State underage alcohol drinking laws should be clear and easy to understand. Otherwise, they’re easy to violate accidentally. And they certainly shouldn’t be inconsistent. If so, following one law could mean violating another.
Under-Age Drinking Laws: Legal in Most States of U.S.
Here are some examples of conflicting underage alcohol drinking laws within states.
In Arkansas, it is illegal for those under 21 to possess alcohol. There are no exceptions. But state law specifically permits family members to furnish alcohol to other family members who are under 21.
California law permits those under 21 to possess alcohol in private locations (except a vehicle), or with a parent/guardian, or with a spouse. But furnishing alcohol to such a person is illegal, with no exceptions. And it is illegal for those under 21 to purchase alcohol. So how do the young drinkers obtain their alcohol, which they can legally possess?
Under 21 and live in Idaho? You may legally possess beer or wine in a private residence with your parent/guardian. But you may not drink it. You may not purchase it. And no one may furnish it to you. There are no exceptions.
In Illinois, it’s legal for those under 21 to consume alcohol in a private residence with a parent/guardian. But no one may legally furnish alcohol to those of that age, nor may they legally purchase it themselves. There are no exceptions to these furnish or purchase laws.
Kentucky permits a parent or guardian to furnish their under-21 offspring alcohol. However, it is illegal for the latter to possess the alcohol. There are no exceptions to the prohibition against possession.
In Minnesota, those under age 21 may legally possess alcohol in their parent/guardian’s home. They may also legally consume it there with a parent/guardian. However, the state has a law that makes it illegal “[f]or any person under the age of 21 years to consume any alcoholic beverages.”
A parent or guardian may legally furnish alcohol to their under-21-year-old. But the latter may not legally possess the alcohol that was legally furnished.
In Nebraska, a minor may legally possess and consume alcohol in the parent/guardian’s home. But it is illegal for anyone, including a parent/guardian, to furnish the alcohol. And it is illegal for the minor to purchase it.
The state of New York permits those under 21 to possess alcohol with a parent or guardian. But it is illegal for anyone, including a parent or guardian, to furnish the alcohol. And it’s illegal for minors to purchase or attempt to purchase alcohol by using false evidence of age.
In Rhode Island, parents or guardians may legally furnish alcohol to their minors. However, the possession of that alcohol by minors is prohibited without exception.
South Carolina permits those under 21 to possess alcohol in the parent or guardian’s home. But the alcohol may be furnished in either the home of the parent/guardian or in the home of the spouse. However, this is moot because consumption of any alcohol is prohibited without exception.
In West Virginia, it is legal for guardians or any relative by blood or marriage to furnish alcohol to minors. However, it is illegal, without exception, for minors to either possess or consume alcohol.
Note: Do not rely on this information for any purpose. Consult a lawyer for all legal opinion and advice. This includes questions about underage alcohol drinking laws.
Readings on Underage Alcohol Drinking Laws
Espejo, R. Teen Rights & Freedoms: Alcohol. Detroit: Greenhaven, 2013.
Ingraham, C. Where teenagers can legally drink in the U.S. (yes, really). Washington Post. May 18, 2016.
Lewis, J. A Zero-Tolerance Juvenile Alcohol Law: Why Legislation Won’t Work. El Paso: LFB, 2009.
Torr, J. Teens and Alcohol. San Diego: Greenhaven, 2002.