Most U.S. states permit persons under the age of 21 to consume alcohol in many ways. Thus, underage drinking is legal in 41 US states. In spite of “The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984” (The Act).
The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984
A group opposed to youth drinking explains The Act..
“The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 required all states to raise their minimum purchase and public possession of alcohol age to 21. States that did not comply faced a reduction in highway funds under the Federal Highway Aid Act. The national law specifically prohibits purchase and public possession of alcoholic beverages. It does not prohibit persons under 21 (also called youth or minors) from drinking. The term ‘public possession’ is strictly defined and does not apply to possession for the following:
- An established religious purpose, when accompanied by a parent, spouse or legal guardian age 21 or older
- Medical purposes when prescribed or administered by a licensed physician, pharmacist, dentist, nurse, hospital or medical institution
- In private clubs or establishments
- In the course of lawful employment by a duly licensed manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer.”1
The title of the legislation itself is clearly misleading. That is, The Act doesn’t prohibit drinking by persons under 21. Nor does it require states to prohibit such drinking.
In addition, descriptions of the law contribute to the false belief that it does. For example, the frequent assertion that “the legal age for alcohol in the US is 21.” This clearly leaves the false impression that the minimum legal drinking age for alcohol is 21.
Thus, it is illegal in some states for Christians under 21 to have a first communion or to celebrate communion. Similarly, it’s illegal in some states for Jews under 21 to drink alcohol at the weekly kiddush ceremony. Or at their own bar or bat mitzvahs. It’s also illegal at their own wedding rites, or at any other religious ritual.
In addition, alcohol may not legally be prescribed by doctors for any patient under 21 in some states. Nor may parents serve alcohol in their own home to their own children in some states and Washington, DC.
This key shows the conditions under which those under age 21 may legally drink alcohol.
On these premises
1 = Alcohol-selling premises with parental consent
2 = Private non-alcohol-selling premises with parental consent
3 = Private non-alcohol-selling premises without need of parental consent
For these purposes.
1 = Religious
2 = Medical
3 = Educational
4 = Governmental
5 = Good Samaritan (reporting alcohol-related medical emergencies of other persons)
This is a list of non-prohibition states. It shows the conditions under which alcohol consumption is legal by persons under the age of 21.
AK – 2,5
AZ – 4,5
CA – 2,3,4,5,6
CO – 2,4,5,6,8
CT – 2,4,5
DE – 2,4
FL – 8
GA – 2,4,5
HI – 4
IL – 2,4
IA – 2,5
KS – 1,2
LA – 1,2,3,4,5
ME – 2
MA – 1,2,4,5
MI – 4,6,7
MN – 2
MS – 1,2,7
MO – 6
MT – 2,4,5,8
NE – 2,3,4,5
NV – 1,2,3,4
NH – *
NJ – 2,3,4,5,6
NM – 2,4
NY – 1,2,4,5,6
NC – 4,6
ND – 2,4
OH – 2,4,5
OK – 2,3,4,5,6
OR – 2,4,7
RI – 6
SC – 2,4,6,7
SD – 4
TN – 4
TX – 1,2,4,5
UT – 4,5
VT – 6
VA – 2
WA – 2,4
WI – 1,2,4,5
* Persons under 21 can legally possess alcohol when working in licensed establishments. State law says anyone under 21 “intoxicated by consumption of an alcoholic beverage, shall be guilty of a violation….” This implies that alcohol consumption by such persons is legal if they don’t become intoxicated.
Resources: Underage Drinking is Legal
- Chalfin, A., et al. The Minimum Legal Drinking Age and Crime.
- Ellis, W. Abolish the Drinking Age.
- Gever, M. and Savage, M. Lowering the Minimum Legal Drinking Age. D
- Hanson, D. et al. A drinking permit should replace the minimum legal drinking age. In: Kiesbye, S. (ed.) Should the Legal Drinking Age be Lowered?
- Kanable, R. Adults who undermine the legal drinking age should be punished. In: Kiesbye, S. (ed.) Should the Legal Drinking Age be Lowered?
- Markovitz, H. Should the Drinking Age be Lowered?
- Miller, D. Taking sides. Clashing Views in Drugs and Society.
- Maryland Underage Drinking Coalition website
- This site gives no advice. Please see a lawyer for legal facts.