This article in no way attempts to list all the specific state or local regulations regarding the sale and possession of alcohol and should not be used as legal advice. Anyone who has a question regarding the possession and/or sale of alcoholic beverages within any of the following states or in any state, county, or municipality within the United States should contact the regulatory sites listed in this article for further information or discuss their concerns with a licensed attorney in that state. Furthermore, individuals who are involved in legal entanglements regarding the sale, use, or possession of alcohol should discuss their situation with a licensed attorney.
Alcohol Regulation and Sales Laws
Along with the repeal of Prohibition, the 21st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave individual states the right to control what parties can sell alcohol within the state, how the distribution of alcohol in the state would take place, and who would be able to legally possess alcohol within the state. States and even local jurisdictions will have significant differences regarding who can legally sell, buy, and possess alcoholic beverages. The federal government defines an alcoholic beverage as any beverage that contains over 0.5 percent alcohol per volume, but states and local jurisdictions may define this differently, and there may be some variation.
The federal government established the minimal legal drinking age and the age at which one can buy alcoholic beverages in the US as 21 years old, according to the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act that was passed in 1984, but again, states do have the power to alter this. Some states provide certain exceptions for this mandatory legal drinking age; however, most states comply with the statute because if they do not, they risk losing federal funding.
The situations under which this overall uniform and legal age to consume alcohol may be altered are very exact and only occur in very specific situations. The legal age at which one can legally serve alcohol will vary depending on the establishment, state law, and local law. For instance, most states allow individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 to serve alcoholic beverages at restaurants where alcohol is served with food, but do not allow these individuals to serve alcoholic beverages in businesses where alcohol is the primary source of revenue (e.g., a bar or liquor store). Again, there are exceptions that can vary from state to state, jurisdiction to jurisdiction, etc. One should check with their local laws regarding these exceptions.
States with Stringent and Lenient Statutes
According to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA), there are three states that are entirely dry states according to their state policies. The states are Kansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. These three states are considered to have the most stringent liquor laws. The counties in these states must specifically authorize the sale of alcohol in their statutes in order for it to be legal within the county, and alcohol sales must abide by state liquor control regulations. However, a surprising number of states in the country have counties that are dry counties (see NABCA for a list).
Numerous states and counties have less stringent laws, and Nevada is probably the state with the most lenient laws regarding alcoholic beverages. Specific state organizations and regulations are listed next.
Based on the information provided by NABCA, there are also numerous states that contain municipalities that declare themselves as dry municipalities in counties that are not actually dry counties. In addition, certain isolated religious sectors may forbid the sale of alcoholic beverages within their boundaries in specific states and municipalities. This makes the situation even more confusing. Individuals should always refer to formal guidelines in a municipality, county, or state to get a better understanding of who is legally able to sell, purchase, and possess an alcoholic beverage.
The basic information provided in each section determines when alcoholic beverages can legally be sold, what venues can sell them, and the closing times of bars in the state. The information in the article refers to the sale of beer, wine, and liquor. Spirits or liquors are generally defined as distilled beverages with an alcohol content of 20 percent or greater (40 proof) in most jurisdictions.
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The major organizations that are involved in the control and sale of alcoholic beverages within the state of California include:
- California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control
Phone: (916) 419-2500
- California Board of Equalization
Phone: (916) 445-6464
In general beer, wine, and liquor can be purchased at licensed facilities, including grocery stores. The sale of alcoholic beverages in the state of California can occur weekly between the hours of 6 a.m. and 2 a.m. every day, including Sunday. The closing time for bars in the state of California is 2 a.m.; however, there is legislation attempting to change the legal closing time for bars to 4 a.m. Alcoholic beverages cannot be displayed within five feet of a cash register when these beverages are sold in an establishment that also sells motor fuel.
The body responsible for regulating the sales of alcohol in the state of Florida is:
- Florida Department of Professional Business Regulations: Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco
Fax: (850) 922-5175
At the time of this writing, it appears that in most jurisdictions within the state, beer and wine can be sold at grocery stores and facilities that are licensed to sell beer and wine, but liquor sales can only occur at establishments that have a specific license to sell liquor (e.g., bars and liquor stores). In most jurisdictions, sales of alcoholic beverages can occur between 7 a.m. and 3 a.m. in retail establishments, and the bar closing time is 2 a.m. Maximum size for beer and malt liquor bottles sold at retail establishments appears to be 32 ounces in most jurisdictions. It appears that bartenders in Florida can be between the ages of 18 and 21 years old.
For information regarding the sale and possession of alcoholic beverages in the state of Louisiana, refer to:
- Louisiana Department of Revenue: Alcohol and Tobacco Control Office
Phone: (225) 925-4041
Fax: (225) 925-3975
Depending on the jurisdiction, the sales of alcohol can vary quite a bit in Louisiana. In general, beer, wine, and liquor can be purchased at grocery stores, beer and wine stores, and liquor stores. Bar closing time is 2 a.m.
Different jurisdictions may have quite different restrictions regarding Sunday sales of alcohol. For instance, the southern part of Louisiana tends to have very lax restrictions regarding the sale of liquor, whereas the northern part of Louisiana has more restrictive regulations. Refer to the above site for more information.
The state regulatory body for the sale of alcoholic beverages in Mississippi is:
- Alcoholic Beverage Control Office
Phone: (601) 856-1301
Fax: (601) 856-1390
As mentioned above, Mississippi has some very stringent restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages. As a general rule, beer can be purchased at grocery stores because the state does not define beer as an alcoholic beverage, but wine and liquor can only be purchased at retail establishments that are licensed to sell them, such as liquor stores. Sale hours vary according to locality, but as a general rule, the sale of alcoholic beverages is allowed from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Sunday sales are restricted, or alcoholic beverages are not available for sale on Sundays. The closing time for bars is 2 a.m.
In addition, numerous counties are dry for hard liquor or also dry for beer and wine. Check the links and above site for more information.
Permits to sell alcoholic beverages are regulated by each individual county in Nevada. General information regarding the sale and possession of alcohol in the state of Nevada can be gleaned from the Nevada Department of Taxation. Some of the counties that can provide specific information include:
- Carson City
Call center: 1-866-962-3707
Phone: (775) 684-2000
Fax: (775) 684-2020
Phone: (775) 688-1295
Fax: (775) 688-1303
- Las Vegas
Phone: (702) 486-2300
Fax: (702) 486-2372
Fax: (702) 486-3377
Beer, wine, and liquor can be purchased at grocery stores, party stores, and liquor stores. There are no Sunday restrictions. In general, alcohol can be purchased around the clock, seven days a week, and bars are open 24 hours a day. Again, various local restrictions may apply.
Information regarding the legal possession and sale of alcohol in the state of New Jersey can be found at the:
- New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety: Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control
Phone: (609) 984-2830
Fax: (609) 633-6078
In New Jersey, beer can be purchased at grocery stores, whereas wine and liquor can only be purchased in stores that are licensed to sell them, such as liquor stores. Retail sales of alcohol are regulated and have reduced hours in some counties, but overall, sales are allowed from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Jersey City and Newark have exceptions). Closing time for bars is 2 a.m.
There are several dry counties in the state. Due to the very high cost of liquor licenses in New Jersey, some establishments enact a “bring your own beer” policy, allowing patrons to bring their own beer or wine for consumption at the establishment.
The regulatory body for the sale of alcoholic beverages in the state of Rhode Island is the:
- Division of Commercial Licensing and Regulation: Liquor Enforcement and Compliance
Phone: (401) 222-2562
Fax: (401) 462-9645
Alcohol sales are allowed Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., in retail establishments that have a license to sell liquor. The bar closing time in Rhode Island is 1 a.m.
Texas state regulations regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages can be found at the:
- Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission
Phone: (512) 206-3333
Fax: (512) 206-3449
In general, grocery stores can sell beer and wine, but liquor stores are the only retail outlets that can sell liquor. The sale of alcoholic beverages can occur from 7 a.m. to 12 a.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday; and from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Sunday. Bars close at 2 a.m., and bars that serve alcohol between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Sundays are also required to serve food with the drinks.
These laws can vary significantly depending on the county in Texas. Check with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for more information.