The South Carolina House of Representatives pre-filed a bill in November, which proposed lowering the drinking age for beer and wine from 21 years old to 18. This has many people asking if this is possible. The answer: it’s complicated.
President Ronald Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, which required states to lower their drinking age to 21 years old or face a 10% cut in federal highway funding. Every state followed this direction and changed their drinking age if it was not already 21. If the law proposed by the South Carolina House of Representatives was passed, the state would be the first and only to lower the drinking age from 21 years old.
The bill only proposes a lowered drinking age on beer and wine, and does not include liquor. This mirrors the policy of countries like Germany, where teens can purchase beer and wine at 16 and liquor at 18, though the ages are different than those proposed in this bill.
Unlike the federal law amendment in 2019 which increased the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, the drinking age is not federally mandated and can be changed if a state is willing to lose some highway funding. Typically, states cover 20% of highway funding, while the federal government picks up the other 80%.
So yes, South Carolina can change the law, but will they? House Minority leader Representative Todd Rutherford pre-filed the bill, and tweeted about his reasoning for doing so.
“If you’re old enough to fight for our country, old enough to vote, old enough to take out student loans — then you’re old enough to have a drink,” said Rutherford.
Even so, it likely will not advance, not because of politics surrounding the drinking age but because South Carolina needs highway and infrastructure funding. This year’s Consumer Affairs roads study determined that the state has the 14th worst roads in the country. 43% of South Carolina roads are in poor or mediocre condition, with 46% of bridges in the state being over 50 years old.
All things considered, it seems unlikely that members of South Carolina’s State Legislature will be willing to forgo such important funding in order to lower the drinking age.
The bill will receive further consideration on the House floor this month.