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Posted by attorney Thomas Lyden

I wasn’t able to go back to the founding of this great nation, but here is some trivia about how we got to 21 as the age for purchase, possession, and consumption of alcohol since Prohibition.

Known as Prohibition, or the Noble Experiment, the ban on alcohol in the United States was the result of a few different pieces of legislation.

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited alcohol in the nation:

Section 1.After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2.The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3.This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

The Volstead Act, introduced by Republican (a 1919 Republican with a great mustache) Andrew Volstead, was the enabling legislation used to enforce the provisions of the 18th Amendment. The act mainly prohibited intoxicating drink, regulated commerce of intoxicating liquor and provided alcohol for use in reasearch, medicine, religious practices, etc. President Woodrow Wilson (a 1919 Democrat) vetoed the Act, but the veto was overridden by a House of Representatives vote on the same day of the veto.

History seems to have judged Prohibition as a failure and a huge fundraiser for organized crime, amongst other things. In 1933 a Wisconsin Senator, John Blaine, sponsored legislation to repeal Prohibition, and later the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified by the states and the Noble Experiment ended.

After Prohibition the states governed alcohol consumption of their respective citizens. We all probably know folks who talk about traveling to Idaho, or another state, to drink when the drinking age differed from Washington’s. And you may have heard of folks heading to beautiful British Columbia and being allowed to imbibe at the young age of 19 years old.

In the U.S., congress passed, and President Regan signed, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. Of course, the Federal Government wasn’t going to tell the States what they had to do; however, a state would see a 10% reduction in federal highway funds if the state allowed anyone under the age of 21 to lawfully consume. States tend to like federal money so here we are.

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