Amethyst Initiative

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Amethyst Initiative
PurposeLegal drinking age reform

The Amethyst Initiative is an organization made up of U.S. college presidents and chancellors that, in July 2008, launched a movement calling for the reconsideration of U.S. legal drinking age, particularly the minimum age of 21.

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 requires all US states to raise their minimum age for purchase and public possession of alcohol to 21 or face a reduction in highway funds under the Federal-Aid Highway Act.


The Amethyst Initiative was initiated by John McCardell, founder of Choose Responsibility,[1] a former professor of history at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont and current Vice-Chancellor of Sewanee: The University of the South, and is currently supported by 136[2] college presidents who signed a statement proclaiming, "It’s time to rethink the drinking age".[3][4]

The idea of the organization's name came from a Greek and Roman legend, that amethysts protected their owners from drunkenness.[citation needed]


The Amethyst Initiative states that, in their experience as university presidents, they have observed, "Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students," and therefore they urge lawmakers "to invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol".[5]

Gustavus Adolphus College President Jack R. Ohle said in a statement that the initiative is not about lowering the drinking age, but to open a debate on alcohol policies that affect young people and their choices about alcohol use.

We need serious, sustained, unfettered debate about the drinking age and the reality of life on a college campus and how these two things are aligned. I signed the statement in hopes that it would encourage debate on our campus about the seriousness of drinking in general but more importantly the high-risk drinking that has become so common on college campuses today. As an educator, I feel a responsibility to encourage a discussion about responsibility. That responsibility rests with not only the students but with those of us who work to provide for their education, safety, and well being. We must engage in civil, informed, and dispassionate debate and consider all policy alternatives no matter how controversial.[6]


The Amethyst Initiative states the following:[2]

It’s time to rethink the drinking age

In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which imposed a penalty of 10% of a state's federal highway appropriation on any state setting its drinking age lower than 21.

Twenty-four years later, our experience as college and university presidents convinces us that…

Twenty-one is not working

A culture of dangerous, clandestine “binge-drinking”—often conducted off-campus—has developed.

Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students.

Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.

By choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.

How many times must we relearn the lessons of prohibition?

We call upon our elected officials:

To support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age.

To consider whether the 10% highway fund “incentive” encourages or inhibits that debate.

To invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.

We pledge ourselves and our institutions to playing a vigorous, constructive role as these critical discussions unfold.


Signatories of the initiative include:[7]

Public reaction[edit]

The initiative's proposal has been criticized by several groups and government and industry officials, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Joining MADD's criticism are other groups, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the American Medical Association, and the National Transportation Safety Board.[8] A spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association told The Washington Post that university leaders "are really just punting on the issue and leaving the high school principals to deal with it."[9] However, Amethyst Initiative's parent organization, Choose Responsibility, proposes that only high school graduates should be eligible.[10]

In a press release, MADD argues that lowering the drinking age would result in greater numbers of fatal automobile accidents, and that the presidents are "looking for an easy way out of an inconvenient problem" and "misrepresenting science."[8][11] MADD cited former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, and current University of Miami president Donna Shalala statement that "maintaining the legal drinking age at 21 is a socially and medically sound policy that helps parents, schools and law enforcement protect our youth from the potentially life-threatening effects of underage drinking."[8]

In addition, MADD debates that: "minimum drinking ages have saved approximately 25,000 lives", "[l]owering the age will cause even younger people to begin drinking", and that "[b]inge drinking on college campuses should be combated with stricter enforcement of current laws."[12]

Choose Responsibility argues that scientific evidence supports the Amethyst Initiative's views and goals,[13] and refutes some of MADD's past claims.[14] Sanford Ungar, president of Goucher College and signee of the initiative argues that opponents should not fear because the Amethyst Initiative is about opening up the debate to improve alcohol policy. He brings about the misconception that they want to "polarize" the issue at hand, but instead wishes to find a better alternative to the current drinking age.[15]

Radley Balko, of Reason, wryly noted inconsistency in opponents' arguments and supporting evidence against the Amethyst Initiative in that they believe that it "would be a "national tragedy" to, for example, allow 19- and 20-year-old men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to have a beer in celebration of completing their tours of duty."[16] Balko, also, noting research showing that underage drinking laws had not reduced highway deaths.[17]

In November 2008, the Student Senate at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse rejected a proposal to urge that university's chancellor to sign the Amethyst Initiative.[18] Supposedly the first such attempt by a student body to ask a president or chancellor to sign on, the measure at UW–L was defeated 14–19 after three weeks' debate. Chancellor Joe Gow said this vote, "certainly defies the 'conventional wisdom' regarding young people being eager to lower the drinking age."[19][unreliable source?]

In 2014, a pair of researchers published a literature review in Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs of studies on the effect of the drinking age in response to the Amethyst Initiative; the review indicates support for the drinking age remaining at 21.[20] That review, however, was specific to studies focused on the United States of America and comparing trends before and after 1984; based on World Health Organization (WHO) data from 2011 and 2014,[21] foreign countries with lesser drinking ages[22][23] often have fewer alcohol-related deaths per capita annually than the USA.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Choose Responsibility announces Amethyst Initiative". Archived from the original on 2008-12-03. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  2. ^ a b "Amethyst Initiative » Statement". Archived from the original on 2014-12-07. Retrieved 2014-12-08.
  3. ^ "Amethyst Initiative front page". Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  4. ^ The Associated Press "College presidents seek debate on drinking age". Archived from the original on 21 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
  5. ^ "Amethyst Initiative » Statement". Archived from the original on 2 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  6. ^ "Statement from President Ohle Regarding Amethyst Initiative". Gustavus Adolphus College. Archived from the original on 2021-09-16. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
  7. ^ "Amethyst Initiative Signatories". Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
  8. ^ a b c "MADD press release: Some University Presidents Shirk Responsibility to Protect Students from Dangers of Underage Drinking". Archived from the original on 23 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
  9. ^ "Lower drinking age is criticized" Archived 2018-07-12 at the Wayback Machine (free registration required), The Washington Post, August 1, 2008
  10. ^ "Choose Responsibility: drinking age proposals". Archived from the original on 2008-05-14. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  11. ^ "Mothers Against Drunk Driving – Amethyst Initiative Underage Drinking Response". Archived from the original on January 7, 2009. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
  12. ^ Esposito, Greg. "Debate for the Ages: John McCardell, founder of the Amethyst Initiative, is at the center of the drinking-age storm". Roanoke Times. Archived from the original on 2020-06-09. Retrieved 2020-06-09.
  13. ^ "Legal Age 21 – National Minimum Drinking Age – FAQ with citations". Archived from the original on 2008-07-05. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
    "Drinking and Culture: International Comparisons with citations". Archived from the original on 2008-07-05. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
    "Drunken Driving Fatalities with citations". Archived from the original on 2008-07-05. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  14. ^ "Myths and Realities about drinking with citations". Archived from the original on 2008-10-14. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
    "Not Convinced?". Archived from the original on 2008-07-05. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  15. ^ "Changing Drinking Age to 18 |". Archived from the original on 2017-05-09. Retrieved 2021-09-16.
  16. ^ Balko, Radley (August 25, 2008). "Amethyst Initiative's Debate on Drinking a Welcome Alternative to Fanaticism". Fox News. Archived from the original on November 10, 2012. Retrieved December 3, 2012.
  17. ^ Miron, Jeffrey A.; Tetelbaum, Elina (2009). "Does The Minimum Legal Drinking Age Save Lives?" (PDF). Economic Inquiry. 47 (2): 317–336. doi:10.1111/j.1465-7295.2008.00179.x. S2CID 1048320. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-11-04. Retrieved 2018-11-04.
  18. ^ "UW–L students say no to drinking age debate,La Crosse Tribune, Retrieved on 2008-12-15
  19. ^ "Amethyst Initiative debate finally over,The Racquet, Retrieved on 2008-12-15
  20. ^ DeJong, W; Blanchette, J (2014). "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. Supplement. 75 Suppl 17: 108–15. doi:10.15288/jsads.2014.75.108. PMID 24565317.
  21. ^ World Health Organization. "Alcohol." World Life Expectancy: Live Longer, Live Better. Link: Archived 2015-09-19 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "Minimum Legal Drinking Age in 190 Countries." Updated 3/10/2016. Link: Archived 2021-04-21 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Eupedia. "Legal Maps of Europe." Sections "Legal age to drink alcohol" and "Legal age to purchase alcohol". Link: Archived 2015-09-06 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]