DC Decriminalizes Underage Drinking

The District of Columbia has decriminalized underage drinking, making consumption of alcohol by those under age 21 a civil rather than criminal offense.

Punishment can includes community service or alcohol education classes, a fine of $300 and suspension of a driver’s license for 90 days. Offenders will no longer be arrested and carry a criminal record for the rest of their lives.

“There is no reason to criminalize --arrest -- a young adult holding a can of beer in his backyard,” said City Council member Paul Mendelson. “If he’s underage, he can be fined and lose his driver’s license. But don’t label it a criminal misdemeanor.” The Council agreed 11-1, with one Council member absent.

New legislation was passed because, although underage drinking had been decriminalized in 1997, police had continued to arrest young people for what was no longer a crime. A class action suit led to an injunction against additional illegal arrests.

Neighboring Maryland has also decriminalized possession and consumption of alcohol by those under the age of 21.


  • Terrazas. Aaron/ Council amends drinking laws. The Hoya, September 25, 2004.