Lawmaker wants drinking age dropped to 18

A federal law raised the drinking age to 21 in 1984

A federal law raised the drinking age to 21 in 1984. Minnesota followed suit in 1986.

In 2015, one Minnesota representative wants it change again.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, of Minneapolis, wants to lower the drinking age to 18.

Kahn has introduced two different bills that would allow 18-year-olds to go into a bar or restaurant and purchase alcohol. They would not be allowed to purchase from a liquor store.

Local bar owners can see both sides of the issue.

If the drinking age were lowered to 18, Minnesota restaurant owners can see the benefits.

“Increase your sales, it’s a bigger number of people that would be drinking,” said Andre Klonecki, owner of the Black Horse Bar and Grill in Winona.

“You open up a demographic that isn’t in bars purchasing alcohol,” said Bill Schmitz, owner of the Time Out Tavern in La Crescent.

“I think it would definitely drive alcohol sales,” said Chase Hoffman, owner of Jefferson’s Pub and Grill in Winona.

Hoffman said in a college town like Winona a majority of the students are under 21. So lowering the drinking age would boost revenue and provide a safer place for that age group to drink.

“It would allow people to learn how to drink in a more responsible environment. A bartender, a waitress or a manager at places like that are going to be more responsible than a bunch of friends at a party or sitting around in a apartment,” Hoffman said.

But he doesn’t believe it would decrease the desire to binge drink.

Neither does Schmitz, who is also the father of an 18-year-old.

“I think 18 is just too young because of schools, because of academics, and athletics and everything else that could interfere with it,” Schmitz said.

“Concern maybe would be high school kids are still drinking at the age of 18,” Klonecki said.

Some worry if the drinking age is lowered to 18 younger people may start drinking earlier.

La Crescent Police Chief Doug Stavenau says that’s a legitimate concern.

“You’re always going to have a segment of the population that is going to experiment and has the ability, if they’re creative enough, they’re going to figure out how to get access to alcohol and beverages like that,” Stavenau said.

Klonecki, Schmitz, Hoffman and Stavenau all agree 18 is too young.

All believe they would be more comfortable with 19, because most teens are typically out of high school by then.

There are two versions of the bill. One would require a parent or guardian to be with 18 to 20-year-olds when purchasing alcohol. The other would not require a guardian.