Md. bill would lower drinking age for service members

WASHINGTON – Maryland lawmakers want to lower the legal drinking age for members of the military and the bill has support from veterans.

“If he’s eligible to be in the military and dodge bullets, he should be able to take a beer now and then,” says Hugh Warner, commander of VFW Post 3285 in Frederick, Maryland.

Warner supports a Maryland bill that would allow active duty service members who are between the ages of 18 to 21 to consume beer and wine at bars and restaurants in the state.

Sen. Michael Hough, a veteran himself, is one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 213, which would be limited to the consumption of beer and wine on the premises of a licensed bar or restaurant.

Hough says he joined the military straight out of high school.

“I worked on nuclear missiles. I was a Minute Man missile technician. So if we’re going to trust young men and women with jobs like working on nuclear missiles, defending our freedom, driving tanks, flying planes and helicopters, then I certainly think we can trust them to drink a beer,” Hough says.

But Kurt Erickson with the Washington Regional Alcohol Program says the legislation is a bad idea. Erickson says it could create what he calls “blood borders,” encouraging underage service members from other states to cross into Maryland to drink. Erickson says that’s just one reason the federal drinking age was set at 21 back in the 1980’s.

“The National Highway Traffic Safety (Administration) estimates that it saved almost 30,000 lives.” Erickson says of the change to the current legal drinking age.

Erickson says there’s another problem with the legislation: It would violate the federal law on underage drinking, and as a result, could put $30 million in federal highway funds at risk.

“The fact of the matter is that all 50 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia all comport and comply with the federal drinking age,” he says.

To that argument, Hough says, “There’s a lot of hypocrisy here. If the federal government wants to oppose it, then they should change the draft age to 21 years old.”

Sponsors of of the bill say they are working on ways to cooperate with federal officials in shaping the law, but they believe that it’s a common-sense measure that treats young service members as mature adults.

The bill has bipartisan support.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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