Underage Drinking: Furnishing Alcohol to Minors
Laws that prohibit furnishing minors with alcohol and various statutory exceptions to these laws.
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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: 1/1/1998 through 1/1/2016)
This policy topic covers laws that prohibit furnishing minors with alcohol and various statutory exceptions to these laws.
This section of APIS addresses criminal laws that prohibit furnishing minors with alcohol. All States prohibit furnishing alcoholic beverages to minors, although most States allow various types of exceptions. In some situations covered by the exceptions, someone who furnishes alcohol may still be subject to the laws addressed in Prohibitions Against Hosting Underage Drinking Parties — see below.
Some States provide an exception when alcoholic beverages are furnished to a minor by a parent/guardian or spouse. Some States specify that the spouse must be of legal age, while others do not. APIS considers a State to have a spousal exception even if the age of the spouse is not specified.
In some of these States, the exception for family members applies only if the furnishing occurs in a specified location, e.g., all private locations, private residences only, or in the home of a parent or guardian only. No State has an exception for furnishing on private property by anyone other than a family member.
Some States provide sellers and licensees with one or more affirmative defenses against a charge of furnishing alcoholic beverages to a minor. First, some States allow an affirmative defense when the minor has not been charged with an offense. In these states, an accused seller or licensee can defend by establishing that the minor was not charged. This affirmative defense is included in the comparison tables for Furnishing. Second, in some States, an affirmative defense is available in connection with beverage service training programs. Information on the affirmative defense for beverage service training is presented in a separate APIS policy topic (Beverage Service Training and Related Practices).
All States appear to prohibit furnishing alcoholic beverages to minors by both commercial (bars, restaurants, retail sales outlets) and non-commercial servers. However, examination of case law would be required to determine with certainty that the prohibition applies to both commercial and non-commercial servers in all States. APIS does not review case law.
In some States, furnishing laws are closely associated with laws that prohibit hosting underage drinking parties. Hosts who allow underage drinking on their property as well as supply the alcohol consumed or possessed by the minors may be in violation of two distinct laws: furnishing alcohol to a minor and allowing underage drinking to occur on property they control. Additional information is available in the Prohibitions Against Hosting Underage Drinking Parties policy topic.
Definitions for Furnishing Alcohol to Minors
Facts and arguments that exonerate a defendant, even if all allegations in the complaint are true
Beverage Service Training
Voluntary or mandatory programs to: (1) develop and implement policies and procedures in retail alcohol outlets for preventing alcoholic beverage sales and service to minors and intoxicated persons; and (2) train managers and servers/clerks to implement the policies and procedures effectively (see also Beverage Service Training and Related Practices
Varies from State to State, but generally refers to one who has the legal authority and duty to care for another's (in this case, a minor's) person or property
A person under the age of 21 years
Explanatory Notes and Limitations for Furnishing Alcohol to Minors
Explanatory Notes and Limitations Specifically Applicable to Underage: Furnishing
- Some States have provisions that allow participation in certain training programs or other practices to mitigate penalties for sellers/licensees/employers/permitees who have violated provisions related to serving minors. This section of APIS does not include these types of provisions. (For information about such programs, see Beverage Service Training & Related Practices.) Similarly, provisions related to the Minor Not Charged variable are included only if they constitute an affirmative defense, not merely a mitigation of penalties.
- State provisions vary in the language used to prohibit furnishing alcohol to minors. Some refer to any person and include all types of transactions between the provider and underage receiver (e.g., making it illegal to sell, dispose, deliver, exchange, give, furnish, etc.). Other States' provisions are more limited as to the identified provider and specific prohibited acts. APIS treats all of these transactions as "furnishing."
- This analysis does not consider or include the following types of provisions:
- General criminal statutes dealing with aiding or abetting alcohol possession or consumption by minors.
- Provisions dealing with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, child endangerment, or child abuse and neglect.
- APIS does not assume that furnishing by a parent or guardian is permitted in a jurisdiction simply because that jurisdiction allows possession or consumption by a minor when the alcohol is received from a parent or guardian.
- State provisions vary in the standards of proof necessary for a "sales to minor" conviction. Typically, States apply some version of a negligence standard—the person serving the minor should have known or had reason to believe that the person being served was under 21 years of age. Some provisions appear to require a higher level of evidence, requiring actual knowledge of the minor's age. Other States may apply a strict liability standard: the server is liable even if a reasonable person in like circumstances would have acted in the same manner; in such cases, the prosecution only needs to prove the fact of the service. Judicial interpretations of these standards sometimes blur the distinctions. APIS does not review case law.
- This section of APIS does not address culpability of alcohol retailers for third party transactions (e.g., the seller makes a legal transaction to an adult but with knowledge or reason to believe that the adult purchaser is intending to give or resell the alcohol to a minor).
Explanatory Notes and Limitations for Underage: Possession, Consumption, Internal Possession, Purchase and Furnishing
- Some States' provisions do not apply reciprocal exceptions to both the provider of alcohol and the minor (e.g., California permits minors to possess alcohol in private locations, but it is illegal for anyone to provide alcohol to minors in any setting).
- Some States have exceptions for beverages containing less than one-half of one percent alcohol by volume. APIS does not address these types of provisions.
- Laws that allow individuals under 21 years of age to purchase, consume, possess, be furnished with, or have alcohol in their systems, are included as exceptions, even if the exception is limited to 18+ year olds or to a certain type of alcohol (e.g., light wine or beer). Such conditions and limitations that apply to exceptions identified in the comparison tables are described in Row Notes and/or Jurisdiction Notes accessible from the body of the table via links in the Jurisdiction column.
- Some State statutes and regulations provide exceptions for minors married to a "legal age spouse" while others simply refer to a "spouse." APIS codes both of these wordings as exceptions under "spouse." In addition, statutes or regulations may provide an exception when a "family member" or "relative" is present or consents. When a statute or regulation is unclear as to which family members or relatives must be present and/or consent, APIS assumes that parents, guardians, and spouses are all included. A Row or Jurisdiction Note is included in such instances.
- This review does not include the following items related to underage drinking and access to alcohol:
- State and Federal laws related to enforcement and penalties.
- Provisions specific to beer containing not more than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight.
- Provisions that are specific to parks (other than national parks as described on the Federal Law page).
- Provisions that are specific to school or university property.
- Separate laws for the military or for Indian reservations. Approximately 200 tribes across the Nation have jurisdiction and responsibility for laws affecting their reservations. Many have passed their own laws regarding underage drinking and access to alcohol.
Explanatory Notes and Limitations Applicable to All APIS Policy Topics
- 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. For more information on the preemption doctrine, see the About Alcohol Policy page. APIS does not document policies established by local governments.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- If a conflict exists between a statute and a regulation addressing the same legal issue, APIS coding relies on the statute.
- 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.
Federal Law for Furnishing Alcohol to Minors
(Policies in effect on: 1/1/2016)
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 2015. Excerpts from the Code of Federal Regulations are current as of 2016. 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 .
Selected References for Furnishing Alcohol to Minors
- Donovan, J.E., and Molina, B.S.G. Children's introduction to alcohol use: Sips and tastes. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 32(1):108-119, 2008.
- Fabian, L.E., Toomey, T.L., Lenk, K.M., and Erickson, D.J. Where do underage college students get alcohol? Journal of Drug Education 38(1):15-26, 2008.
- Fagan, A.A., Hawkins, J.D., and Catalano, R.F. Engaging communities to prevent underage drinking. Alcohol Research & Health 34(2):167-74, 2011.
- Fell, J.C., Scherer, M., & Voas, R. (2015). The utility of including the strengths of underage drinking laws in determining their effect on outcomes. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 39(8): 1528-1537. Retrieved from PM:26148047.
- Fell, J.C., Thomas, S., Scherer, M., Fisher, D.A. & Romano, E. (2015). Scoring the strengths and weaknesses of underage drinking laws in the United States. World Medical & Health Policy, 7: 28-58. doi: 10.1002/wmh3.132.
- Gosselt, J.F., Van Hoof, J.J., and De Jong, M.D. Why should I comply? Sellers' accounts for (non-)compliance with legal age limits for alcohol sales. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy 7(5), 2012.
- Harding, F.M., Hingson, R W., Klitzner, M., Mosher, J.F., Brown, J., Vincent, R.M., et al. (2016). Underage drinking: A review of trends and prevention strategies. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 51(4 Suppl 2): S148-57. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2016.05.020. Epub 2016 Jul 28.
- Hearst, M.O., Fulkerson, J.A., Maldonado-Molina, M.M., Perry, C.L., and Komro, K.A. Who needs liquor stores when parents will do? The importance of social sources of alcohol among young urban teens. Preventive Medicine 44(6):471-6, 2007.
- Hingson R and White A. New Research Findings Since the 2007 Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: A Review. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 75(1):158-69, January 2014.
- Jones-Webb, R., Toomey, T.L., Lenk, K.M., Nelson, T.F., Erickson, D.J. (2015). Targeting adults who provide alcohol to underage youth: Results from a national survey of local law enforcement agencies. Journal of Community Health, 40(3):569-75. doi: 10.1007/s10900-014-9973-0.
- Kaynak Ö, Winters KC, Cacciola J, Kirby KC, Arria AM. Providing alcohol for underage youth: What messages should we be sending parents? Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 75(4):590-605, July 2014.
- Komro, K.A., Maldonado-Molina, M.M., Tobler, A.L., Bonds, J., and Muller, K.E Effects of home access and availability of alcohol on young adolescents' alcohol use. Addiction 102(10):1597-1608, 2007.
- Kypri, K., Dean, J.I., and Stojanovski, E. Parent attitudes on the supply of alcohol to minors. Drug and Alcohol Review 26(1):41-7, 2007.
- Levitt, A., & Cooper, M.L. (2015). Should parents allow their adolescent children to drink at home? Family factors as predictors of alcohol involvement trajectories over 15 years. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 76(5): 661-670.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Underage Drinking. Alcohol Alert No. 67. January 2006.
- National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004.
- Pape, H., Rossow, I., Storvoll, E.E. (2015). Is drinking with parents associated with high-risk drinking among adolescents? European Addiction Research, 21(6): 291-299. Retrieved from: http://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/381673.
- Paschall, M.J., Grube, J.W., Black, C., and Ringwalt, C.L. Is commercial alcohol availability related to adolescent alcohol sources and alcohol use? Findings from a multi-level study. Journal of Adolescent Health 41(2):168-174, 2007.
- Plunk, A.D., Krauss, M.J., Syed-Mohammed, H., Hur, M., Cavzos-Rehg, P.A., Bierut, L. J., et al. (2016). The impact of the minimum legal drinking age on alcohol-related chronic disease mortality. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 40(8): 1761-1768. Published online 2016 Jun 24. doi: 10.1111/acer.13123.
- Synnott, C.K. (2015). College students and alcohol: Consumption, perceptions, and administrators’ prevention efforts. Journal of Higher Education Management, 30(1): 162-177.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. Rockville, MD: Office of the Surgeon General, 2007. Accessed August 21, 2012 at: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/underagedrinking/.
- Ward, L.M., and Snow, P.C. Factors affecting parental supply of alcohol to underage adolescents. Drug and Alcohol Review 30(4):338-343, 2011.