Florida Alcohol Laws: Know Before You Go

Florida alcohol laws can impact visitors from elsewhere. Visitors may falsely think that its alcohol laws are the same as those where they live. This can cause serious legal problems. But learning what is legal and not is easy.

Alcohol laws are not even the same within a single state. They can also  differ within a large metropolitan area. It’s easy to break the law without knowing it.

I. Minimum Age Laws

         Overview
I.   Minimum Age Laws
II.  Alcohol Violations
III. Resources
IV.  Seek Good Advice

Young people often want to work part-time. Hospitality has many jobs. So youths need to know the age for working with alcohol. How old must one be to serve alcohol in a venue for drinking on site? To tend bar? To sell alcohol for consumption elsewhere?

Adults aged 18 or older may be bartenders. They may also be servers in venues that sell alcohol for consumption on-site.

There is no age restriction for selling beer or wine for off-site consumption. The exception is for selling spirits in such an establishment.

It is criminal to use a borrowed, forged, counterfeit, or stolen Florida driver’s license to buy alcohol. The same applies to a Florida ID card. Understandably, it’s also illegal to provide anyone with such false ID.

It’s legal for any adult 18 or older to drink alcohol as part of a required course. The institution must be accredited. Moreover, the instructor must be at least 21 and control the alcohol at all times.

It’s illegal for those under 21 to drive or boat with a BAC of 0.02 or higher.

II. Alcohol Violations

Alcohol Sales

florida alcohol lawsIt’s illegal to sell alcohol to anyone, including adults, under age 21. The penalty for doing so, even accidentally, is a fine of up to $500. It may also include imprisonment for up to 60 days.

Florida alcohol laws permit beer and wine to be sold in alcohol-licensed retail stores. This includes grocery stores and convenience gas stations. However, spirits may only be sold at a package store.

This distinction is based on an old myth. It’s that spirits are more alcoholic than beer or wine. But standard drinks of each has the same amount of alcohol. It’s seven-tenths of pure alcohol.

florida alcohol lawsIt’s illegal to sell any of the celebratory Champagne bottle sizes known as Methuselahs, Salamanazars, Balthazars or Nebuchadnezzars.

Sales Hours

Alcohol may generally not be sold anywhere between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. any day of the week. But Florida counties and cities have much authority over the days and times of alcohol sales.

Miami-Dade and a few other counties permit 24-hour sales on seven days of the week. Some counties permit sales beginning at noon on Sundays. On the other hand, the counties of Baker and Polk are dry on Sundays. Prohibiting alcohol sales on Sundays or until noon on Sundays is a vestige of Blue Laws.

Some Florida counties follow a different path. For example, the panhandle counties of Lafayette, Liberty, Madison, and Washington counties are dry. (Discover more at Dry Counties.) The sale of alcohol there is illegal 24/7. This is a vestige of the Temperance Movement.

Florida drinking laws prohibit drinking on public property. This generally includes streets, sidewalks, parking lots, and beaches. But this prohibition extends to private property if the owner hasn’t given permission.

Note that “ABC” stores in Florida are not government monopolies. They are independent, competitive, tax-paying businesses with “ABC” as their name.

Alcohol Purchases

People must be 21 or older to buy alcohol. Even a first offense is a crime. It’s punishable by imprisonment for 60 days and a fine of $500. A second offense can lead to imprisonment for up to one year and a $1,000 fine.

Using a fake ID to buy, or attempt to buy, alcohol is a crime. It’s punishable with imprisonment for up to five years and a fine up to $5,000.

Lending an ID to someone is punishable by 60 days in jail and a $500.00 fine. Using someone else’s ID carries the same penalties. And the state may suspend the licenses of both people for one year.

Driving

florida alcohol lawsIt’s a violation of Florida alcohol laws to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher.

For those under 21, including adults, it’s 0.02 or greater.
The penalty for driving with a BAC of .02 up to .05 is license suspension for six months. For a BAC of .05 or higher, the license is suspended until completion of a substance course. If the offender is not an adult (i.e., is under 18), police notify the parents.

Florida alcohol laws prohibit open alcohol containers in motor vehicles. Drivers receive a fine of $73.00 to $90.00. Passengers receive a fine of $43.00 to $60.00.

Florida law requires drivers to submit to a BAC test if a law enforcement request it. The state punishes drivers who use their right under the U.S. Constitution to decline. The punishment is immediate suspension of the driver’s license for one year. A second refusal on another occasion results in an immediate suspension for 18 months..

Boating

florida alcohol lawsFlorida alcohol laws prohibit operating a boat under the influence (OBU). Boat or vessel is used very, very loosely. It even includes riding water skis.

People are “under the influence” if they have a BAC of 0.08 or higher. Alternatively, if they are being impacted by alcohol and/or drugs to a degree which impairs their normal abilities. Or with a BAC of 0.05 or higher if there is any evidence of being “under the influence.”

Penalties for a first offense are imprisonment for up to six months and a fine of up to $500. For a second, it’s imprisonment for up to nine months and a fine of up to $1,000. And for a third, it’s prison for up to a year and a fine up to $2,500.

If the offense is associated with causing property damage, injury, or death, the punishments are much more severe.

For those under 21, it’s illegal to operate a vessel
with any measurable BAC. That is, with a BAC of 0.02. That number is selected because of the recognized inaccuracies of breathalyzers.

Florida offers a $250 reward for information leading to a BUI arrest.

A conviction requires 50 hours of public service, completing a boater education course, and an online course for violators. The operator’s license is suspended until all requirements are completed.

A person operating a vessel must by law submit to a BAC test if police request it. The state punishes those who use their Constitutional right to decline. It does so with 50 hours of public service. Those punished may not operate a vessel until that requirement is completed.

III. Resources on Florida Alcohol Laws

Florida alcohol lawsState Code

Court Opinions

Attorney General Opinions

Division of Alcohol and Tobacco

Florida Bar

Florida Drivers Guide for Parents and Teens. Tallahassee: FL Dept. Highway Safety, 2011.

Florida Criminal and Traffic Law Manual. Charlottesville, VA: LexisNexis, 2016.

IV. Seek Good Advice

florida alcohol lawsLaws about alcohol change. Interpretations of these laws also change. Law is always in flux.  Florida alcohol laws, as those of all states, can be confusing.  Do not rely on this site. Or on any other site. Get information or advice about Florida alcohol laws from an expert. That’s a lawyer holding a license in the state.

Florida is a big state. Alcohol attitudes and practices vary from dry counties to those permitting sales 24/7. So it’s a good idea to select a lawyer in your city.