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Dartmouth liquor ban undermines basic liberties and puts students at risk

Laws and policies that prevent legal adults from obtaining and consuming alcohol inevitably lead to the formation of black markets.

In an attempt to control the Ivy League boozehounds at Dartmouth College, President Philip Hanlon¬†announced on Jan. 29 that Dartmouth plans to ban¬†possession, distribution, and consumption of all hard alcohol on the college‚??s campus, including for those over the legal drinking age, beginning at the start of the 2015‚??16 school year.

Hanson‚??s program, titled¬†‚??Moving Dartmouth Forward,‚?̬†is meant to ‚??promote a safer and healthier campus environment,‚?Ě but the college‚??s actions will inevitably lead to just the opposite and will end up doing nothing more than eroding rights belonging to students, faculty members, and staff who do follow the law.

Like all unnecessary attempts to control the behavior of others, laws and policies that prevent legal adults from obtaining and consuming alcohol inevitably lead to the formation of black markets, which make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens and encourage illegal behavior in unsupervised and often dangerous environments.

It‚??s true that underage drinking is a very real and disconcerting problem on college campuses. More than 1,800 college students die each year from unintentional injuries related to alcohol and 599,000 students are injured while under the influence, according to the¬†National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

But the notion that passing additional rules against an already illegal activity will somehow curb that behavior is a delusion that only ends up punishing responsible individuals who are not likely to engage in dangerous forms of alcohol consumption in the first place.

Dartmouth claims its policies, like laws that ban alcohol consumption for individuals under the age of 21, will help make the campus a safer place. But consider for a moment that¬†binge drinking rates¬†are actually higher for students aged 18‚??20 (22 percent) compared to students over 21 (18 percent). This suggests that the legalization of alcohol actually increases responsibility rather than decreases it. Obviously age is a factor here as well, but anyone who has spent any time at all on a college campus will tell you there isn‚??t much of a difference in the maturity level of a 20-year-old compared to a 22-year-old.

If legal or permitted access to alcohol makes the behavior more dangerous, which is essentially the reason behind Dartmouth‚??s policy, why is it that those who have legal access to alcohol are less likely to drink dangerously than those who do?

One of Hanson‚??s primary reasons behind the push to ban many types of liquor is the link between alcohol and sexual assault. According to the NIAAA,¬†97,000 students¬†between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault, the vast majority being women.

While this figure is troubling, statistics clearly show that among Western nations, there is no clear link between legal drinking limits and sexual assault for college students.¬†Undergraduate sexual assault rates in Canada,¬†where the drinking age is 18 or 19 depending on the region, are virtually the same as those in the¬†United States.¬†By banning liquor on Dartmouth‚??s campus, the college is only encouraging more students to drink off-campus, where there are fewer protections for students and where rape is arguably more likely to occur.

Dartmouth‚??s program is nothing but another attempt by an institution to control the behavior of others. In essence, the guidelines assume that Dartmouth‚??s older students and employees cannot be trusted with alcohol, and it‚??s an endorsement in the belief that mandates from higher authorities can fix societal problems.

Dartmouth ought to be applauded for its efforts to take the problems of underage drinking and sexual assault seriously, but the institution is going about it the wrong way entirely. Rather than creating more rules and limiting the liberties of older students and staff, the college should devote more resources to education and security.

That‚??s why this story is important; it represents a battle of ideologies. On the one side, you have people who believe that controlling, forcing, and manipulating others will lead to positive results. On the other side, there is the belief that liberty, freedom, and education will ultimately result in better outcomes, even if those outcomes are not perfect.

Justin Haskins (Jhaskins@heartland.org) is an author, blogger, and the editor of a leading free-market think tank based out of Chicago, IL.

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