Alcohol age limit revisited

by Julia Ernst

Four months after the Amethyst Initiative sparked discussion among college and university presidents to lower the drinking age, lawmakers in New Jersey said on Monday that there are better ways to deal with underage binge drinking on college campuses.

Senate President Richard Codey and committee Chairwoman Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, who is also the associate director of Career Services at Rider, led the hearing held before the Senate Education Committee.

The hearing has resulted in a decision to work on developing solutions to better deal with underage drinking, other than lowering the legal age.

“I am having legislation drafted to create a statewide task force which will be charged with developing meaningful, broad-based solutions to the problem of underage and binge drinking among college-age students,” Turner said. “My legislation will address the need to change and enhance underage drinking statutes in addition to a component to address existing outdated penalties. The task force will include all stakeholders, including students, parents, college administration, law enforcement and alcohol retail industry.”

According to an Associated Press news report on NJ.com, Codey said the hearing was held after research was conducted.

“After we examined all of the alcohol policies submitted to us by state colleges and universities, it was clear that there is no uniform policy to effectively address this serious issue,” he explained.

Turner explained afterwards that the Amethyst Initiative spurred Monday’s hearing, when it became clear that some college presidents in New Jersey had signed the proposal.

“The Senate president [Codey] and I wanted to know what action was being taken on college campuses,” Turner said. “We wanted to find out what the college and law enforcement communities were doing to prevent and combat incidents of underage and binge drinking.”

The three New Jersey schools that signed the Amethyst Initiative — Montclair State University, Drew University and Stevens Institute of Technology — did not attend Monday’s hearing, according to another article on NJ.com.

The recent deaths of two New Jersey college students made lawmakers realize the problem’s urgency, Turner said. Gary DeVercelly Jr., a Rider student who died after a night of binge drinking, and Brett Griffin, a Kendall Park, N.J. resident who attended the University of Delaware and died of a suspected alcohol overdose, both died in the past two years.

Turner explained that the hearing sparked the discussion the Senate committee was hoping for and brought up some other unexpected results.

“It initiated the dialogue and debate that we need to begin addressing this problem,” she said. “We learned that students are as concerned about this as their parents, the college administrators and the policy-making community. We also uncovered some deficiencies in the law. The hearing was the first step needed to move us toward comprehensive solutions.”

John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College who started the Amethyst Initiative, also spoke at the hearing.

“What might you conclude?” McCardell said, according to the AP article. “Certainly not that current laws are working very effectively. How can anyone give college presidents the task of enforcing the law when it’s so abundantly clear that the law has proven so unenforceable before these young people even reach our campuses?”

McCardell said the need for change is what has driven the Amethyst Initiative.

“We need to rethink this law [the legal drinking age of 21],” McCardell said in the Courier Post Online. “There is little evidence that anything we are currently doing has any effect on underage drinking.”

Turner said although she does not support McCardell’s idea, she appreciates that proposals like the Amethyst Initiative spark discussion.

“Though I do not support the idea to lower the drinking age, I value the role that proposals such as this play in the public debate on serious issues,” Turner said. “It helped to bring the issues of underage and binge drinking to the forefront. I think people are seriously thinking about the appropriate age of majority and the markers that represent and are associated with personal responsibility and true adulthood.”

At the hearing, according to an article on NJ.com, Codey called the Amethyst Initiative “crazy,” but agreed with the point Turner made about the discussion such forums and ideas can lead to.

“Those students who we can’t reach through education need to know that they’re not going to get away with just a slap on the wrist,” Codey said. “They need to know their parents are going to be notified and they may face substantial penalties, both academic and punitive.”

The deaths of DeVercelly and Griffin have only added to the need for discussion that was originally sparked by the Amethyst Initiative.

“I am not certain on which new goal those who support the Amethyst Initiative are hoping to work,” Turner said, “but I believe that they are genuinely supportive of the direction in which we hope to take the discussion. We need immediate action, as we can not afford to lose another precious life.”

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