According to today’s Leader-Post, the Saskatchewan Party is considering joining the Alberta and Manitoba in setting the legal minimum drinking age at 18. As the Premier points out, “Someone can serve their country, be in harm’s way. Someone can choose their government …. and yet that person serving his country can’t go to the (Royal Canadian) Legion and have a beer.” While choosing a legal minimum drinking age will always be controversial, there are good public health reasons for supporting a lower legal drinking age in Saskatchewan.
The best illustration of the downside of high legal drinking ages comes from American colleges. Because the legal drinking age is 21, students tend to drink in uncontrolled environments like fraternities and bush parties, rather than in bars. This has bread a drinking culture that is far more dangerous than in places with lower drinking ages. It is considered such a problem that presidents of over 100 well known universities — including Duke, Darmouth, and Ohio State — have created the Amethyst Initiative (named after a stone that the Ancient Greeks believed protected its owner from drunkenness) to pressure law makers into reducing the drinking age to 18. Given the powerful incentive that universities have to maintain a safe environment for students, their opinions should be taken seriously.
Unfortunately, law makers often feel compelled to crack down on anything that is remotely dangerous. Given that the sky is not falling in Alberta, Quebec, or Manitoba, there is no reason to believe that Saskatchwan should maintain its artificially high legal drinking age.