Advance Notice: Briefs

On this day in 1978: State drinking age is raised to 21

By: - December 22, 2021 7:18 am

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On Dec. 22, 1978, Michigan’s drinking age was raised to age 21. 

It came as a result of a constitutional amendment approved by state voters in the November general election who were concerned about drinking and driving by high school students. The measure passed by a 57 to 43% clip.

Proposal D, a state Constitutional amendment, returned Michigan’s legal drinking age to 21. The state’s drinking age had been 18 since 1972. The age was lowered nationally in 1971. One of the prevailing arguments for lowering the drinking age at time was that Americans were being drafted to fight in Vietnam as young as 18 but did not have the liberties that those older than them had.

Opponents of Proposal D argued that it was hypocritical to give 18-year-olds all other rights and responsibilities and all other rights and responsibilities of adulthood while denying them the right to drink.

The Rev. Horace Sheffield III of Detroit was an 18-year-old Detroit Cass Technical High School student in 1972.

“It was very much about whether we had the full array of rights,” Sheffield told the Advance in an interview this month.

Supporters of Proposal D stated that more alcohol-related accidents occurred among drivers aged between 18 and 20 than in any other group and that raising the legal drinking age to 21 would discourage teenage drinking.

The Michigan State Medical Society’s board of directors supported raising the state’s legal drinking age to 21. “We’ve seen too many instances of young lives cut short or left to suffer the permanent crippling effects which too often occur when young drinkers get behind the wheel of an automobile,” said Dr. Louis Zako, a member of the organization.

In March of that year, both the Michigan House and Senate in bipartisan fashion voted to raise the state’s minimum drinking age from 18 to 19. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.