Legal Research Report


With the enactment of the 21st amendment in 1933, the United States ended its experiment with national Prohibition. The amendment gave States the primary authority for determining whether alcohol could be sold legally and, if so, how. Since that time, 51 different alcohol control systems (in each State and the District of Columbia) have evolved, creating a patchwork of laws and regulations with wide variation across jurisdictions. In practice, the Federal Government retains primary authority over the production of alcohol, and the States exercise primary jurisdiction over the retail distribution system.

A fundamental premise of the State regulatory systems is that alcoholic beverages are potentially hazardous products and therefore should be subject to special conditions not applied to other commercial products. Underage drinking and intoxication are of particular concern because of their connection to alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes. States vary widely in their approach to these alcohol problems, and although these variations may have enormous implications for prevention and treatment, few studies have described them or assessed their effectiveness. This report addresses this gap in the research literature by analyzing variations in 12 key legal policies addressing underage drinking and drinking to intoxication:

  • Purchase of alcohol by minors
  • Attempted purchase of alcohol by minors
  • Possession of alcohol by minors
  • Consumption of alcohol by minors
  • Use of false ID cards
  • Furnishing alcohol to minors
  • Furnishing alcohol to intoxicated individuals
  • Responsible beverage service
  • Keg registration
  • False and misleading advertising
  • Advertising that targets minors
  • Limitations on happy hours and drink specials.

A typology in chart form is presented for each policy. The 50 States plus the District of Columbia are listed on the left-hand side. Selected variables and exceptions related to each policy appear across the top. Checkmarks indicate the presence of the policy and its variables and exceptions. An introductory section for each policy defines the variables and exceptions and briefly analyzes the policy, including noteworthy characteristics or variations and the relationship of the policy to other policies in the report. The legal research is current as of January 1, 2003.


  1. Each of the typologies contains variables that have been defined in specific and narrow ways that may not mirror either the law of any particular State or the customary definition in any one State or group of States. We chose the categories and definitions with legal conventions and requirements in mind. Please refer to the definitions as you interpret the variables in each category. State law may cover a topic generally but not include the specific language required in our definitions.

  2. Our analysis is based on a review of State statutes and regulations. In some cases, alcohol beverage control (ABC) agencies may have implemented laws in a manner that accomplishes the result we were seeking even though the laws themselves do not meet our criteria. The charts do not include the results of this formal or informal administrative decision making.

  3. Our analysis focuses exclusively on State legislation. Although local jurisdictions may have enacted provisions that fit into these categories, we did not include these provisions in our analysis.