Washington, DC Alcohol Laws: A Capital Idea to Follow Them.

Washington, DC alcohol laws apply to its residents. But also to those working in or visiting the capital. Breaking the laws isn’t a capital offense. But it’s still best to know them. And to follow them.


I.   Minimum Age Laws
II.  Other Alcohol Laws
III. Resources
IV.  Get Legal Advice

I. Minimum Age Laws

Young people may want part-time jobs. Hospitality has many of them. But how old must one be to serve alcohol for on-site drinking? For tending bar? For selling alcohol for off-site drinking? What do Washington, DC alcohol laws permit? People want to know. So we give answers.

Adults of any age to hold those jobs. That is, anyone age 18 or older is an adult and may be so employed.

But it is illegal for those under 21 to drink. Any amount. Any time. For any reason. Period. And there are no exceptions. Thus, doctors may not prescribe them meds containing any alcohol. Priests or ministers may not give them any sacramental wine. Nor may parents give them wine for Seder.

washington, dc alcohol laws So young people are denied their Constitutional right of religion. And this includes adults aged 18, 19 and 20. It is not clear that any presumed harm from the use of wine for religious purposes justifies this. Nor is it clear what public good is served by making criminals of doctors, priests, ministers, and parents doing their duty.

Under DC alcohol laws, using a false ID to buy alcohol is a crime. It is also illegal for those under 21 to drive with any detectable alcohol in their systems.

II. Other Washington, DC Alcohol Laws

A. Selling Alcohol

Licensed businesses may serve alcohol between 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. on Mondays through Thursdays. They may do so between 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The hours are between and 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. on Sundays.

washington, dc alcohol lawsThey may serve alcohol between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. the day before a federal holiday. On New Year’s Eve they may serve between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m.

Some businesses sell alcohol for drinking off-site. They include grocery, convenience, and other stores. They may sell alcohol between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. seven days a week.

Alcohol beverage producers may sell their products between 7:00 a.m. and midnight, seven days a week.

It’s a violation of DC alcohol laws to sell alcohol to those under 21. That also includes adult active members of the U.S. military.

B. Buying Alcohol

It’s illegal under DC alcohol laws for anyone under 21 to buy alcohol. Or attempt to buy it.

A customer must show a valid ID if the alcohol seller asks to see it. It’s illegal to use a false ID to buy or try to buy alcohol. Violators face fines and license suspension.

It’s also illegal to have an open alcohol container in public place that’s not part of an alcohol retailer’s business. Violators face fines of up to $500 and/or up to 90 days in jail.

C. Driving and Alcohol

Washington, DC alcohol laws prohibit driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. That is driving while intoxicated (DWI). A BAC of 0.05% to 0.8% is a driving under the influence (DUI). For commercial drivers, a DWI is a BAC of 0.04% or higher is illegal. For drivers under age 21, the District has a zero tolerance policy.

The exact penalties for DUI/DWI drivers depend on many factors. They include age, driving history, type of driving license, and BAC level,  Also the lawyer and results of the offense. And of great importance is the judge who hears the case.

Drivers 21 and Older

Police have great discretion. For instance, they may arrest even drivers 21 or older with a BAC as low as 0.01%. Such drivers may have an option. If they agree to undergo counseling for $400, a judge might decide to drop some penalties .

          First DUI/DWI

    • Depending on BAC level, jail is from five days to three months and/or a fine from $300 to $10,000.
    • Twelve points added to driving record.
    • License suspension for six months.

          Second DUI/DWI within 15 Years

    • Depending on BAC level, jail from five days to three months and/or a fine from $300 to $10,000.
    • Twelve points added to driving record.
    • License revoked for one year.
    • Community service for one month after release from jail.

          Third DUI/DWI within 15 Years

    • Depending on BAC level, prison for up to five years and/or a up to $10,000.
    • Twelve points added to driving record.
    • License revoked for two years.
    • Community service for two month after release from prison.

Drivers Under 21

washington, dc alcohol lawsDC alcohol laws prohibit those under 21 from driving with any measurable alcohol in their bodies. Most states set the limit at 0.02%.

They do that for several reasons. One is that alcohol breath testers are unreliable. In fact, they don’t actually measure BAC. They only estimate it. And indirectly, at that. A second reason is that everyone produces alcohol within their bodies. And they do it 24/7.

A third reason is that many meds and as well as foods contain alcohol. Even bread does. By setting the illegal limit at 0.02%, states reduces the chances of falsely convicting innocent people.

Drivers under 21 are subject to the same penalties listed above for those 21 or older. The actual penalties imposed depend on the judge.

Driver Rights

All drivers have a U.S. Constitutional right to decline submitting to any chemical BAC tests. But DC alcohol laws punish them for using their right. Punishments include license revocation for one year. Also, added of points to driving record.

Washington, dc alcohol lawsBut there is no legal penalty for refusing to take a field sobriety test. These are highly unreliable. For instance, 30% of completely sober people fail them. That is, about one in three people with zero alcohol (BAC of 0.00%) can’t pass. And that’s in ideal indoor conditions!

For this reason, lawyers strongly urge drivers to never, ever take a field sobriety test. They say to politely refuse. And to do so as many times as needed. Of course, always be polite in refusing.

Police often falsely tell drivers that the law requires taking it. But it does not. In fact, no state does. They also use clever arguments to talk drivers into doing what lawyers tell them not to do. For example, they tell people that they can prove their innocence by taking the test. But it is DC that has the burden of proof. That is, it is DC that must prove that the driver is guilty.

When police pull over drivers for suspected DUI/DWI, they’re conducting a criminal investigation. It’s perfectly legal for them to lie to suspects. If you are a suspect in a crime, police are never your friends. On the contrary, they want to make an arrest.

Discover much more at Never Take a Field Sobriety Test Say DUI Lawyers.

D. Boating and Alcohol

DC alcohol laws prohibit boating under the influence (BUI). The penalty for a first BUI is a fine of $1,000 and/or jail for up to 180 days. A second offense brings a fine of $2,500–$5,000 brings and/or jail for one year. Any later offense triggers a fine of $2,500–$10,000 and/or jail for one year.

Any of these, among many other things, may lead to suspicion of BUI.

Boat registration problem.
Boating violation of any type.
Erratic operation of the boat.
Slurred speech.

When it comes to boating, alcohol and water don’t mix.

III. Washington, DC Alcohol Laws

IV. Get Legal Advice about Washington, DC Alcohol Laws

Law is complex. It changes. Courts reinterpret them. Lawyers spend years to studying it. Do not rely on this site. Nor any other site.

And beware. Family and friends may offer advice. Neighbors may give opinions. Coworkers may offer ideas. Smile and thank them. Then ignore what they say. Their advice is worth what you paid for it. That is, nothing. It’s also likely to be wrong.

Get facts and advice about DC alcohol laws from an expert. That is a lawyer holding a license in the DC.