Most but not all States prohibit consumption of alcohol by minors as well as possession. Possession and consumption are closely linked. One can’t consume alcohol without possessing it, although one can possess it without consuming it. Possession and consumption are usually treated as equivalent offenses and are seldom charged separately. Nevertheless, law enforcement officials report that it is important to have a separate law for each activity. The distinction may facilitate enforcement at drinking parties where the alcohol cannot be recovered, but evidence of consumption is available through observation or breath or urine tests. We were unable to verify through any legal analysis that such a fact pattern would be more easily accomplished through a prohibition against consumption than through a possession provision. The evidence appears to be equally relevant to both activities because one cannot consume without possessing. However, specific fact patterns in case law have made this distinction between possession and consumption, indicating that a minor may not necessarily be charged with possession despite evidence of consumption.
Moreover, in States maintaining a distinction between these provisions, the employment exception appears to hold some significance: a minor employee of an alcohol establishment may be permitted to possess but not to consume. In addition, some States apply different exceptions to their possession and consumption statutes.
Exceptions to consumption of alcohol by minors are identical (except for the employment exception) to those found in the possession statutes. Please refer to the definitions above.
Consumption of Alcohol by Minors