Virginia Alcohol Laws: Think You Know Them? Don’t Learn Virginia’s Alcohol Laws the Hard Way

Virginia alcohol laws apply to residents of the state. They also apply to its visitors.  Its laws may vary from those in other states. Unfortunately, ignorance of the law is not a legal defense.

I. Minimum Ages

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

Often young people want part-time jobs. Many of these are in hospitality. Some may involve serving or selling alcohol. Youths have questions. What’s the minimum age for working as a bartender? To work as a servers in a venue that sells alcohol to drink on-site? And what age to sell alcohol to drink elsewhere?

Virginia alcohol laws permit adults of age 18 or older to serve in venues selling alcohol to drink on site. It generally requires them to be age 21 or older to work as bartenders. But adults under 21 can sell or serve beer for on-premises consumption in a venue that sells beer only. They may also sell or serve wine for on-premises consumption in a venue that sells wine only.

Virginia laws do not have any minimum legal age for selling alcohol in a venue for off-site consumption. However, another employee age 21 or older must be present.

virginia alcohol lawsVirginia’s alcohol laws let persons of any age under 21 drink in a private residence. A spouse, parent or guardian must be present. They also let those under 21 have alcohol as a guest in the house of another. A parent, guardian, or spouse who is age 21 or older must be present.

II. Alcohol Violations

Selling Alcohol

A clerk or server who sells alcohol to someone under 21 can be fined up to $2,500. That, and/or sentenced to up to one year in jail. For a first-time offense the establishment can be fined up to $2,000 and/or have its alcohol license revoked.

Bars are illegal in Virginia. Only restaurants can serve drinks for consumption on the premises.

Virginia is an alcohol monopoly state for the sale of all distilled spirits. That’s whiskey, scotch, gin, tequila, rum, bourbon, etc. The state government owns and operates every liquor store.

The counties of Bland, Buchanan, Charlotte, Craig, Floyd, Grayson, Highland, Lee, Patrick and Russell are dry for spirits sales. They permit the sale of beer and wine. This reflects a myth.

virginia alcohol lawsThe myth is that spirits are more alcoholic than beer and wine. But standard drinks of beer, wine and spirits all have the same amount of alcohol. It’s 0.6 ounce of pure alcohol. They’re all the same alcohol-wise.

Virginia prohibits serving alcohol in “novel or unusual containers.” It has ambigous guidelines for deciding what to prohibit and fine.

Purchasing Alcohol

Those under 21 may not buy alcohol. The use of a false ID card to buy it is a criminal act.

The penalty for using a false is a fine of up to $2,500 and/or one year in jail. At the least, it’s a $500 fine or 50 hours of community service. The state may suspend the driver’s license for up to one year.

virginia alcohol lawsThe penalty for possessing alcohol under age 21, even if an adult, is severe. It’s a fine of up to $2,500 and/or a year in jail. At a minimum, it’s a fine of $500 or a mandatory 50 hours of community service. In addition, it’s a suspended driver’s license for at least six months. The court can also order alcohol abuse education, counseling, or treatment.

Except for a parent or spouse age 21 or older, providing alcohol to anyone under age 21 is illegal. The penalty is jail time for up to 12 months and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

The state prohibits fondling or caressing one’s own buttocks where alcohol is sold. It’s true!

It’s illegal for anyone to drink alcoholic beverages in a public place. That includes such places as streets, parks, and parking lots.

Good Samaritan

Virginia alcohol lawsAlcohol poisoning can kill. Often people fail to seek help for themselves or others for fear of punishment. Therefore, the state has established a medical emergency amnesty or Good Samaritan law to save lives.

If a person seeks medical help for themselves or another they can be immune to certain possession or intoxication charges. The person must self-identify as the one who sought help. In addition, the person must cooperate with any law enforcement investigation of the possible alcohol overdose.


virginia alcohol lawsIt’s a violation of Virginia alcohol laws to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher. For those under age 21, it’s illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.02 or higher. It would be 0.00 except for at least three reasons.

One is that breathalyzers are sometimes unreliable and provide false readings. Another is that everyone produces alcohol in their bodies. (It’s endogenous ethanol production.) A third is that many medications, foods, and juices contain alcohol. For example, fruit juices can produce alcohol if left too long in a refrigerator.


The penalty for a first conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) is a one-year driver license suspension. It’s three years for a second or third conviction. A DUI conviction can require an alcohol education course, assessment for alcohol, or treatment. A court can require alcohol education, assessment, to treatment for those convicted of DUI.

virginia alcohol lawsVirginia law provides additional penalty options for DUI. One is an expensive mandatory ignition interlock device on the convicted’s vehicle. The offender pays for this. Another is confiscation of the offender’s vehicle.

Virginia has a “zero tolerance” policy for those under 21 driving with a BAC of 0.02. Punishment includes suspension of drivers license for one year. Also a mandatory fine of at least $500 or having to performing at least 50 hours of community service.

Passengers in a vehicle may legally drink alcohol. However, the driver must not drink or be impaired.

All drivers have a U.S. Constitutional right to decline BAC testing if requested by law enforcement. However, the state punishes those who use their right. Their drivers license is suspended for up to one year.

However, all states permit drivers to decline taking a field sobriety test. They are very subjective and highly unreliable. Thirty percent of people with a BAC of 0.00 fail field sobriety tests.

Defense attorneys strongly urge drivers not to take them. They recommend that drivers politely but repeatedly decline. Learn more at Never Take a Field Sobriety Test Say DUI Lawyers.


virginia alcohol lawsVirginia alcohol laws prohibit boating while intoxicated (BWI). Specifically, it’s illegal to operate any boat, personal watercraft, or ride skis water skis, sailboard, or similar devices while intoxicated. The intoxication can be from alcohol and/or drugs.

For those 21 or older, it’s illegal to operate with a BAC of 0.08 or higher. Or to be impaired enough to be unable to operate safely. And for those under 21, it’s a BAC of 0.02 or higher. Or to be impaired enough they can’t operate safely.

Those convicted of BWI are fined up to $2,500 and imprisoned up to 12 months. They are required to complete an Alcohol Safety Action Program. Finally, their operator’s license is suspended for up to 12 months for a first conviction. It’s suspended for up to three years for subsequent convictions.

Those who use their right to decline a BAC test are punished. The state suspends their operator’s license for up to 24 months.

III. Resources on Virginia Alcohol Laws

virginia alcohol lawsState Code
 Administrative Code
Legislative Information
Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Opinions
Attorney General Opinions
Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control
Bar Association

Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program. All About DUI. Driving Under the Influence. A Guide for Your Information. Richmond: The Program, 2014.

_________. Your Most Prized Possession. [Youth drunk driving laws] Richmond: The Program, 2014.

IV. Seek Good Advice on Virginia Alcohol Laws

Laws change. So does their interpretation. They may conflict. It’s not simple. That’s why we have lawyers. Do not rely on this site. Nor on any other site. And be cautious. Friends may give advice. Co-workers may give opinions. Kin may give suggestions. All try to help. Their advice may be worth what it costs.

virginia alcohol lawsInformation and advice on Virginia alcohol laws should come from a lawyer holding a license in the state. Alcohol attitudes and practices vary across the state. Therefore, it’s a good idea to select one very familiar with the locale in question. The Virginia State Bar has a free lawyer referral service.