There was a four-year stretch in the 1980s when one state after another raised the drinking age to 21, a trend that was prompted by the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act.
The law was a powerful and straightforward illustration of the federal government’s ability to influence action at the state-level. States would be required to raise the drinking age to 21, the measure said, or lose 10% of federal highway funds, an act of legislative coercion that forced the entire country to fall in line by 1988.
But South Dakota did not accept the law so willingly, challenging its constitutionality in a case, South Dakota v. Dole, that eventually made it to the Supreme Court. The court upheld the bill, effectively forcing the state’s hand. South Dakota complied, becoming the 49th state to raise the drinking age to 21 (Wyoming has the distinction of being the last state).
There is a similar air of inevitability on the subject of recreational marijuana prohibition, which has been abolished by a dozens of states and cities since 2012. Whereas Congress and the executive branch flexed their dominion over states in upping the drinking age more than 30 years ago, the feds have