Friday, April 12, 2024

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Two States Considering Lowering the National Drinking Age

Image by: Steve Oberman
Image by: Steve Oberman

In a recent Inquisitr article, Scott Falkner discusses two states that are considering lowering the legal drinking age from 21years of age to 18 years of age. Minnesota and California are considering the change because of the litigation of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) in the United States Supreme Court. Before jumping into the reasons Minnesota and California may lower the legal drinking age, a brief recap of why the legal drinking age was raised from 18 to to 21 is warranted.

In 1984, as the article points out, The National Minimum Drinking Age Act (23 U.S.C. § 158) was passed. This required every state in the country to change their legal drinking age (if not already done so) to 21 years of age. This Act mandated that if the states did not raise the minimum drinking age to 21, a certain percentage of funding for highways would be withheld from each state. The article calls this federal mandate a “pseudo-blackmail” that would potentially set a dangerous precedent for future requests by the Federal Government upon the states.

As Phyllis Khan (a long time State Representative in Minnesota) explains in the article, the Obamacare legislation allows for states to (potentially) lower the legal drinking age. Kahn goes on further to explain that when the 2012 Affordable Care Act was ruled upon by the United States Supreme Court, the majority of the Court ruled that the Federal Government could not threaten to withhold funding from the states in order to compel certain action by state governments.

It is not clear if Minnesota or California will attempt to change the current legal drinking age. As of this date, no such legislation or ballot initiative has been introduced in either state. The common argument against lowering the drinking age is that younger individuals drink to extreme and lack the maturity to avoid gross intoxication and thus, the young person may drive impaired or otherwise harm themselves or others. As the article mentions, however, over 130 university chancellors and presidents signed a national letter stating that the current drinking age laws are not effective, and some sort of change is needed.

In this author’s opinion, if young men and women in the United States are mature enough to join the military, purchase and handle weapons, and vote at the age of 18, perhaps these same 18 year-old individuals should be given the right to legally drink alcohol. However, no one is blind to the fact that underage individuals are drinking alcohol and making poor decisions.

The penalties for driving under the influence (DUI or DWI) when under the age of 21 can be harsher than if the individual was of legal drinking age. In Tennessee, for example, if a person between the ages of 18-21 is convicted of driving while impaired (Underage DWI), that person is not allowed to drive a vehicle for one year. No restricted driver’s license is permitted and the individual will then not be able to legally drive to work, school, or any medical provider. While on the contrary, an adult convicted of Driving Under the Influence may drive with a restricted driver’s license. This overly punitive disposition to underage individuals who drink and drive is not preventing these crimes from occurring. Only education and teaching moderation of alcohol consumption will help curtail young individuals from making poor life decisions.

About the Author: Attorney Steven Oberman has been licensed in Tennessee since 1980, and successfully defended over 2,500 DUI defendants.  Among the many honors bestowed upon him, Steve served as Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. (NCDD) and currently serves as chair of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers DUI Committee.  Steve was the first lawyer in Tennessee to be Board Certified as a DUI Defense Specialist by the NCDD.

Steve Oberman is the author of DUI: The Crimes & Consequences in Tennessee, updated annually since 1991 (Thomson-West), and co-author with Lawrence Taylor of the national treatise, Drunk Driving Defense, 7th edition (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen).  Steve has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee Law School since 1993 and has received a number of prestigious awards for his faculty contributions.  He is a popular international speaker, having presented at legal seminars in 30 states, the District of Columbia and three foreign countries.

You may contact Steve through his website at or by telephone at (865) 249-7200.

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Steve Oberman

Steve Oberman

Since graduating from the University of Tennessee Law School in 1980, Mr. Oberman has become established as a national authority on the intricacies of DUI defense law. Steve is a former Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, co-author of a national treatise ("Drunk Driving Defense" published by Aspen/Wolters-Kluwer), and author of "DUI: The Crime and Consequences in Tennessee" (published by Thomson-Reuters/West). He has taught thousands of lawyers, judges, and members of the general public about the intricacies of this crime. Steve was selected as a Fulbright Scholar to teach American Criminal Law and American Trial Advocacy at the University of Latvia School of Law in 2019; in 2023 taught for a semester as a visiting professor at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) Faculty of Law in Budapest, Hungary; and as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Law in 2024. Steve has also presented at a number of judicial conferences in the United States and Canada as well as for law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Czech Republic Police Academy. As a Tennessee DUI attorney, Mr. Oberman has successfully defended over two thousand clients charged with Driving Under the Influence of alcohol and/or drugs. In 2006, Mr. Oberman became the first DUI lawyer in Tennessee to be recognized by the National College for DUI Defense as a Board Certified Specialist in the area of DUI Defense law.

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