21 drinking age complicates the question

Knock knock?

Whoís there?

Unregulated house party!

Wait. Thatís not how it goes. Let me try again:

So the Johnson County supervisors walk into a 21-only bar ... No. Thatís not it, either. Hmm.

Oh, I remember: What do you get when you cross Iowa Cityís 21-only ordinance, the drinking age and the proposed Johnson County Justice Center?

A whole lot of overlap and confusion.

And itís complicating what should be cut-and-dried decisions, like whether or not to build a jail big enough to house the people arrested or sentenced to be there, or whether underage patrons should, once again, be allowed to hang out in bars.

Less than six months after opposition sank a ballot measure to fund a courthouse expansion and jail project (itself a second try for approval just six months after a previous), county officials now are considering nixing the controversial jail component and addressing courthouse needs, alone.

Itís not cost thatís at issue (a courthouse annex is estimated to cost just under $30 million ó not all that much cheaper than the $45 million-$50 million for the courthouse-jail combo), but the perception that too many of the county sheriffís guests are serving time for alcohol and drugs.

So, too, Iowa Cityís 21-only ordinance, which finally passed after several failed attempts and is back again like some sort of ballot-issue zombie: The referendum that wouldnít die.

Since none of opponentsí dire predictions about threats to safety and neighborhood sanity have been borne out by the facts, the sole remaining argument for repealing the 21-ordinance is that itís unrealistic or somehow unfair to expect adults under the legal drinking age to comply with the law.

Together, itís enough to convince me that itís past time for a serious discussion about drugs and alcohol and the law.

Whatís the proper drinking age? Should pot be legal? Donít look at me ó Iíve got no handy answers.

But I do know that voters find those questions important enough that theyíre creeping into all sorts of places they donít belong.

There seems to be a growing consensus, at least, that alcohol and drug use are more a matter of public health than they are of law and order. Opening the conversation would bring more order to questions of related public policies and expenses.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.netGoogle

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