Voters in Amherst will be quizzed about lowering the drinking age

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STATE HOUSE — In 199 out of the state’s 200 legislative districts, voters next week won’t have any non-binding public policy questions to weigh in on, but in the college town of Amherst the ballot asks whether the drinking age should be lowered for beer and wine.

The notion of reducing the drinking age for certain alcoholic beverages has not received any traction in the House and Senate chambers, and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation said it has not studied the issue.

Voters in Amherst, Pelham and the northern part of Granby – the Third Hampshire House district – will be asked Nov. 8 whether to tell their state representative to vote in favor of “legislation that lowers the drinking age to age 19 for wines and malt beverages and maintains the drinking age at 21 for all other alcoholic beverages.”

After beating five opponents in the Democratic primary, Solomon Goldstein-Rose is poised to become the next state rep for the district. He has no opposition in the general election to succeed outgoing Rep. Ellen Story.

Goldstein-Rose is 22, which he said is slightly older than the median age in Amherst, and he said that while he is “intrigued” by the idea of lowering the drinking age for beer and wine, he does not intend to file a bill or vote on the public policy question on the ballot.

“I’m planning to abstain on that question,” Goldstein-Rose told the News Service. He said, “I am guessing that it will fail.”

A 1984 federal law required states to prohibit people under 21 from purchasing or publicly possessing alcoholic beverages as a condition for receiving state highway funds. In 2012, more than 10,000 people in the United States died in “alcohol-impaired driving crashes,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The policy question was the product of Matthew Malone, a 48-year-old actuary for the federal government who works on pensions and has lived in Washington D.C., since 2005.

“It’s age discrimination against legal adults,” Malone told the News Service about the drinking age.

Malone said he has long had a dream of appearing on a ballot though his employer bars him from candidacy in a partisan election. A youth rights advocate who said he pushed to lower the drinking age in Vermont a decade ago, Malone said he was inspired to act after Attorney General Maura Healey issued regulations barring those under the age of 21 from participating in pay-to-play fantasy sports contests through FanDuel, DraftKings and other outlets.

“That sort of stuck in my head. I didn’t like that,” Malone told the News Service. Saying he opposes all forms of age discrimination, such as restrictions on renting cars, Malone said he thinks a good alcohol policy would be to allow younger people to drink in the company of adults.

Malone chose to test his drinking age proposal in Amherst because it is a liberal university town, he said.

Amherst is home to the University of Massachusetts’s largest campus, UMass Amherst, as well as Amherst College and Hampshire College.

If the question does well Malone would consider pursuing public policy questions in other districts in two years, he said.

Malone, who spent some time growing up in Haverhill and has lived in the Boston area, said he gathered signatures from voters in the district and also paid for additional signatures to be gathered. He said he turned in about 300 certified signatures, more than enough for the non-binding question to appear on local ballots.

In prior years, non-binding public policy questions appeared with far greater frequency on ballots in the state’s 160 House districts and 40 Senate districts. According to the Secretary of State’s office, the Amherst House district is the only district with a non-binding public policy question this year.

Goldstein-Rose said he could imagine some beneficial effects from pushing young adults to beverages with lesser potency than liquor, but could also see negative side-effects if Massachusetts became a magnet for young people from out of state in search of legal alcohol.

“Scientifically it’s easier to get drunk from liquor. You need a smaller volume of it,” Goldstein-Rose said. He said, “That’s harder to do with something like beer.”

A Brown University graduate, Goldstein-Rose said he didn’t start drinking until he reached the legal age of 21, but he knows underage people regularly break the drinking-age law.

Goldstein-Rose, who lives in Amherst, said he will focus on other matters in the House.

“My priorities are climate change and education,” Goldstein-Rose said.

Alisa Brewer, the chairwoman of the Amherst Select Board, said she signed a petition to put the question on the ballot thinking that it would “kick-start a conversation” about the issue, but she said there has been “zero conversation” about it.

“I support the theory of having the conversation. I can’t see why I would vote yes,” Brewer told the News Service. She said, “This is a good question for a college town.”

Senate President Stan Rosenberg lives in Amherst and voted in the election Wednesday – taking advantage of the new early voting law. A spokesman said the Senate president generally does not vote on non-binding questions and he did not vote on the drinking age question this year.

— Written by Andy Metzger