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Minneapolis lawmaker wants to legalize teen drinking in some situations

The hazards of binge drinking have been well documented, both for those of legal drinking age and those under 21. The problem, as State Representative Phyllis Kahn sees it, is that young people never learn first-hand how to drink responsibly.

The veteran Minneapolis Democrat’s solution would be to legalize teen drinking in certain circumstances, in order to ease them into the culture of consuming alcohol.

“It’s the thought to get people to drink under a responsible, controlled situation rather than going out in the backyard with their friends,” Rep. Kahn told KARE Thursday.

A bill Kahn introduced would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to drink at restaurants with their parents. It would also permit 18, 19 and 20-year-olds to drink in licensed bars and cafes.

“They could drink in any established place that has a license,” Kahn explained, “So they could not drink at keggers and parks and parties.”

A person would still have to be 21 to buy packaged alcoholic beverages in retail settings, such as liquor stores, super markets or convenience shops. As far as Kahn’s concerned it wouldn’t be an outright repeal of Minnesota’s drinking age laws, but an effort to carve out exceptions.

“You gradually get people used to drinking; first with their parents, which has got to be the most controlled situation I can think of,” Kahn explained, “And then with friends in a place that has responsibility, under dram shop laws.”

Kahn says she remains steadfastly in favor of toughening laws against drunk driving, and other forms of dangerous behavior involving alcohol. Her goal is to cut down on the secretive drinking of booze in mass quantities, and the “power hour” mentality that all too often comes with a 21st birthday.

“We’ve held it out as this forbidden pleasure, that at 21 it’s suddenly perfectly alright to do whatever you want,” Kahn remarked, “I’m just saying a more gradual approach to learning how to drink is more appropriate.”

Her co-sponsors include Republican Tom Hackbarth of Cedar, and Democrat Tom Rukavina of Virginia. Rukavina has been quoted in the past as saying opening bars to those as young as 18 would help those taverns offset the impact of the smoking ban.

It’s not hard to find opponents.

“There’s a reason insurance companies charge more to people under 25, and there’s a reason the drinking age is 21,” Julie Zamora of Mothers Against Drunk Driving told KARE, “To put young lives and young brains in jeopardy to stimulate our economy is just crazy.”

Zamora directs youth drinking prevention efforts for MADD’s Minnesota office.

“It’s ridiculous to allow anyone who’s under 21 to be able to drink,” she asserted, “This is not going to solve more problems; it’s going to create more problems and casualties.”

Zamora told KARE a large body of research suggests early drinking damages natural brain development.

“The human brain doesn’t fully develop until the early 20’s,” she said, “So people who drink when they’re 14, 15, 16 through high school are more likely to do damage to their brains.”

Kahn, a bio-physicist by training, said the issues of binge drinking and enforcement of the age limit is an issue many in academia want a full airing of the issue.

“Just the fact that college presidents, over a hundred college presidents have called to have this issue discussed shows that I haven’t thought of this all by myself,” Kahn said.

Zamora responded that she welcomes the debate as an opportunity for parents to talk to their teenage children about alcohol. She rejects the notion, however, that parents should provide drinking training for their sons and daughters.

“People who wait until they’re older to drink are less likely to have problems.”

Kahn conceded she may not even get a committee hearing on her bill this year, but she’s not discouraged by that. For years she led the push in the House of Representatives for extending bar closing times to 2:00 a.m., and had essentially given up when another legislator took up the cause and got the law changed.

source: KARE 11

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