The Role of Alcohol Beverage Control Agencies in the
Enforcement and Adjudication of Alcohol Laws


Research conducted over the last three decades demonstrates a connection between alcohol availability and public health outcomes. Within a given population, public health problems will increase as availability increases (through lower prices or increased physical access), and will decrease as availability decreases. Youth are particularly sensitive to these alcohol availability variables. The impact of availability is particularly noteworthy in addressing alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes. Research suggests that 40 percent or more of drinking driving incidents begin in licensed establishments (O’Donnell, 1985; Anglin, 1997; Gallup, 2000). Limiting the number of retail licenses and restricting serving practices that encourage patron intoxication offer important new strategies for reducing death and injury on the Nation’s highways.

The 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives primary authority for regulating alcohol availability to each of the States. Most States have created alcohol beverage control (ABC) agencies to exercise this authority, implementing State laws that regulate how alcoholic beverages are manufactured, packaged, distributed, sold and consumed. This paper examines the role of State ABC agencies in the prevention of alcohol-related problems, focusing on the agencies’ powers to: (1) license alcohol establishments; (2) enforce alcohol laws and regulations; and (3) adjudicate violations of these policies1. For each agency function, the paper reviews the research regarding its role in addressing public health problems and the current status and type of action being implemented across the 50 States and the District of Columbia. Finally, recommendations are provided for enhancing State ABC agencies’ roles in reducing alcohol-related problems.

1Alcohol beverage control agencies have other roles (e.g., tax collection, licensing and enforcement of non-alcohol related venues), but the focus of this paper is the relationship between these agencies and the enforcement and adjudication of alcohol policies that are specifically designed to protect the public’s health and safety.