Underage Drinking Legal in Most States Under Some Conditions

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act (MLDA) prohibits the purchase and/or public possession of alcoholic beverages by those under age 21. It does not prohibit persons under 21 from drinking. Nor does it require states to prohibit such drinking. So its title is unfortunately deceptive. Thus, under many conditions is underage drinking legal.

Public Possession

The Act made the purchase of alcohol is illegal. The meaning of “purchase alcoholic beverage” is clear. But what exactly is ”public possession”?  So the Act clearly defines it. Public possession does not apply to any of the following.

    • underage drinking legalIn private clubs or establishments.
    • A religious purpose, when accompanied by a parent, guardian, or spouse at least age 21.
    • Medical purposes when prescribed by a medical care professional.
    • In the course of employment.

States with laws against drinking by those under 21 don’t violate the Act. But they may simply decriminalize drinking alcohol by them. Maryland, Michigan, and DC have done so. This prevents young people from having a criminal record for the rest of their lives. Having such a record could forever prevent them from entering some professions. Thus it may have life-altering results and follow them forever.

Exceptions

Here is a list of states and DC with those conditions under which it is legal to drink underage. That is, under the age of 21.

    • Religious refers to religious ceremonies or rites that require drinking wine or other alcohol.
    • Educational refers to students who are in culinary, tourism, and related curricula who need to taste alcoholic beverages.
    • Medicinal refers to consuming alcohol for medicinal purposes.
    • Parent, guardian, or spouse is explained in context.
    • Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others). This refers to any medical emergency associated with alcohol. When involving others, they’re often called Good Samaritan laws.  The purpose is to prevent needless deaths of young people.
    • Reports sexual assault of self or another. This is to prevent victims of sexual assault from failing to report it because they fear arrest on alcohol charges. And an arrest record for the rest of the victims’ lives.

Also there are some interesting laws in parentheses.

So when is underage drinking legal? Find out below.

AL

No exceptions to the MLDA.

(The state also prohibits…

      • Neon signs advertising alcohol.
      • Beer sold refrigerated.
      • Beer served in private clubs.)

AK    

With a parent, guardian, or spouse, but not on licensed premises. Medicinal.

(In Fairbanks, it is no longer illegal to feed a moose alcohol. But it’t still illegal in the state…

      • To become intoxicated in a bar.
      • For a brewery to serve over 36 ounces per person.
      • For a brewery to have music or games.)

AZ   

Religious. Medicinal.

(The state permits drive-through liquor stores and for people to be drunk in public.)

AR   

No exceptions to MLDA. However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not explicitly prohibited.

(Grocery stores in Arkansas may only sell wine produced in the state. And people convicted of underage drinking in the state must, among other punishment, write an essay on alcohol.) 

CA    

Educational. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others). However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not expressly prohibited. Thus, is underage drinking legal?

(The state prohibits ladies’ night discounts. It also bans alcohol displays within five feet of a cash register if the store sells gasoline.)

CO   

Religious. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others).

(The state requires wine to be sold in containers of at least 24 ounces. Liquor or spirits must be at least a fifth of a gallon. Yet it prohibits alcohol sold in hotel minibars to be in nothing larger than miniature containers. So it’s impossible to avoid breaking the law!) 

CT   

Religious. Medicinal. Parent, guardian, or spouse with their consent. But doesn’t need to be with them. However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not explicitly prohibited.

(The state prohibits the sale of alcohol after 9 p.m. And if they use alcohol in compounding prescriptions, druggists must pay the state $400.00 each year.) 

DC   

Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others). DC has decriminalized underage drinking. Thus it’s a civil rather than criminal offense.

(It’s illegal to both drink and walk around in bars.)

DE  

Religious. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others).

(No alcoholic beverage can be sold on Sundays except between noon and 8 p.m.)

FL   

No exceptions to MLDA. However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not explicitly prohibited. So is underage drinking legal?

(Large champagne bottle sizes, usually used at celebrations, are illegal. Specifically, Balthazars Methuselahs, Nebuchadnezzars, and Salamanazars. Learn about these sizes at Definitions. Legislators must think size matters.

GA  

Religious. Medicinal. Parent or guardian in their home with their consent. However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not explicitly prohibited.

(There’s no state law against drinking in public.)

HI   

Religious.

(You can’t order drinks for you and a friend. That is because it’s illegal to order more than one drink at a time in the state.)

IA   

Religious. Medicinal. Parent or guardian in a private home (not necessarily theirs) with their consent.

(It’s illegal to run a “tab” in Iowa.)

ID   

No exceptions to MLDA.

(In Twin Falls, you can buy a rifle on election day, but not a shot of liquor or spirits.)

IL   

Reports medical emergency involving alcohol of another. Reports sexual assault of self or another.

(Illinois prohibits “happy hour” as well as “on the house” drinks.)

IN  

Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others). Reports sexual assault of self or another.

(Indiana requires places that sell individual drinks to sell soup, sandwiches, milk, coffee and soft drinks. It also prohibits liquor stores from selling cold soft drinks.)

KS  

Parent or guardian provides. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others).

(Kansas tries to protect the status quo. And that means protecting liquor stores from facing competition. So it requires liquor store owners and their spouses to have been Kansas residents residents for four years. Tennessee required liquor store to be state resident for two years. However, the U.S. Supreme Court found the Tennessee law unconstitutional.)

KY  

Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others). However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not explicitly prohibited.

(The state bans anyone under 21 from sending a gift of alcohol to anyone of any age. Do so and spend up to five years in prison!)

LA   

Religious. Legal in any private home or yard. Medical. If accompanied by parent, guardian, or spouse aged 21 or older. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others)

(Open alcohol containers are illegal. But not if a straw hasn’t been put through the lid.)

ME  

Parent’s or guardian’s home with their consent. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others).

(Maine prohibits alcohol sales before 9 a.m. on Sundays, except on St. Patrick’s Day.)  

MD  

Religious. Immediate family in own home or adjoining land with their consent. The state decriminalized alcohol drinking by those under 21. This prevents young people from having a criminal record for the rest of their lives.

(The state mandates that alcohol beverage writers be certified as experts by the state. It also limits them to three bottles per brand.)

MA  

Parent’s, grandparent’s, or guardian’s own home. However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not explicitly prohibited. So is underage drinking legal?

(The state bans drink specials.)   

MI   

Religious. Educational. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others). The state has decriminalized alcohol drinking by those under 21. It’s now a civil rather than a criminal act. Thus, drinking will no loner have life-altering consequences for young people.

(The state bans those under 21 from giving a gift of alcohol to anyone of any age.)

MN 

Parent’s or guardian’s home with their consent. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others).

(Public intoxication is specifically not a crime in the state.) 

MS 

Parent, guardian, or spouse anywhere with permission. Armed services on military property where allowed. However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not explicitly prohibited.

(It’s legal to drink and drive, so long as the BAC is legal.)

MO  

No exceptions to MLDA. However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not explicitly prohibited. Is underage drinking legal?

(A person taking out trash containing an empty beer bottle. Innocent enough? But that person can be charged with illegal possession of alcohol! Also St. Louis bans drinking beer from a bucket any street curb.)

MT   

Religious. Medicinal. Provided by parent or guardian. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others).

(State law punishes parents if their child is charged with an alcohol offense!) 

NE  

Religious. Medicinal. Own home, personal use by self, family, or guests. 

(Bars can’t sell beer unless they are also cooking soup.)

NV    

Religious. Medicinal. In presence of parent, guardian, or spouse at least age 21. Private clubs or private establishments. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others). However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not explicitly prohibited.

(The state bans cities and towns from passing laws against public intoxication.)

NH   

No exceptions to MLDA. However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not explicitly prohibited.

(Bars may sell beer and wine. Only restaurants may sell liquor or spirits).

NJ  

Religious. Parent or guardian serves it. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others).

(No drunk driver may have vanity plates for ten years after conviction.)  

NM   

Religious. Parent, guardian, or spouse at least age 21 serves it not on licensed premises. However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not explicitly prohibited.

(Boating while intoxicated is illegal. That includes “includes using water skis, wakeboard, kneeboards, or similar devices.”)

NY 

Educational. Given by parent or guardian. However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not explicitly prohibited. Is underage drinking legal then?

(The state bans the word “saloon” in a bar’s name.) 

NC  

Educational. Medicinal. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others).

(State law bans DWI on a horse. Also see It’s Easier to Buy a Shotgun than a Keg in NC.) 

ND  

Religious. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others).

(The state prohibits bars or restaurants from serving beer and pretzels at the same time.)

OH  

underage drinking legal
Keep an eye on the BAC!

Religious. Medicinal. Parent or spouse at least age 21 provides.

(Ohio prohibits giving alcohol to a fish to the point of intoxication.) 

OK  

Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others).

(Until 2018, all beers, except those of the lowest-alcohol content, had to be sold at room temperature.)

OR  

Educational. Parent or guardian serves in private home. Others at least 21 may serve in private home if parent or guardian is present. Reports sexual assault of self or another.

(All liquor licensees are required to serve at least five different food items.)

PA  

Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others).

(The state mandates that six packs be sold only by bars, cases by beer by distributors. And wine and liquor can be sold only by state government monopoly stores.) 

RI   

Religious. Education. Parent or guardian permits. However, drinking alcohol by those under 21 is not explicitly prohibited. So is underage drinking legal?

(No ads for happy hour may be broadcast in the state.)

SC  

Religious. Parent’s or guardian’s home.

(Alcohol is illegal on all ocean beaches of the state. Also learn why South of the Border attraction came to be. It’s surprising!)

SD  

Religious. Medicinal. In presence of parent, guardian, or spouse at least age 21. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others).

(In Deadwood, it’s illegal to mix an alcoholic beverage with another without a permit.)

TN   

Religious.

(Only beer – neither wine nor spirits – may be sold on Sundays. The Jack Daniels distillery is in a dry or prohibition county!)

TX   

In presence of parent, guardian, or spouse of any age. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others). Reports sexual assault on self or another.

(The state prohibits taking more than three sips of beer at a time while standing. And discover how dry areas led to forming Impact, Texas.)

UT   

Religious. Medicinal. Parent or guardian approves.

(Wine used in wine tastings must not be swallowed in Utah!)  

VT   

Educational.

(Don’t hold a drink while dancing. It’s illegal in the state.)

VA   

When with parent, guardian, or spouse who is at least 21 in own home. Can be in the house of another if accompanied by parent, guardian, or spouse who is at least 21.

(A state ban prevents restaurants from advertising their happy hours in the media.) 

WA   

Religious. Parent or guardian is present. Medicinal (by parent, guardian, physician, or dentist). Educational.

(It is a criminal act to destroy a beer bottle in the state.)   

WV   

No exceptions to MLDA.

(The state mandates bars to serve food.)

WI   

With parent, guardian, or spouse at least 21. Reports medical emergency involving alcohol (self or others). Reports a crime on self or another.

(The state bans ladies’ night discounts.)

WY  

Religious. Medicinal (by parent, guardian, or spouse at least 21 or by prescription). In presence of parent, guardian, or spouse at least 21.

(It’s illegal for a woman to stand within five feet of a bar while drinking. Nor may a junk dealer do business with a drunk person.)

Resources: Underage Drinking Legal

Web Pages

Readings

Hope this has answered your questions about where and when is underage drinking legal. Such as,

    • What US state allows drinking at 18?
    • Where can you drink at 18 in the US?
    • Can you drink under 21 with a parent?
    • Under what conditions can minors drink?
    • Is underage drinking legal in America?
    • What US state allows drinking at 18?
    • Can you drink anywhere at 18 in the US?
    • Where can minors drink legally the country?
    • Can only people 21 or older drink legally around the US?

At this point you know far more about where is underage drinking legal than almost everyone else. So congrats!

This website is for information only. Thus it gives no advice or opinion on law. For that, please see a lawyer.