Alcohol consumption and sale in the U.S. are regulated by several laws, each of which may vary depending on the state. The main law governing this issue is the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It authorizes the states to determine their own regulations regarding the sale, distribution, importing, and possession of alcohol. In turn, the states often delegate these issues to local authorities. There is a set of federal, local, state, and national laws that specify who can drink alcohol and how and when, as well as the consequences of illegal actions. To understand the role of alcohol-related laws on people, it is important to consider the current statistics and the overall situation in the U.S.
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The problem of alcohol abuse is critical in the U.S., as noted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The statistics show that “excessive drinking contributes to more than 4,300 deaths among people below the age of 21 in the U.S. each year” (“Fact Sheets – Age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age”). The number of alcohol-related deaths was more than 33,000 across the country in 2015 (Murphy 12).
The situation is aggravated by such critical factors as poor access to healthcare services, lack of awareness of the potential impact of early and excessive alcohol consumption, low income, stress, and environment. The Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA), the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984, penalties for serving alcohol to pregnant women, and other legal measures were introduced to protect the population from the negative consequences of alcohol consumption. Therefore, one may conclude that laws concerning the sale and consumption of alcohol are beneficial to people in the U.S. as they reduce the associated morbidity and mortality, thus increasing the quality of life.
Historical Analysis of the Issue
Initially, early Americans considered alcoholic drinks more sanitary and beneficial than water. Beer and wine were perceived as necessary drinks that could treat and enhance one’s health and mood in general, which shows that alcohol was an essential part of society. In colonial times, it was common for men, women, and children to have ale or beer while eating. However, drunkenness was condemned as a condition leading to aggression, conflicts, and adverse health consequences.
In the United States, the first limitations on the production and sale of alcohol appeared in the middle of the 19th century. They were periodically introduced in 13 states but were quickly canceled, being declared unconstitutional in some of them. The slogans for combating the consumption and production of alcohol were actively used by American politicians, especially during periods of electoral struggle.
In the early 20th century, significant restrictions were introduced in Kansas, Maine, North Dakota, and Nebraska. This was connected not only with concern for the health of the nation, especially during wartime but also with the desire to preserve the grain reserves from which alcohol was traditionally distilled. In 1920, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which officially introduced the “dry law” in the country, came into force.
The results of this law, which led to Prohibition, were impressive and positive for people in the U.S.: more than 1,000 breweries and 170,000 pubs were closed (Meier 143). The overall well-being of society improved significantly, as shown by various aspects of the issue. For example, the number of arrests decreased by a factor of 3.5, including vagrancy, although the conditions of exploitation and unemployment remained the same (Meier 145). The beds that were vacated in psychiatric hospitals were given to tuberculosis patients, whose numbers increased during the years of the alcohol trade. The welfare of the people improved, and family values were strengthened.
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Along with the beneficial outcomes, it should be stressed that levels of organized crime rose, driven by the opportunity to earn a fabulous income from illegal sources of alcohol. The bootlegger groups grew rapidly. Their customers were people who could pay a lot of money for secretly imported or produced alcoholic beverages. For the importing of alcohol, special flotillas were created, and the possibilities of automobile and railway transport were used, promoting corruption in the police and customs forces. As the experience of the United States showed, the introduction of such laws restricting the production and sale of alcoholic beverages can be effective only if the state can actually enforce them.
The Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984 specified that the minimum drinking age was 21. Even though it is a federal law, there are some exceptions worth noting in such states as New York or Florida, where underage drinking is allowed for educational purposes (DeJong and Blanchette 110). At the same time, parental consent, religious activities, medical needs, and law enforcement purposes may be listed among the factors that allow underage alcohol consumption.
In turn, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 1988 established a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) maximum of 0.08 per 10,000 parts of blood to identify illegal intoxication while driving. Penalties and driver’s license restrictions are determined by each state, while any level of alcohol in underage drivers is regarded as illegal. These laws proved to be helpful to control alcohol sales and consumption, thus preventing accidents, deaths, and other abuse-related issues.
There are various cases that demonstrate the positive role of laws that regulate alcohol sales and consumption. For example, one may consider Bogenberger v. Pi Kappa Alpha Corporation case, the basis of which was the death of a freshman from alcohol intoxication during a fraternity initiation ceremony. The 19-year-old David Bogenberger, who enrolled at Northern Illinois University, died as a result of excessive consumption of vodka, and his parents sued the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house (Gelpi 3).
It was known that fraternity members prepared heavy drinks and encouraged the young man to drink them. A two-hour initiation ritual entailed students answering questions and being given alcohol in response. The main cause of the tragic outcome was the inability of the fraternity chapter to provide for the safety of freshmen and remind them of the possible outcomes of alcohol abuse (Gelpi 3). The suit was filed by the father of the deceased student, who was attending Northern Illinois University.
In response, the university administration imposed temporary sanctions on the fraternity, and more than 30 students who had violated the code of conduct were charged. This case vividly shows the deadly impact of excessive alcohol consumption since even an initiation ceremony can have serious consequences. As this student was under the age of 21, it would have been better if he had avoided drinking alcohol altogether, according to MLDA.
Even though Illinois has its own regulations regarding this issue, it would still be better to prevent similar cases in the future since the majority of young people do not understand the outcomes of alcohol abuse. Most importantly, they may not only harm their own condition but also hurt others. For example, if David had decided to drive a car, he might have caused an accident with several fatalities. The fact that the pub sold beer at night also appropriately had legal consequences since such actions are classified as a business impact on the alcohol intoxication of underage persons.
One more case that is associated with alcohol consumption is Yarbrough v. McCormick, which occurred in Texas. James Ryan Brakes and Adam Moran met at the Guadalupe River Club Oyster Bar and Grill (GCR) and drunk beer together. They visited several pubs yet returned to the GCR at approximately 11 PM. After midnight, Brakes wanted to leave, and he took the keys of Moran’s truck (“Yarbrough v. McCormick”). The car accident with Yarbrough occurred because of alcohol intoxication. Yarbrough sued Brakes and also McCormick, the owner of GCR, for general and criminal negligence.
The main reason for accusing McCormick was that the pub sold alcoholic beverages at a time of day when it was prohibited by law. In many states, there are special shops that sell hard liquor that cannot be bought in a regular supermarket. In Texas, one can buy hard liquor only in a store with a liquor store signboard and a corresponding license. In North Dakota and Delaware, this regulation even applies to beer, but any type of alcohol can be openly sold in grocery stores of California.
The Texas Dram Shop Act that was violated in the case mentioned above clarifies the expected actions in response to evidently intoxicated people. It is implied that drunken people are dangerous both to themselves and others, and alcohol providers should not sell such drinks to them (“Yarbrough v. McCormick”). In other words, any person who suffered injuries and losses from the business that sold the alcohol when someone was intoxicated may sue the business for illegal actions.
It is important to point out that the Yarbrough v. McCormick case demonstrates that driving while intoxicated often leads to serious damages and injuries. Therefore, appropriate measures were taken to reduce the incidence of drunk driving, which benefits people by preventing accidents and reducing dangers to other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.
The sale of alcohol at night is one of the points from which the active struggle against alcoholism began. According to statistical indicators, the adoption of the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act has reduced alcohol-related accidents and the consumption of alcoholic beverages leading to drunkenness. However, since the ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages at inappropriate times decreased the profits of pubs and similar businesses, they are trying to circumvent this law. As stated by this act, such violations are subject to large fines and legal responsibility. Each state has its own approach to time of day and legal liability.
While discussing alcohol laws in the United States, one may also take note of some controversial cases where people’s rights seem to have been violated. For example, the Manning v. Caldwell case shows how Virginia’s alcohol control law criminalizes the status of “alcoholic.” Four homeless men were intoxicated and possessed alcohol, which led to their arrest under the “habitual drunkard” statute of Virginia (“Manning v. Caldwell”). The Legal Aid Justice Center of Virginia (LAJC) attempted to challenge the constitutionality of the law as it seemed to violate the human right of freedom of choice. More to the point, the plaintiff referred to the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and its guarantee of a right to due process.
Even though the arguments provided by the LAJC to protect the rights of homeless alcoholics seem to be relevant, the court decided that Virginia’s interdiction statute was used as a preventative measure, making it possible to reduce alcoholism among the homeless by identifying those persons who are at high risk. The fact that the law provides no serious punishment for a first violation proves that its key aim is to promote an awareness of the homeless population.
In addition, the right to due process guaranteed by the 14th Amendment is not violated since there are no imprisonment guidelines and therefore no threat to one’s liberty. The right to equal protection is also met by the interdiction statute. Indeed, the statute prescribes a sentence of almost a year of imprisonment, but this is justified by the main benefit of discouraging people from alcohol abuse, thus making a great contribution to public safety.
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The problem of alcoholism has been repeatedly considered at various levels of government in the U.S. The goals of reducing the extent of alcohol abuse and preventing alcoholism are reflected in a number of official documents. However, in general, the insufficiency and fragmentation of the legal regulations concerning these issues should be noted. Since the U.S. has adopted a policy of developing the country as a social state, there is a need to focus on the welfare of its citizens and provide appropriate assistance from the state and society. In sum, the cases discussed here are representative of the beneficial nature of laws related to alcohol consumption, sale, and distribution. They are designed to protect both the subjects of alcohol intoxication and the people around them.
From my point of view, the issue of laws governing alcohol sale and consumption is rather critical in the U.S. Many people have received serious injuries, and others have died because of aggression, accidents, health problems, and other adverse consequences.
The history of this topic shows that alcohol was perceived as an integral element of U.S. society since it was used for pleasure and health treatment. With time, alcohol abuse became a problem that needed to be combated through relevant laws and policies. I believe that the cases that were discussed above are representative of the beneficial nature of the laws. They focus on various states, while each of them is relevant and fair to the people affected.
I think that the key issue is excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages, and the inability to control one’s actions should be targeted by federal and local laws. In many respects, the existing laws are consistent with the above view; however, there is still the need to adjust regulations to address such problems as driving while intoxicated, underage drinking, and avoiding situations where a person loses the ability to control his or her actions.
As for the future of this topic, I think that the U.S. government and local jurisdictions will develop more advanced policies that will make it possible to combat the problem through increasing people’s awareness. When a person understands the potentially negative impact of alcohol abuse and receives some assistance, it is easier to avoid excessive alcohol use. In addition, I think that tougher laws should be enacted in response to the illegal sale and production of alcoholic beverages.
DeJong, William, and Jason Blanchette. “Case Closed: Research Evidence on the Positive Public Health Impact of the Age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age in the United States.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, vol. 1, no. 17, 2014, pp. 108-115.
“Fact Sheets – Age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age.” CDC. 2018. Web.
Gelpi, Aileen. “Did Greek Houses Survive Appeal in Hazing Case?” Campus Legal Advisor , vol. 18, no. 12, 2018, p. 3.
“Manning v. Caldwell.” FindLaw, n.d. Web.
Meier, Kenneth J. The Politics of Sin: Drugs, Alcohol and Public Policy: Drugs, Alcohol and Public Policy. Routledge, 2016.
Murphy, Sherry L., et al. “Deaths: Final Data for 2015.” National Vital Statistics Reports, vol. 66, no. 6, 2017, pp. 1-75.
“Yarbrough v. McCormick.” CaseText. 2018. Web.