DC Alcohol Laws: It’s a Capital Idea to Know & Follow Them

This page will help you understand DC alcohol laws and avoid expensive fines or even jail. Not to mention time and embarrassment.

DC alcohol laws apply to its residents. But also to those working or visiting the capital. Breaking the laws isn’t a capital offense. But not knowing a law is no legal defense.


I.   Minimum Age Laws
II.  Other Alcohol Laws
III. Resources
IV. Legal Advice

I. Minimum Age Laws

Young people may want part-time jobs. Hospitality has many of them. But how old must one be to serve alcohol for on-premises consumption? For tending bar? For selling alcohol for off-premises consumption? What do DC alcohol laws permit?

Young people have many such questions. So we have answers.

Adults of any age to hold those jobs. That is, anyone age 18 or older is an adult and may have these jobs.

But it is illegal for those under 21 to drink. Any amount. Any time. For any reason. Period. A doctor may not prescribe alcohol. A priest may not offer them sacramental wine. Nor may a parent give them wine for Seder.

aIt appears that young people are denied their right of religion. This includes adults aged 18, 19 and 20. It is not clear that any harm from the use of wine for religious purposes justifies this. Nor is it clear that making criminals of priests and parents doing their duty serves any public good.

Under DC alcohol laws, using a false ID to buy alcohol is a criminal act. It is also illegal for those under 21 to drive with any detectable alcohol in their systems.

II. Other DC Alcohol Laws

A. Selling Alcohol

Licensed businesses may serve alcohol between 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. on Mondays through Thursdays. They may do so between 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The hours are between and 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. on Sundays.

Some businesses sell alcohol for consumption off-premises. They include grocery, convenience, and other stores. They may sell alcohol between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. seven days a week.

Alcohol beverage producers may sell their products between 7:00 a.m. and midnight, seven days a week.

It’s a violation of DC alcohol laws to sell alcoholic beverages to anyone under 21. That includes adult active members of the U.S. military.

B. Buying Alcohol

It’s illegal under DC alcohol laws for anyone under 21 to buy alcohol. Or attempt to buy it.

A customer must show a valid ID if the alcohol seller asks to see it. It’s illegal to use a false ID to buy or try to buy alcohol. Violators face fines and license suspension.

It’s also illegal to have an open alcohol container in public place that’s not part of an alcohol retailer’s business. Violators face fines of up to $500 and/or up to 90 days in jail.

C. Driving and Alcohol

DC alcohol laws prohibit driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08%. That’s driving while intoxicated (DWI). A BAC of 0.05% to 0.8% is a driving under the influence (DUI). For commercial drivers, a DWI is a BAC of 0.04% or higher. For drivers under age 21, the District has a zero tolerance policy.

The exact penalties for DUI/DWI drivers depend on many facts. They include age, driving history, type of driving license, BAC level, legal representation, and consequences of the offense. Also of importance is the judge.

Drivers 21 and Older

Police have great discretion. For example, they may arrest even drivers 21 or older with a BAC as low as 0.01%. Such drivers may have an option. If they agree to undergo counseling for $400, a judge might decide to drop some penalties .

   First DUI/DWI

  • Depending on BAC level, jail is at least five days. But it could be as long as three months. And/or a fine of at least $300. Yet might be up to $10,000.
  • Twelve points added to driving record.
  • License suspension for six months.

   Second DUI/DWI within 15 Years

Community Service
  • Depending on BAC level, jail for at least five days. But it could be up to three months. And/or a fine from of at least  $300. However, it be up to $10,000.
  • Twelve points added to driving record.
  • License revoked for one year.
  • Community service for one month after release from prison.

   Third DUI/DWI within 15 Years

  • Depending on BAC level, prison for up to five years and/or a up to $10,000.
  • Twelve points added to driving record.
  • License revoked for two years.
  • Community service for two month after release from prison.

Drivers Under 21

dc alcohol lawsDC alcohol laws prohibit those under 21 from driving with any measurable alcohol in their bodies. Most states set the limit at 0.02%.

They do that for several reasons. One is that alcohol breath testers are unreliable. In fact, they don’t actually measure BAC. They only estimate it. Another is that everyone produces alcohol within their bodies. And they do it 24/7. A third reason is that many meds as well some foods contain alcohol.

Therefore, by setting the illegal limit at 0.02%, states reduce the chances of falsely convicting innocent people.

Drivers under 21 are subject to the same penalties listed above for those 21 or older. But the actual penalties imposed depend on the specific judge

Driver Rights

All drivers have a U.S. Constitutional right to decline submitting to any breath BAC tests. But DC alcohol laws punish them for using their right. It does so by punishing them. These may include license revocation for one year and addition of points to driving record.

dc alcohol lawsYet there’s no legal penalty for refusing to take a field sobriety test. These are highly unreliable. In fact, 30% of completely sober people fail them. That is, about one in three people with zero alcohol (BAC of 0.00%) can’t pass.

For this reason, lawyers strongly urge drivers to never, ever take a field sobriety test. They say to politely refuse. And to do so as many times as needed. So it might be wise to follow their advice.

But this may take some willpower. That’s because police love the tests. For example, they often falsely tell drivers that the law requires taking it. But it does not. In fact, laws in no U.S state do.

They also use clever arguments to talk drivers into doing what lawyers tell them not to do. To this end, they often say you can prove your innocence by taking the test. However, drivers DO NOT need to prove their innocence. To the contrary. In other words, it is the state that has to prove the driver is guilty. That is, the burden of proof is on the state.

When police pull over drivers for suspected DUI/DWI, they’re conducting a criminal investigation. Therefore, it’s perfectly legal for them to lie to suspects. If you are a suspect in a crime, police are never your friends or allies. To the contrary, they want to make an arrest.

Learn more at Never Take a Field Sobriety Test Say DUI Lawyers.

D. Boating and Alcohol

DC alcohol laws prohibit boating under the influence (BUI).

The penalty for a first BUI is a fine of $1,000 and/or jail for up to 180 days.

A second offense brings a fine of at least $2,500. However, it could be as much as $5,000 brings and/or jail for one year. Any later offense triggers a fine of at least $2,500. And it could be as high as $10,000 and/or jail for one year.

Any of these, among many other things, may lead to suspicion of BUI.

Boat registration problem.
Boating violation of any type.
Erratic operation of the boat.
Slurred speech.

When it comes to boating, alcohol and water don’t mix.

III. Washington, DC Alcohol Laws

IV. Legal Advice about DC Alcohol Laws

Law is complex. It changes. Courts reinterpret them. Not surprisingly, lawyers devote years to studying it. So not rely on this site. Nor any other site.

And beware. Family and friends may offer advice. Neighbors may give opinions. Coworkers may offer ideas. Smile and thank them. Then ignore what they say. Their advice is worth what you paid for it. That is, not much. It’s also likely to be wrong.

Get information and advice about DC alcohol laws from an expert. That is a lawyer holding a license in DC.


At this point you know much more by far about DC alcohol laws than most residents of the District. So congratulations!