd Hampshire (Amherst, Pelham and the northern half of Granby) state representative district of Massachusetts. I envision a law that would allow 19 and 20-year olds to buy beer and wine in a restaurant or liquor store and allow 21-year-olds to also purchase and consume hard liquor in bars and liquor stores.
I put this PPQ on the ballot in this district for several reasons:
First, no person or group yet has the financial resources to put a question on the drinking on the ballot statewide. However, Choose Responsibility has attracted foundation funding to fund a white paper on the minimum drinking age and to build a website.
Second, a local ballot question is a pilot project for a statewide ballot question. If the local ballot question is successful then it may attract the funds necessary to put it on the ballot statewide.
Third, the ballot requirements for a PPQ in Massachusetts are the lowest that I know of. Only 200 certified signatures are required to put a PPQ on the ballot in a state representative district in Massachusetts.
Fourth, the 3rd Hampshire state representative district is the home of three colleges: Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. There are over 30,000 higher education students in this representative district.
Fifth, Amherst is the hometown of the president of the Massachusetts state senate, Stanley Rosenberg.
Sixth, this PPQ will inform the public and elected officials of where actual voters stand concerning the 21-year old drinking age in the year 2016. Lastly, I believe that the highway funds obstacle can be overcome. John McCardell of Choose Responsibility has stated that states should be able to get a waiver from the federal government, for at least 5 years, so they could experiment with a lower drinking age without losing federal highway funds.
If you live in the area, or know anyone who does, please spread the word about lowering the drinking age! Be sure to vote!
I am a member of the Journalism department at UMass Amherst and am writing a story on Question 6 to hopefully be published before the election. Please email me if you can as soon as possible, as we would love to include some additional thoughts from to quote in our story.