Massachusetts Alcohol Laws: Learn The Law

Massachusetts alcohol laws apply both to residents and visitors. Residents may not know how alcohol laws could effect them. And visitors may falsely think they know the state’s laws. Courts don’t buy an excuse of ignorance.

I. Minimum Ages

I.   Minimum Ages
II.  Alcohol Violations
III. Resources
IV.  Seek Good Advice

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 off-site.

Massachusetts alcohol laws are specific about this. The law permit adults to serve or bartend in venues selling alcohol for on-premises drinking. They also permit adults to sell alcohol in stores for drinking elsewhere. Adults are those age 18 or older.

It is illegal for anyone under age 21 to possess alcohol. However 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 employment

Those of any age under 21 may drink. But a parent, guardian, grandparent, or legal-age spouse must give the alcohol.

It is illegal for those under 21 to buy alcohol. It is a criminal act to use a false ID buy it. It’s also illegal to give alcohol to anyone under 21 who is not a family member. So it’s very unwise to do so.

A conviction for giving alcohol to someone under 21 can prevent a person from entering many careers. This includes teaching, law enforcement, social work, law, or other professions.

It’s illegal for those under 21 to drive with a BAC above 0.02. And it’s illegal for anyone to operate a boat with a BAC over 0.08.

II. Alcohol Violations

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 consumers.

Out-of-state drivers licenses aren’t acceptable proof of age in Massachusetts. Therefore, out-of-state visitors can be denied the right to purchase alcohol.

Dry townships in the state are Alford, Chilmark, Dunstable, Gosnold, Hawley, Montgomery, Mount Washington, Needham and Westhampton. These townships prohibit the sale of alcohol. Discover more at Dry Counties.

Purchasing Alcohol

Massachusetts alcohol lawsThe 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.

The punishment for illegal underage possession is a fine of up to $50 for a first offense. For a second conviction, it’s a fine of up to $150.

Out-of-state drivers licenses aren’t acceptable proof of age in Massachusetts. Therefore, out-of-state visitors can be denied the right to purchase alcohol.


Open containers of alcohol are illegal in vehicles. Therefore, opened bottles of alcohol must be in the trunk of a car. The penalty for driving with an open alcohol container anywhere except in the trunk is a fine of $100 – $500.

The state charges driver under the age of 21 with a BAC of 0.02 or higher with OUI.

massachusetts alcohol lawsDrivers of any age guilty of OUI face both administrative and criminal penalties. Administrators and courts have wide latitude. For this reason, some may face either lighter or more severe penalties than outlined below. A major factor is driving history.

First Offense

The administrative 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 imprisonment 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 additional suspension period of one year. Adults between 18 and 21 must attend YAP, but their additional suspension is 180 days.

Second Offense

massachusetts alcohol lawsThe length of administrative license suspension depends on the time since the first offense occurred. A license reinstatement fee remains in the same range. In addition, the driver must have an ignition interlock device 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 imprisonment is between 60 days and 2 1/2 years. A court can also require an alcohol education program.

Third Offense

Length of the administrative penalty of license suspension depends on the time between charges. The license reinstatement fee and the mandatory ignition interlock installation remain the same.
Criminal penalties include a felony 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.

Fourth Offense

massachesetts alcohol lawsThe time between convictions determines the ength of the administrative penalty of license suspension. The cost of reinstating a license and the ignition interlock requirement remain the same. The felony charge also remains. However 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 mandatory ignition interlock remains. In addition, there is possible alcohol education, revocation of vehicle registration, and vehicle forfeiture.

Fifth Offense

The administrative driver’s license suspension and license reinstating fee are the same. However, the penalty now includes a mandatory ignition interlock device. Varies by time between charges.

Criminal penalties include felony 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.

Child Endangerment

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. Finally, a license suspension for three years.

Vehicular Manslaughter

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. The fine can be up to $25,000.

Constitutional Right

All drivers have a U.S. Constitutional right to decline taking a BAC test. However, Massachusetts alcohol laws require them to do so. The state punishes those who use their right 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 permit drivers to refuse taking a field sobriety test. Those tests are notoriously subjective and unreliable. Almost one-third of people with a BAC of 0.00 fail them.

Lawyers strongly urge their clients not to take a field sobriety test. Although officers may claim drivers must take it, that’s simply false. Lawyers recommend politely but repeteadly refusing. Learn more at Never Take a Field Sobriety Test Say DUI Lawyers.


massachusetts alcohol lawsThe penalty for boating under the influence (BUI) can be severe. For a first offense it can be up to 30 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

The penalties for repeat offenses are more severe. The punishment for a BUI causing serious bodily injury to another can be imprisonment for up to ten years. In addition, the fine can be up to $5,000.

III. Resources on Massachusetts Alcohol LawsMassachusetts alcohol laws

IV. Seek Good Advice on Massachusetts Alcohol Laws

massachusetts alcohol lawsLaws can be very confusing. They vary from county to county. Often they vary from one city to another. They can change. Their interpretation can change. They can be unclear. They can conflict.

Law is complex. Lawyers study it for years. Do not rely on this site. Don’t rely on this or 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 can be worse than worthless. It can mislead you.

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.”

Massachusetts alcohol laws are especially confusing and sometimes inconsistent. Many people described them as byzantine, impossible to understand, etc.

Get information and advice about Massachusetts alcohol laws from an expert. That’s a lawyer who holds a license to practice in the state.