The bill to raise the state's legal drinking age to 21 won final approval from the Maryland House of Delegates today, marking what one delegate called "the end of an era" that began in 1974, when 18-year-olds were first permitted to drink legally. The vote was 116 to 18.

The legislation still must be approved by the Senate, but it faces little opposition there, and Gov. Harry Hughes, who has made its passage a prime election-year issue, is sure to sign it.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph E. Owens (D-Montgomery), who led the drive to raise the drinking age to 21, said he was not surprised by the lopsided vote. "This was really decided last week when (a proposal to raise the minimum age) to 19 was beaten," Owens said.

Today's few remaining holdouts--mostly Prince George's county delegates concerned about a loss in county liquor business to the District of Columbia--were reduced to bemoaning the decline of student political power and chiding their colleagues for what they called a politically popular vote that they maintained would prove ineffective at combatting drunk driving.

Del. Thomas Mooney (D-Prince George's), whose district includes the University of Maryland in College Park, said, "If 80 percent of the young people registered to vote , we wouldn't be upping the drinking age. It's a matter of hitting those who are most politically innocuous."