October 1st in Maryland is notable for really only one reason I can think of – a shit ton of new laws come into effect on this day every year. 2019 is no exception. As usual, there’s at least one of these new laws that leaves me baffled and vaguely annoyed.
Starting today here in the great State of Maryland, you have to be 21 years old to buy cigarettes. That’s fine. I suppose if you’re going to have an age limitation you have to set it somewhere, but let’s not pretend that setting it at 21 is anything other than arbitrary.
So, you’ve got to be 21 buy your pack of Marlboro’s or enjoy a cold beer. You can start working at age 14 (with a permit). You can get a driver’s license (provisional) at 16 years and six months of age. The state’s age of sexual consent is 16. You must be 18 to rent a hotel room for the night and 21 years old to rent a car.
At 18 a person is legally considered an adult. They’ve had 12 years of education made available to them. If the individual in question happens to be male, they’re eligible to be drafted into military service. It’s the age when we’ve collectively decided people are legally responsible for their own actions. It’s also the age we’ve decided that people are smart enough to begin voting.
Fundamentally I believe the question is whether we believe an 18 year old is an adult, capable of making responsible decisions, or do we not. As the age for “rites of passage” in our society slowly marches later and later into life, perhaps we should re-evaluate the definition of adulthood altogether since 18 is clearly arbitrary and we seem to be determined to surround the little darlings in bubble wrap, except when it’s time to decide who to fuck or whether they get to go to Southeast Asia to fight Mr. Nixon’s war. At exactly the time when we appear determined to defer adulthood well into people’s 20s, there’s a nascent move to lower the age of majority in order to allow even younger people to vote.
I find it the height of hypocrisy to believe an 18 year old (or someone younger) should be entrusted with the most valuable jewel of citizenship, yet also allowed to extend their childhood in almost every other meaningful way indefinitely into the future. People are either an adult, with the accompanying rights and responsibilities, or they’re not.
Creating a system in which people are adults for some purposes but not for others feels like creating an increasingly fractured and nonsensical universe out of something that really just shouldn’t be that damned complicated. Some people make shitty decisions whether their 18 or 58. Removing the natural consequences of those decisions isn’t doing any of us a favor.