Alcoholic Beverage Laws Often Confuse Even Law Enforcement Officials

New York Times columnist Eric Asimov wanted to do a follow-up of an earlier column that he wrote on the confusion over laws governing interstate retail sale of alcohol to consumers. In researching the issue, he found even more confusion:

What's astounding about this story is how very few people understand the laws, even the so-called experts. In trying to get clarification about New York State's laws, for example, a spokesman for the New York State Liquor Authority would speak to me over the phone only with a lawyer present, and the lawyer refused to allow himself to be identified or quoted. 1

Unfortunately, such confusion is to be expected. Try calling your state alcoholic beverage or liquor control authority. You can find it by visiting the State Alcohol Beverage or Liquor Control Board Directory. The agency should certainly know its state laws regarding alcohol consumption by those under the age of 21, so ask a very simple question. For example:

  • "Our 20-year old son is coming home from Iraq. Can I serve him alcohol with pizza for dinner?"
  • "My 18-year old daughter attends teen parties at which alcohol is consumed but she abstains completely so that she can serve as a Designated Driver. Can she be arrested for illegal possession of alcohol?"
  • After I recite Friday night Kiddush, is it illegal for me to let my teenagers drink a sip of the alcohol used in the service?"
  • "Is it always illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol in this state?"

Experience suggests that you may very well receive an incorrect answer from those charged with enforcing the alcohol laws, a most disconcerting fact.


  • 1. Eric Asimov. More on the befuddlement of liquor laws. New York Times, January 31, 2008.