This page will help you understand Massachusetts alcohol laws and avoid expensive fines or even jail. And both time and legal costs.
Massachusetts alcohol laws apply both to residents and visitors. Even residents may not know how alcohol laws could affect them. And visitors may falsely think they know the state’s laws. Courts don’t excuse ignorance of the law.
Time magazine ranked Massachusetts as one of the three states having the most restrictive alcohol laws. The Boston Globe said “Drinking Laws in Massachusetts Aren’t Puritanical — They’re Worse.”
I. Minimum Ages
II. Other Alcohol Laws
IV. Get Legal Advice
I. Minimum Ages
Young people often want part-time jobs. Hospitality has many, often handling alcohol. Youths want to know the ages needed for serving alcohol in restaurants. For bartending. For selling alcohol to drink elsewhere.
Massachusetts alcohol laws are specific about this. The law permit adults to serve or bartend in venues selling alcohol for on-site drinking. They also permit adults to sell alcohol in stores for drinking elsewhere. Of course, adults are those age 18 or older.
It is illegal for anyone under age 21 to possess alcohol. But there are exceptions. One is possession in the presence of a consenting parent or guardian. Another is with their spouse who is 21 or older. A third is for adults as part of their job.
Those of any age under 21 may drink. But a parent, guardian, grandparent, or legal-age spouse must give the alcohol. Many do this to teach moderation. This approach is effective.
It is illegal for those under 21 to buy alcohol. It is a crime to use a false ID buy it. It’s also illegal to give alcohol to anyone under 21 who is not a family member.
Giving alcohol to someone under 21 is called “unlawfully dealing with a minor.” That might prevent a person from entering many careers. This includes teaching, law enforcement, social work, and others.
It’s illegal for those under 21 to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above 0.02%. It’s also illegal for anyone to operate a boat with a BAC over 0.08%.
II. Other Massachusetts Alcohol Laws
A. Selling Alcohol
Grocery and convenience stores can sell beer and wine from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Restaurants and bars can serve from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday. No alcohol sales begin before noon on Sunday.
It’s illegal to sell alcohol on any election day while polls are open.
Happy hours are illegal in the state. In addition, Massachusetts alcohol laws prohibit retailers from passing on their bulk buy discount to customers.
Dry townships in the state are Alford, Chilmark, Dunstable, Gosnold, Hawley, and Montgomery. Also Mount Washington, Needham and Westhampton. These townships prohibit the sale of alcohol. Discover more at Dry Counties.
B. Buying Alcohol
The penalty for attempting to buy alcohol by anyone under 21 is a fine of $300. It also includes a license suspension for 180 days. These penalties also apply to anyone who tries to get someone else to obtain alcohol for them.
Out-of-state drivers licenses aren’t acceptable proof of age in Massachusetts. Therefore, out-of-state visitors can be denied the right to buy alcohol.
C. Driving and Alcohol
Open containers of alcohol are illegal in vehicles. So opened bottles of alcohol must be in the trunk. The penalty for driving with an open alcohol container anywhere except in the trunk is a fine of at least $100. But it could be as high as $500.
The state charges driver under the age of 21 with a BAC of 0.02% or higher with OUI.
For this reason, some may face either lighter or more severe penalties than outlined below. A major factor is driving history. And also the judge hearing the case.
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The penalty for a first OUI offense is a driver’s license suspension of 45 to 90 days. Reinstating the license costs between $50 and $1,200. Criminal penalties include license suspension for one year and a fine of $500 to $5,000. Also possible is jail for up to 2 1/2 years.
In addition, the courts sentence drivers under 18 to a Youth Alcohol Program (YAP). They must also serve an added suspension period of one year. Adults between 18 and 21 must attend YAP, but their additional suspension is 180 days.
Also, the driver must have an ignition interlock device (IID) put in the car and pay for it. Criminal penalties increase the license suspension to two years. The fine increases from $600 to $10,000.
The possible jail is between 60 days and 2 1/2 years. A court can also require an alcohol education program.
Length of the license suspension depends on the time between charges. The license reinstatement fee and the mandatory IID remain the same.
Criminal penalties include a crime charge, license suspension for eight years, and a fine of $1,000 to $15,000. Possible jail time is 180 days to 2 1/2 years or prison time of 2 1/2 to five years. The court may revoke the vehicle registration. It may also require an alcohol education program.
The time between convictions determines the length of license suspension. The cost of reinstating a license and the IID are the same. The crime charge also remains. But the license revocation is for ten years. And the fine is $1,500 to $25,000.
Jail time is two to 2 1/2 years. Prison time is 2 1/2 to five years. The required IID remains. Also there’s possible alcohol school, revocation of vehicle registration, and vehicle forfeiture.
The driver’s license suspension and license reinstating fee are the same. However, the penalty now includes a required IID. It also varies by time between charges.
Criminal penalties include crime charges, license revocation up to lifetime, and a fine of $2,000 to $50,000. Jail time may be at least 2 1/2 years or prison between 2 1/2 and five years. Also possible is revocation of vehicle registration, vehicle forfeiture, or an alcohol education program.
Driving under the influence with a passenger under 14 years old brings charges of both OUI and child endangerment. Massachusetts alcohol laws penalize a first offense with a fine of up to $5,000. Also jail for 90 days to 2 1/2 years and license suspension for one year.
A second offense brings a fine of $5,000 to $10,000. Also jail for six months to 2 1/2 years or prison for three to five years. The license suspension for three years.
An OUI causing another person’s death is vehicular manslaughter. The criminal penalty includes license revocation for 15 years. There’s also a prison sentence of between five and twenty years. And the fine can be up to $25,000.
All drivers have a U.S. Constitutional right to decline taking a BAC test. But Massachusetts alcohol laws require them to do so. The state punishes those who use their right. It does this by suspending their license for one year. It’s two years for a second refusal. And it’s eight years for a third.
But Massachusetts alcohol laws do permit drivers to refuse taking a field sobriety test. Those tests are highly subjective and unreliable. Almost one-third of people with a BAC of 0.00% fail them!
Lawyers strongly urge drivers not to take a field sobriety test. Although police may claim the law requires it. That’s simply false. And they have many clever ways to persuade. While investigating, police can legally lie. So don’t be fooled.
Lawyers recommend politely refusing. And doing so repeatedly as needed.
Learn more at Never Take a Field Sobriety Test Say DUI Lawyers.
D. Boating and Alcohol
The penalties for repeat offenses are more severe. For a BUI causing serious bodily injury to another, it can be prison for up to ten years. In addition, the fine can be up to $5,000.
IV. Get Legal Advice on Drinking Laws in Massachusetts
Laws can be very confusing. They vary from county to county. Often they vary from city to city. They can change. Also, their interpretation can change. They can be unclear. They can conflict. Law is complex. Lawyers study it for years.
Don’t rely on this site. Nor any other site. And beware. Friends may give advice. Neighbors may give opinions. Co-workers may give ideas. Family members may chime in. Smile and thank them. Then ignore what they say. It’s worth what you paid. That is, nothing. Instead, it can be worse than worthless. It can be wrong.
Massachusetts alcohol laws are especially confusing and sometimes inconsistent. Many people describe them as impossible to understand.
So always get advice about Massachusetts alcohol laws from an expert. That is a lawyer who holds a license in the state.