All States and the District of Columbia prohibit furnishing alcoholic beverages to minors, even though the 1984 Federal legislation does not explicitly require this prohibition. The prohibition usually applies to both commercial and noncommercial servers, although extensive case law research would be required to determine which States limit the prohibition to commercial sellers. This is because the language in unclear in many statutes. In addition, the prohibition is usually found in the Alcoholic Beverage Control codes, which apply primarily to commercial sellers and servers. Because of these difficulties, we did not determine whether the prohibition found in each State applies to noncommercial as well as commercial transactions.

The States vary widely regarding the specific acts that are prohibited. Arizona law, for example, states that it is illegal to “sell, furnish, dispose of or give [alcohol], or cause [alcohol] to be sold, furnished, disposed of or given” to an underage person. California’s provision is almost identical but omits the reference to “disposing of” alcohol to a minor. Kansas prohibits delivering and exchanging alcohol with a minor in its list of prohibitions. Michigan, on the other hand, only includes the terms “sell” and “give”. Our analysis concluded that it wasn’t important which specific prohibited acts were included in the State statutes. Michigan’s short list of “sell” and “give” is as effective legally as the longer lists found in other States. As noted above, even if the list appears incomplete (e.g., it does not appear on its face to cover noncommercial transactions), courts may interpret the statutory language expansively. We therefore did not catalog the specific acts that were prohibited, but merely confirmed that both sales and gifts were included.

The categories of exceptions applied to minor possession, consumption, and purchase of alcohol also apply to those who provide alcohol to minors29. States do not always apply the same exception to both the provider and the minor. California, for example, permits minors to possess alcohol in private venues, but it is illegal for anyone to provide alcohol to minors in either public or private settings. In certain situations, courts may conclude that an exception for the provider should be implied from that granted to the minor even if it is not explicitly included in the statutes (and vice versa). This is particularly relevant to exceptions for the parents and relatives, and for employment. For example, a court might conclude that if a law that explicitly allows a minor to possess alcohol in the presence of his or her parent, the parent is permitted to provide it to the child.

As in the possession statutes, exceptions are provided for furnishing alcohol to people under the age of 21 who are employees of licensed establishments. These exceptions are often covered under separate statutes that deal with the minimum age of sellers and servers in licensed outlets. We did not include these in this chart. Exceptions included in the chart are defined as follows:

  • Parent/guardian—23 States permit parents and legal guardians to provide alcohol to their minor children or wards.

  • Legal-aged spouse—eight States allow a person 21 or older to provide alcohol to his or her underage spouse.

  • Religious services—nine States permit alcohol to be served to minors in connection with religious services.

  • Medical treatment—11 States permit alcohol to be given to minors in connection with medical treatment.

  • Education—three States permit educational institutions to provide alcohol to minors in connection with being a student or for educational purposes.

Furnishing Alcohol to Minors

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29Note that these exceptions apply to noncommercial furnishers of alcohol. States that have these exceptions, by implication, prohibit noncommercial service of alcohol to minors. As noted above, States without an exception listed in our chart may permit noncommercial furnishing to minors generally.