The debate over lowering the drinking age as come to New Jersey, with several state agencies coming together to support keeping it at 21, while some college presidents think the law should be reconsidered.
Officials announced on Thursday the formation of the NJ21 Coalition, which is being spearheaded by the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.
"Since the drinking age was raised to 21 in New Jersey in the 1980s, we have seen nearly a 78 percent decrease in the number of young people ages 18 to 20 who have been killed in drunk driving crashes," Attorney General Anne Milgram said in a statement.
"These numbers alone tell us without any doubt, the drinking age must be maintained."
The New Jersey coalition was put together in response to the Amethyst Initiative, a movement calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age to 18. The idea has received support from the presidents of some of the nation's best-known universities, including three in New Jersey.
"Drinking alcohol is illegal for students under the age of 21, and yet, despite the imposition of policies and disciplinary procedures, it is evident that alcohol and alcohol-related injuries, binge drinking, and alcohol abuse is a fact of life on college campuses across the nation," Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole said in a statement posted on the school's Web site.
Cole said she is in favor of a "rigorous, data-informed public discussion" on the drinking age and its relationship to alcohol consumption among 18- to 21-year-olds, but added that she is not necessarily a proponent of lowering the drinking age.
Stevens Institute of Technology President Harold J. Reveche and Drew University President Robert Weisbuch also signed the Amethyst Initiative, according to the group's Web site.
New Jersey Senate President Richard J. Codey believes the drinking age should remain at 21 and issued a strongly worded statement this week opposing any attempt to change it.
"This is nothing more than college presidents passing the buck instead of thinking of more constructive ways to crack down on underage drinking," he said. "Furthermore, it opens up the floodgates to allow alcohol into the hands of high school students who are 18."
Codey sent a letter to New Jersey's congressional delegation, asking them to block any movement to lower the drinking age at the national level.
"The feds control the reins in term of what incentives are offered to state to keep their drinking age at 21," he said. "But ultimately, any changes in New Jersey's legal drinking age would have to be done at the state level. I can promise you this, as long as I am Senate president, our drinking age will remain at 21."