Michigan Drinking Age History

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  • 0:03 Michigan & The Drinking Age
  • 0:36 Prohibition & Before
  • 1:28 From the 21st to 26th…
  • 2:34 Back to 21
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

For most of the time that Michigan has had a legal drinking age, it has been 21. It was lowered to 18 in the 1970s following the lowering of the voting age, but Michigan was the first to raise it back in response to an increase in drunk driving accidents.

Michigan & the Drinking Age

For most of its history, like most states, Michigan didn't have a minimum drinking age. However, for about the past 80 years, Michigan initiated a minimum drinking age, and for most of that time, it's been 21. However, for a period of six years in the 1970s, it was lowered to 18, before being raised to 19, and then to 21 just three weeks after that.

What is the reason for this seemingly odd change in the 1970s? It had to do with the 26th Amendment, which lowered the national voting age, and a rise in drunk driving accidents.

Prohibition & Before

Up until the early 20th century, Michigan didn't have a legal drinking age. This wasn't unusual at the time. Only a handful of states had a minimum drinking age, and even those laws were not very strictly enforced.

The big change in drinking law, in both Michigan and the country as a whole, came with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1919, which made it illegal to sell or transport alcohol. The 18th Amendment was the crowning accomplishment of the Temperance Movement, a political movement led mostly by women who had worked since the 19th century to outlaw alcohol.

The 18th Amendment ushered in Prohibition, the period in which alcohol was effectively illegal throughout the country. However, a rise in organized crime tied to the illegal sale of alcohol led to calls for the repeal of Prohibition, which happened in 1933 with the passage of the 21st Amendment.

From the 21st to 26th Amendment

After the end of Prohibition, most states instituted a minimum age for the purchase and consumption of alcohol. While it was set at 18 in some states, Michigan joined the majority of states in setting their minimum age at 21. This made sense because, at the time, 21 was the age of majority in Michigan. The age of majority refers to the age at which a state considers someone an adult. During this period, 21 was the standard age of majority because it was also the minimum age to vote in national elections.

However, the student protest movement of the 1960s led many young people to argue that the voting age and age of majority should be lowered to 18. This led to the adoption of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, which lowered the national voting age to 18.

The 26 Amendment went into effect on July 1, 1971. On January 1, 1972, Michigan changed its age of majority and drinking age to 18 to make them align with the new voting age. Michigan was among the first of many states who lowered their drinking age in the early 1970s in response to the 26th Amendment.

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