South Carolina's legal drinking age could return to 18 for the first time in more than 25 years if two recent court rulings in Richland and Aiken counties are upheld on appeal.
Longtime Richland County Magistrate Mel Maurer on July 15 ruled that the state law prohibiting youths ages 18 through 20 from possessing or consuming liquor was unconstitutional. The current legal drinking age is 21.
On July 23, Aiken County Chief Magistrate Rodger Edmonds ruled that law and a similar law involving the possession and consumption of beer and wine in the 18-20 age group were unconstitutional.
Both decisions relied on a state Supreme Court ruling last year that invalidated a state law banning youths ages 18 through 20 from possessing handguns.
"These orders . . . finally state concretely that the legal drinking age in this state is 18," said longtime criminal defense attorney James Huff of North Augusta, who pushed for the ruling in the Aiken County case. "We all assumed it was 21. We were wrong."
Jimmy Mount, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, said Friday the two rulings will not help prevent alcohol abuse.
"We certainly are in favor of anything that will keep alcohol out of the hands of anyone under 21," he said, noting that studies have shown those who start drinking before 21 are more likely to develop alcohol problems later in life.
Other studies, he said, have shown a person's brain typically is not fully developed until age 25.
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