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Underage Drinking: Minimum Ages for Off-Premises Sellers

Laws that specify a minimum age for employees who sell alcoholic beverages in off-premises establishments.



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Expander Policy Description


This policy topic is included in the APIS Highlight on Underage Drinking section. The Highlight's Overview of Underage Drinking Policy in the United States provides additional context that may be helpful in understanding this policy topic. State-by-State summaries of eleven underage drinking policy topics are available in the State Profiles of Underage Drinking Laws section. Maps and charts for all of these policy topics are collected on a single page to provide a more comprehensive graphical overview of underage policies.


(Period Covered: 1/1/2003 through 1/1/2013)

This policy topic covers laws that specify a minimum age for employees who sell alcoholic beverages in off-premises establishments.  

Most States have laws that specify a minimum age for employees who sell alcoholic beverages in off-premises establishments. In some States, the minimum age for sellers is 21. In many States, however, off-premises sellers may be younger than 21, and in a few States no minimum age is specified. 
 
In some cases, persons under 21 may be allowed to sell alcohol only in certain types of off-premises establishments (e.g., grocery stores, convenience stores), or may be allowed to sell only some beverage types (e.g., beer, wine).  In some cases, sellers of alcohol must be at least 18, but younger employees may be allowed to stock coolers with alcohol or bag purchased alcohol.
 
Several States place conditions on off-premises sellers under 21 years of age. These include requirements that a legal-age manager or supervisor be present when the underage person is selling alcoholic beverages.

 

Expander Definitions for Minimum Ages for Off-Premises Sellers

 

Minor
A person under the age of 21 years
Off-Premises Sales
Retail sale of sealed containers of alcoholic beverages for consumption elsewhere than the premises where the beverages are purchased
On-Premises Sales
Retail sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises where the beverages are purchased (e.g., bars, restaurants)

 

Expander Explanatory Notes and Limitations for Minimum Ages for Off-Premises Sellers

Explanatory Notes and Limitations Applicable to Minimum Ages for Off-Premises Sellers

1. This analysis addresses the minimum permissible ages for selling specific types of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, and distilled spirits). In many States, these ages are set by statutes or regulations that create exceptions to higher minimum ages established by other more general laws. The comparison tables for this policy topic display the lowest legal age for each beverage type, along with any associated qualifications or conditions.

2. This analysis does not include exceptions and qualifications that apply to individuals in intermediate age groups (individuals between the minimum permissible age and age 21). For example, a State may permit those under 18 years of age to sell beer if under the supervision of an adult, and individuals 18 through 20 to sell beer without such supervision. Only the exceptions and qualifications applicable to the youngest age group are presented.

3. If a jurisdiction does not specify a minimum age for a seller, then the age in the appropriate column is displayed as "0." The jurisdiction's child labor and employment laws may also specify a minimum age for employment of various types. These laws are beyond the scope of APIS.

4. This analysis does not address provisions dealing with internet sales or home delivery services.

5. In some jurisdictions, the minimum age to sell alcoholic beverages is conditioned on an underage seller being employed in a certain type of establishment (e.g., a supermarket or convenience store). This analysis does not address these sorts of conditions, but instead displays ages less than 21 as long as there is some licensed establishment at which an underage person can permissibly sell alcoholic beverages.
 

Explanatory Notes and Limitations Applicable to All APIS Policy Topics 

1. State law may permit local jurisdictions to impose requirements in addition to those mandated by State law. Alternatively, State law may prohibit local legislation on this topic, thereby preempting local powers. APIS does not document policies established by local governments. 

2. In addition to statutes and regulations, judicial decisions (case law) also may affect alcohol-related policies. APIS does not review case law except to determine whether judicial decisions have invalidated statutes or regulations that would otherwise affect the data presented in the comparison tables. 

3. APIS reviews published administrative regulations. However, administrative decisions or directives that are not included in a State's published regulatory codes may have an impact on implementation. This possibility has not been addressed by the APIS research. 

4. Statutes and regulations cited in tables on this policy topic may have been amended or repealed after the specific date or time period specified by the site user's search criteria. 

5. A comprehensive understanding of the data presented in the comparison tables for this policy topic requires examination of the applicable Row Notes and Jurisdiction Notes, which can be accessed from the body of the table via links in the Jurisdiction column. 

Expander Federal Law for Minimum Ages for Off-Premises Sellers

 (Policies in effect on: 1/1/2013)

The 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides each State with the primary authority to regulate the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages within its borders. Courts have provided varying interpretations of the extent of this authority, particularly its interaction with the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution. For more information about the 21st Amendment and the Interstate Commerce Clause, see the About Alcohol Policy section of the APIS Web Site.
 
The 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act, [23 U.S.C. § 158], requires that States prohibit persons under 21 years of age from purchasing or publicly possessing alcoholic beverages as a condition of receiving State highway funds. A Federal regulation that interprets the Act excludes from the definition of "public possession," possession "for an established religious purpose; when accompanied by a parent, spouse or legal guardian age 21 or older; for medical purposes when prescribed or administered by a licensed physician, pharmacist, dentist, nurse, hospital or medical institution; in private clubs or establishments; or to the sale, handling, transport, or service in dispensing of any alcoholic beverage pursuant to lawful employment of a person under the age of twenty-one years by a duly licensed manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer of alcoholic beverages." [23 C.F.R. § 1208.3]
 
Generally, minimum drinking age laws on Federal properties are the same as the State where such property is located, with some exceptions for military installations.
 
The National Park Service prohibits possession of alcohol by a minor or furnishing alcohol to a minor, except where allowed by State law. [36 C.F.R. § 2.35] This regulation also provides that "[i]n a State where a lower minimum age is established, that age limit will apply. . . ."
 
Similarly, the minimum age to purchase, possess or consume alcoholic beverages on military installations is the same as the State where the installation is located, but this requirement may be waived by the commanding officer of a military installation in special circumstances. [10 U.S.C. § 2683] Moreover, if the military installation is located in more than one State or within one State but within 50 miles of another State, Mexico or Canada, the minimum age may be set at the lowest minimum drinking age.
 
There is no Federal law specific to underage drinking and access to alcohol on Indian reservations. Indian tribes are domestic dependent sovereigns that have the right of self-government. As such, approximately 200 tribes across the nation have enacted their own laws for underage drinking and access to alcohol.   

 
FEDERAL CITATIONS AND RELEVANT TEXT EXCERPTS 
 
United States Code
Title 23 - HIGHWAYS
CHAPTER 1 - FEDERAL-AID HIGHWAYS
§ 158. National minimum drinking age
 
(a) Withholding of Funds for Noncompliance.—
 
(1) In general.—The Secretary shall withhold 10 per centum of the amount required to be apportioned to any State under each of sections 104(b)(1), 104(b)(3), and 104(b)(4) of this title on the first day of each fiscal year after the second fiscal year beginning after September 30, 1985, in which the purchase or public possession in such State of any alcoholic beverage by a person who is less than twenty-one years of age is lawful.
 
(2) State grandfather law as complying.—If, before the later of (A) October 1, 1986, or (B) the tenth day following the last day of the first session the legislature of a State convenes after the date of the enactment of this paragraph, such State has in effect a law which makes unlawful the purchase and public possession in such State of any alcoholic beverage by a person who is less than 21 years of age (other than any person who is 18 years of age or older on the day preceding the effective date of such law and at such time could lawfully purchase or publicly possess any alcoholic beverage in such State), such State shall be deemed to be in compliance with paragraph (1) in each fiscal year in which such law is in effect.
 
(b) Effect of Withholding of Funds.—No funds withheld under this section from apportionment to any State after September 30, 1988, shall be available for apportionment to that State.
 
(c) Alcoholic Beverage Defined.—As used in this section, the term “alcoholic beverage” means—
 
(1) beer as defined in section 5052(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986,
 
(2) wine of not less than one-half of 1 per centum of alcohol by volume, or
 
(3) distilled spirits as defined in section 5002(a)(8) of such Code.
 
 
Code of Federal Regulations
Title 23 - Highways
CHAPTER II - NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION AND FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
SUBCHAPTER B - GUIDELINES
PART 1208 - NATIONAL MINIMUM DRINKING AGE
§ 1208.3. Definitions
 
As used in this part:
 
Alcoholic beverage means beer, distilled spirits and wine containing one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume. Beer includes, but is not limited to, ale, lager, porter, stout, sake, and other similar fermented beverages brewed or produced from malt, wholly or in part or from any substitute therefor. Distilled spirits include alcohol, ethanol or spirits or wine in any form, including all dilutions and mixtures thereof from whatever process produced.
 
Public possession means the possession of any alcoholic beverage for any reason, including consumption on any street or highway or in any public place or in any place open to the public (including a club which is de facto open to the public). The term does not apply to the possession of alcohol for an established religious purpose; when accompanied by a parent, spouse or legal guardian age 21 or older; for medical purposes when prescribed or administered by a licensed physician, pharmacist, dentist, nurse, hospital or medical institution; in private clubs or establishments; or to the sale, handling, transport, or service in dispensing of any alcoholic beverage pursuant to lawful employment of a person under the age of twenty-one years by a duly licensed manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer of alcoholic beverages.
 
Purchase means to acquire by the payment of money or other consideration.
 
 
Code of Federal Regulations
Title 36 - Parks, Forests, and Public Property
CHAPTER I - NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
PART 2 - RESOURCE PROTECTION, PUBLIC USE AND RECREATION
§ 2.35. Alcoholic beverages and controlled substances
 
(a) Alcoholic beverages.
 
(1) The use and possession of alcoholic beverages within park areas is allowed in accordance with the provisions of this section.
 
(2) The following are prohibited:
 
(i) The sale or gift of an alcoholic beverage to a person under 21 years of age, except where allowed by State law. In a State where a lower minimum age is established, that age limit will apply for purposes of this subparagraph.
 
(ii) The possession of an alcoholic beverage by a person under 21 years of age, except where allowed by State law. In a State where a lower minimum age is established, that age will apply for purposes of this subparagraph.
 
(3)(i) The superintendent may close all or a portion of a public use area or public facility within a park area to the consumption of alcoholic beverages and/or to the possession of a bottle, can or other receptacle containing an alcoholic beverage that is open, or that has been opened, or whose seal is broken or the contents of which have been partially removed. Provided however, that such a closure may only be implemented following a determination made by the superintendent that:
 
(A) The consumption of an alcoholic beverage or the possession of an open container of an alcoholic beverage would be inappropriate considering other uses of the location and the purpose for which it is maintained or established; or
 
(B) Incidents of aberrant behavior related to the consumption of alcoholic beverages are of such magnitude that the diligent application of the authorities in this section and §§ 1.5 and 2.34 of this chapter, over a reasonable time period, does not alleviate the problem.
 
(ii) A closure imposed by the superintendent does not apply to an open container of an alcoholic beverage that is stored in compliance with the provisions of § 4.14 of this chapter.
 
(iii) Violating a closure imposed pursuant to this section is prohibited.
 
(b) Controlled substances. The following are prohibited:
 
(1) The delivery of a controlled substance, except when distribution is made by a practitioner in accordance with applicable law. For the purposes of this paragraph, delivery means the actual, attempted or constructive transfer of a controlled substance whether or not there exists an agency relationship.
 
(2) The possession of a controlled substance, unless such substance was obtained by the possessor directly, or pursuant to a valid prescription or order, from a practitioner acting in the course of professional practice or otherwise allowed by Federal or State law.
 
(c) Presence in a park area when under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance to a degree that may endanger oneself or another person, or damage property or park resources, is prohibited.
 
 
United States Code
Title 10 - ARMED FORCES
Subtitle A - General Military Law
PART IV - SERVICE, SUPPLY, AND PROCUREMENT
CHAPTER 159 - REAL PROPERTY; RELATED PERSONAL PROPERTY; AND LEASE OF NON-EXCESS PROPERTY
§ 2683. Relinquishment of legislative jurisdiction; minimum drinking age on military installations
 
(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary concerned may, whenever he considers it desirable, relinquish to a State, or to a Commonwealth, territory, or possession of the United States, all or part of the legislative jurisdiction of the United States over lands or interests under his control in that State, Commonwealth, territory, or possession. Relinquishment of legislative jurisdiction under this section may be accomplished (1) by filing with the Governor (or, if none exists, with the chief executive officer) of the State, Commonwealth, territory, or possession concerned a notice of relinquishment to take effect upon acceptance thereof, or (2) as the laws of the State, Commonwealth, territory, or possession may otherwise provide.
 
(b) The authority granted by subsection (a) is in addition to and not instead of that granted by any other provision of law.
 
(c)(1) Except as provided in paragraphs (2) and (3), the Secretary concerned shall establish and enforce as the minimum drinking age on a military installation located in a State the age established by the law of that State as the State minimum drinking age.
 
(2)(A) In the case of a military installation located—
 
(i) in more than one State; or
 
(ii) in one State but within 50 miles of another State or Mexico or Canada,
 
the Secretary concerned may establish and enforce as the minimum drinking age on that military installation the lowest applicable age.
 
(B) In subparagraph (A), the term “lowest applicable age” means the lowest minimum drinking age established by the law—
 
(i) of a State in which a military installation is located; or
 
(ii) of a State or jurisdiction of Mexico or Canada that is within 50 miles of such military installation.
 
(3)(A) The commanding officer of a military installation may waive the requirement of paragraph (1) if such commanding officer determines that the exemption is justified by special circumstances.
 
(B) The Secretary of Defense shall define by regulations what constitute special circumstances for the purposes of this paragraph.
 
(4) In this subsection:
 
(A) The term “State” includes the District of Columbia.
 
(B) The term “minimum drinking age” means the minimum age or ages established for persons who may purchase, possess, or consume alcoholic beverages.
 
 

 

Source for all citations on this page: FDsys, the Federal Digital System of the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO).
Excerpts from the United States Code are current as of 2012. Excerpts from the Code of Federal Regulations are current as of 2013.  Excerpts from Public Laws of Congress are current as of the year of enactment.
The GPO’s Public Domain/Copyright Notice is available under the Policies heading at
http://www.gpo.gov/help/index.html .

 

 

Expander Selected References for Minimum Ages for Off-Premises Sellers

  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Young Adult Drinking. Alcohol Alert No. 68. April 2006.
     
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Underage Drinking. Alcohol Alert No. 67. January 2006.
     
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Focus on Young Adult Drinking. Alcohol Research & Health 28(4), 2004/2005.
     
  4. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004.
     
  5. Reboussin, B.A., Song, E.Y., and Wolfson, M. The impact of alcohol outlet density on the geographic clustering of underage drinking behaviors within census tracts. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 35(8):1541-9, 2011.
     
  6. Wagenaar, A.C., Toomey, T.L., and Erickson, D.J. Complying with the minimum drinking age: Effects of enforcement and training interventions. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 29(2):255-262, 2005.

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