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Alcohol Laws & Regulations

Based on federal policy, a combination of federal laws, state laws, and local laws dictate the manufacture of alcohol, the sale of alcohol, who can drink alcohol, and the formal response and policies associated with problems related to the use of alcohol. The majority of information in this article comes from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). For specific regulations on a state-by-state basis or even in local jurisdictions, one can refer to their own state website.
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The major federal law that governs policies related to alcohol in the United States is the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which was responsible for repealing prohibition in the United States. This amendment allows individual states to control:

  • The sale of alcohol within the state
  • The distribution of alcohol within the state
  • The importation of alcohol into the state
  • Statutes regarding who can possess alcohol within the state

In turn, state laws often assign different roles and responsibilities to local jurisdictions regarding the above issues.

Sales and Possession of Alcoholic Beverages

The regulation of the sale of alcoholic beverages has been turned over to state and local authorities. Different states will have different statutes of limitations regarding who can sell alcohol and who can purchase alcohol. The federal government formally defines an alcoholic beverage as any beverage containing over 0.05 percent alcohol, and most states honor this limit; however, there may be some variability within certain states and localities.

Legal BAC and Issues regarding Illegal Intoxication

The standard measure of the amount of alcohol in an individual’s system is known as blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is commonly expressed in terms of a percentage. A person who has a measured a BAC of 0.08 percent has eight parts of alcohol per 10,000 parts of blood in their system. BAC levels are most often detected by an analysis of an individual’s breath, urine, or blood. Certain jurisdictions specify the preferred or required type of measurement that can be used for legal determinations of intoxication.

The enforcement of public intoxication not relating to the operation of a motor vehicle varies significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and case to case. Individuals can check with their state or city website to determine how the notion of public intoxication is treated and penalized in their area.

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