A Booze Compromise

Alcohol can be a pretty ugly drug in more than one way and the argument has been made that there is no good reason it is legal when we ban stuff like cocaine and LSD. There are also reasonable arguments against banning it. I don't want to rehearse all of the arguments here; instead, an idea.

People who throw parties often make a point of buying beer and wine, but not spirits. The only argument I've heard for this is that when spirits are involved, otherwise reasonable people start doing unreasonable things, which does not tend to happen when those same people drink beer or wine only. Presumably this is simply because the high concentration of alcohol in spirits makes it easy to take in large amounts of it in a short time.

Governments could do something similar in an attempt to reduce the occurence of negative outcomes of alcohol consumption: Allow alcoholic beverages up to a strength of (say) 15%.

One argument against prohibition is that it does not work: Ban something that's strongly desired, and black markets are going to pop up. But if you allowed people to still get hammered (albeit more slowly), presumably there wouldn't be much demand for illegal spirits.

I know of countries in which alcohol is legal and others where it's not, but I have never heard of a country which takes this middle ground. I find that weird.


pj said...

I thought that many European countries (including Norway and Germany) had graduated licencing such that you can drink alcohlic beverages of lower concentration (<20% odd) at a younger age?

Certainly some countries, e.g. some in Scandinavia, and US states restrict the sale of stronger alcohol (>4% odd) to government owned or licenced liquor stores.

I think some US counties and maybe Sweden in the past had laws restricting alcohol to relatively weak beer (<4% odd).

LemmusLemmus said...

Germany does have such a law. I don't know the legal details, but basically you can legally drink beer and wine at age 16, the hard stuff only at age 18. (What you can actually do is another matter.) That's not what I was talking about, of course.

pj said...

I just wondered whether there was any evidence that such a model was any better/worse than a single age limit - i.e. 16-18yr olds would be a test case for your 'only weak alcohol' law.

But I do think that some US counties still have that model - although on a county level I guess it doesn't make getting stronger alcohol from out of county that difficult.

LemmusLemmus said...

I see. I don't know of any relevant research. Of course, we'd first have to decide what the dependent variables should be. I think that a country with actual (not just theoretical) limited access to hard stuff for 16-17 year olds would see reduced incidence of (in order of decreasing measurability) alcohol poisoning, alcohol-induced aggression and good old throwing up & feeling shite in that age group compared to the same country if it gives general access to that age group. I don't think a country which had the policy described in the post would see notably reduced rates of alcoholism compared to the same country with the standard policy.

Your remark about the US surprised me. I thought it wasn't legal anywhere in the US to drink alcohol for under-21s. I may be wrong, of course.

I'm not advocating the law described, by the way. (I'm undecided.) I only found it sociologically surprising that this kind of law isn't fairly common.

pj said...

Oh no - the model I was talking about in those US counties was your model in the post - that of only being a able to buy low alcohol beer and nothing else.

But I've never been to anywhere like that so I couldn't say whether it makes any difference. The US has a funny relationship with alcohol anyway - there seems to be less binge drinking in the British style or social drinking in the European style - but then they have things like 'Spring Break' - it reminds me a little of Rumspringa.