AZ: Arizonians for Tomorrow petitions to lower the state drinking age
By Velvet Wahl
November 22, 2019
Arizonians for Tomorrow is looking to lower the legal drinking age in the 2020 election. The organization filed a petition in 2018 to get a bill in the next election that could lower the drinking age to 18.
The petition, which needs 237,645 signatures total to become a bill, only needs about 17,000 more, according to Arizonians for Tomorrow Chair James Leamon.
“We believe that if you are old enough to fight for your country that you should be old enough to drink,” Leamon said. “The fact of the matter is that a lot of people under 21 are drinking anyway. We believe that you should give them the safe environment to do so.”
The minimum drinking age in the United States has changed several times in the last century with states setting the minimum legal drinking age anywhere from 18 to 21. But in 1984, Congress passed an act to raise the minimum drinking age to 21, withholding state highway funds if states did not comply.
If the drinking age is lowered to 18 in the next election, Arizona is at risk of losing state highway funds. To counteract the loss of funding, the bill will also include a 30 percent sales tax on alcohol to anyone between the ages of 18 and 20.
Twenty percent of the tax would go towards the state highway fund and 10 percent to local municipalities.
“(The tax) also helps discourage people from potentially binge drinking,” Leamon said. “It’s meant as a deterrent as well.”
But the tax might be too difficult to be implemented practically.
“Charging a different tax for different ages, I think that’s impossible for the owners to try and establish some sort of system to do that,” bar owner Ian Francis said. “It would be a big challenge.”
A lower drinking age could affect bars in downtown Phoenix located near Arizona State University’s downtown campus as many students that live near campus are under the age of 21.
Francis, the owner of Sazerac, which opened in downtown Phoenix last year, said he supports the bill.
“Pre-1980s, (the drinking age) was 18 throughout a lot of the states and even the whole country. I’m for it,” Francis said. “But I think that in order to move back… I think it’s important to educate younger people on the ramifications of what drinking entails.”
Francis said he thinks Arizona should implement a mandatory educational course on drinking, similar to the drivers’ test that everyone must take if the drinking age is lowered. He also believes that lowering the drinking age would affect bars’ business positively in downtown.
“As long as the younger people know what’s in store for them and what the responsibilities are (of drinking), I think that it would increase business quite dramatically,” Francis said.
While Francis believes that people may feel more comfortable drinking more at home, drinking in a bar setting may not lower the risks that come along with drinking.
“The other side of the same point is if they’re drinking out in public, they may have somebody say you’re cut off, you’ve had enough,” Francis said. “And they may walk out the door and go somewhere else or get into a car.”
Francis said that education is very important when it comes to drinking because there are risks in any drinking situation.
Tim Hagdorn, an ASU student under the legal drinking age, believes the legal drinking age should remain 21.
“I feel the culture of drinking here is different to the point that the trends (in Europe) wouldn’t necessarily be reflected here,” Hagdorn said.
ASU student Fionna Garcia, who is under the legal drinking age, said she does not feel comfortable with the drinking age being lowered to 18.
“I had a couple of high school friends who actually got killed in an accident that involved drunk driving,” Garcia said. “The guy ended up being free and I’m pretty sure he was underage too.”
Between 2003 and 2012, nearly 3,000 people were killed in drunk driving accidents in Arizona, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Garcia does not think that people under 21 are mature enough to drink.
“Realistically, you have to ask yourself, are you really going to be responsibly drinking? I know a lot of people who act on impulse,” Garcia said. “I don’t know the certain age where your brain stops developing, but I’m pretty sure it’s around the age 21. Eighteen is more adolescent, you’re still going through (puberty).”
The bill will include changing criminal charges for giving or selling alcohol to a minor from misdemeanors to petty offenses. It will also change the criminal charges of a minor who solicits alcohol from someone else to a petty offense.
“We believe that everyone deserves a second chance and one mistake should not ruin the rest of your life,” Leamon said.