Alcohol law by country
Outright prohibition of alcohol
Some countries forbid alcoholic beverages, or have forbidden them in the past. People trying to get around prohibition turn to smuggling of alcohol – known as bootlegging or rum-running – or make moonshine, a distilled beverage in an unlicensed still.
Canada imposed prohibition at the beginning of the 20th century, but repealed it in the 1920s.
In India, manufacture, sale and/or consumption of alcohol is prohibited in the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Manipur and Nagaland, as well as the union territory of Lakshadweep. Prohibition has become controversial in Gujarat, following a July 2009 episode in which widespread poisoning resulted from alcohol that had been sold illegally.
All Indian states observe dry days on major religious festivals/occasions depending on the popularity of the festival in that region. Dry Days are specific days when the sale of alcohol is banned, although consumption is permitted. Dry days are also observed on voting days. Dry Days are fixed by the respective state government. National holidays such as Republic Day (January 26), Independence Day (August 15) and Gandhi Jayanthi (October 2) are usually dry days throughout India.
In Sweden, prohibition was heavily discussed, but never introduced, replaced by strict rationing and later by more lax regulation, which included allowing alcohol to be sold on Saturdays.
Following the end of prohibition, government alcohol monopolies were established with detailed restrictions and high taxes. Some of these restrictions have since been lifted. For example, supermarkets in Finland are allowed to sell only fermented beverages with an alcohol content up to 4.7% ABV, but Alko, the government monopoly, is allowed to sell wine and spirits. This is also the case with the Norwegian Vinmonopolet and the Swedish Systembolaget (though in Sweden the limit for allowed ABV in supermarkets is 3.5%).
In the United States, there was an attempt from 1919 to 1933 to eliminate the drinking of alcoholic beverages by means of a national prohibition of their manufacture and sale. This period became known as the Prohibition era. During this time, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States made the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages illegal throughout the United States.
Prohibition led to the unintended consequence of causing widespread disrespect for the law, as many people procured alcoholic beverages from illegal sources. In this way, a lucrative business was created for illegal producers and sellers of alcohol, which led to the development of organized crime. As a result, Prohibition became extremely unpopular, which ultimately led to the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933 via the adoption of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution.
Prior to national Prohibition, beginning in the late 19th century, many states and localities had enacted Prohibition within their jurisdictions. After the repeal of the 18th Amendment, some localities (known as dry counties) continued to ban the sale of alcohol.
Drunk driving laws
Punishments for violation include fines, temporary or permanent loss of driver's license, and imprisonment. Some jurisdictions have similar prohibitions for drunk sailing, drunk bicycling, and even drunk rollerblading. In many places in the United States, it is also illegal to have an open container of an alcoholic beverage in the passenger compartment of a vehicle.
Prohibition of drinking alcohol in public places
Public drinking is allowed in Asia with the exception of Singapore, where a law was passed in 2015 banning the consumption of liquor in public from 10:30pm to 7am.
After its independence in 1947, Pakistani law was fairly liberal regarding liquor laws. Major cities had a culture of drinking, and alcohol was readily available until the 1970s when prohibition was introduced for Muslim citizens. Since then, Pakistan's majority Muslim population has been unable to legally buy alcohol, and advertising for alcoholic beverages has been outlawed. However it remains widely available in urban Pakistan through bootleggers and also through the diplomatic staff of some minor countries.
From 1 April 2015, Public drinking is banned from 10.30pm to 7am daily. Additional restrictions on public drinking are applied to Geylang and Little India where they had declared as Liquor Control Zones. The additional restrictions for Geylang and Little India are from 7am on Saturdays to 7am on Mondays and from 7pm on eves of public holidays to 7am on the day after the public holiday. Retailers within the Liquor Control Zones are not allowed to sell takeaway liquor from 10.30pm to 7am on weekdays (except eve of Public Holidays and Public Holidays) and from 7pm to 7am on weekends, eve of Public Holidays and Public Holidays. Retailers outside the Liquor Control Zones are not allowed to sell takeaway liquor from 10.30pm to 7am daily.
Restrictions by country (table)
|Open container laws by country: Albania-Liechtenstein|
|Country||Consumption of alcohol in public banned?|
|Educational buildings||Government offices||Healthcare establishments||Parks and streets||Sporting events||Public transport||Workplaces|
|Belgium||partial restriction2||voluntary/self-restricted3||partial restriction2||no4||voluntary/self-restricted3|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||???|
|Estonia||partial restriction2||no4||yes1||no4||partial restriction2||no4|
|France||partial restriction2||no4||yes1||partial restriction2|
|Ireland||partial restriction2||voluntary/self-restricted3||partial restriction2||voluntary/self-restricted3|
|Italy||partial restriction2||voluntary/self-restricted3||partial restriction2||no4||partial restriction2|
|Open container laws by country: Lithuania-United Kingdom|
|Country||Consumption of alcohol in public banned?|
|Educational buildings||Government offices||Healthcare establishments||Parks and streets||Sporting events||Public transport||Workplaces|
|Lithuania||yes1||partial restriction2||yes1||partial restriction2||yes1|
|Malta||partial restriction2||yes1||partial restriction2|
|Portugal||partial restriction2||yes1||partial restriction2|
|Spain||yes1||partial restriction2||yes1||no4||partial restriction2|
|Sweden||partial restriction2||voluntary/self-restricted3||partial restriction2||voluntary/self-restricted3|
|United Kingdom||voluntary/self-restricted3||no4||partial restriction2||voluntary/self-restricted3|
|1||yes = the consumption of alcohol is prohibited by law, violation may result in punishment.|
|2|| partial restriction =
|3||voluntary/self-restricted = the consumption of alcohol is not prohibited by law, but (some) establishments may have own regulations prohibiting or regulating the consumption of alcohol voluntary.|
|4||no = the consumption of alcohol is legal.|
Drinking alcohol in public places, such as streets and parks, is against the law in most of the United States, though there is no specific federal law that forbids consumption of alcohol in public. Moreover, even when a state (such as Nevada, Louisiana, and Missouri) has no such ban, the vast majority of its cities and counties do have it. Some cities allow it in specified area such as on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, or during public festivals. Two notable exceptions are New Orleans, Louisiana, and Butte, Montana, which allow public consumption of alcoholic beverages anywhere in the city.
It is legal and usually socially acceptable to drink alcohol in public areas.
It is illegal to drink alcohol in any public place or unlicensed facilities. The law may or may not be enforced, depending on the location, time of the day and the behaviour of the offender. Penalties may include confiscation/destruction of the liquor, fines and/or arrest.
Legal drinking age
Most countries have prescribed a legal drinking age which prohibits the purchase of alcohol by minors. Most countries also prohibit the consumption of alcohol to minors. Some countries have a tiered structure that limits the sale of stronger alcoholic drinks to older adults (typically based upon the percentage of ABV) Other restrictions that some countries impose is based on the place in which alcohol is consumed, such as in the home, in a restaurant, or in a bar. The age at which these restrictions come to an end varies significantly from country to country, as does the degree to which it is enforced, which can also vary within a country.
The minimum age to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages varies by country, and sometimes by state or region (e.g. Spain and Austria). Most European countries have a minimum purchase age of 18 years, while a few remain with a purchase age of 16 years. In the past years there has been an attitude towards raising the minimum age to 18 years to bring them into line with other countries, and to protect children and juveniles from the mental and physical harm of alcohol. In the past 15 years following changes have occurred:
- In 2002 the autonomous communities Madrid, Valencia and Catalonia raised their minimum purchase age to 18 years. Previous to 2002 Valencia and Madrid had a minimum purchase age of 16 years, and in Catalonia minors aged 16 or 17 could purchase alcohol up to 23% ABV on and off premises.
- In 2004 Denmark raised its off premises purchase age from 15 to 16 years.
- In November 2005 Switzerland passed its "Food and Commodities Regulation" (German: Lebensmittel- und Gebrauchsgegenständeverordnung), introducing a ban on alcohol sales to anyone under the age of 16, although the 1980 passed "Alcohol Law" (German: Alkoholgesetz) already required a minimum age of 18 years for the retail sale of distilled spirits. Therefore, it is illegal to sell fermented alcohol (e.g. beer, wine, sparkling wine or cider) to anyone under the age of 16, and any distilled alcoholic beverages to anyone under the age of 18 years. Further the canton of Ticino introduced a contonal law in 1989 banning all alcohol sales to anyone under the age of 18 years.
- In 2006 the autonomous communitie Castile and León raised its minimum purchase age from 16 to 18 years.
- In late 2006, Gibraltar lawmakers passed the "Children and Young Persons (Alcohol, Tobacco and Gaming) Act 2006", which raised the minimum purchase age from 16 to 18 years. But the new law made an exception: minors aged 16 or 17 can purchase and consume on premises beer, wine or cider under 15% ABV or pre-packed containers of an alcoholic strength not exceeding 5.5% ABV (e.g. alcopops).
- In 2009 France raised its minimum purchase age to 18 years, and fines were increased for selling or serving alcohol to a minor (up to 7,500 €). Previous to 2009 the minimum age to purchase any alcohol from off licensed premises was 16 years. In order to purchase alcohol on premises the minimum age was 16 years for low alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, cider, perry, mead, crème de cassis and juices from fermented fruits or vegetables that contain 1.2 to 3° alcohol, natural sweet wines from controlled cultivation – to purchase or be served stronger alcoholic drinks one had to be 18 years of age.
- In October 2009, the government of Malta passed a new law raising its drinking and purchase age from 16 to 17 years.
- In 2010 the autonomous community of Galicia raised its minimum purchase age from 16 to 18 years.
- In 2011 Denmark passed a new law, raising the minimum age for off-premises sale of alcohol >16.5% ABV to 18 years of age. The age to purchase alcohol <16.5% ABV remained at 16.
- Italy raised its minimum purchase age from 16 to 18 in 2012. Previously Italy did not have a purchase age for off-premises sales, and the minimum age of 16 years for on premises sales was barely enforced. After the new law was passed banning sales of alcohol to anyone under 18 (Legge n 189/2012), the old regulation (L’art. 689 del codice penale) was still valid which caused problems with enforcing the law: many bars and restaurants continued to serve 16- and 17-year-olds, because they claimed that the new regulation would only affect off-premises sales while the old regulation would separately regulate the minimum age to be served in on-licensed establishment. Later that year the ministry of health published a circular which clearly stated that "serving" and "selling" alcohol in this context have the same meaning which raised the de jure minimum age for on license sales to 18.
- In 2013 the government of Portugal restricted alcohol sales to young people: distilled spirits can not be sold to anyone under the age of 18, and other alcohol (e.g. beer, wine or cider) can't be sold to anyone under the age of 16. Previously the minimum age for all kinds of alcoholic beverages was 16 years.
- As of 1 January 2014, the minimum legal purchase and consumption age was raised from 16 to 18 in the Netherlands. Previously young people over the age of 16 could purchase and consume alcohol <15% ABV, and adults aged 18 and over could purchase alcohol over 15% ABV.
- As of March 2015, the autonomous community of Asturias raised its drinking age from 16 to 18 years. Asturias was Spain's last community with a drinking age of 16 years. The new law brings the drinking age into line with the rest of Spain.
Minimum age by country (table)
|Minimum purchase and consumption age by country: Albania–Liechtenstein|
|Country||Minimum purchase age||Minimum consumption age||Notes|
|On premises||Off premises||Public||Private|
|Austria||16||16||None||Burgenland, Lower Austria and Vienna.|
|163||183||163||183||163||183||None||Carinthia, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Tyrol and Vorarlberg.|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||18||None|
|Denmark||18||164||184||None||Previous to 2011 the age limit for all off premises sales was 16. Previous to 2004 the age limit for all off premises sales was 15.|
|France||18||None||Minimum age raised from 16 to 18 in 2009.|
|Germany||163||183||163||183||163||183||None||Age limit for LA is 14 if accompanied by parent.|
|Italy||18||None||Minimum age raised from 16 to 18 in 2012.|
|Minimum purchase and consumption age by country: Lithuania–United Kingdom|
|Country||Minimum purchase age||Minimum consumption age||Notes|
|On premises||Off premises||Public||Private|
|Portugal||163||183||163||183||163||183||None||Minimum age for spirits was raised from 16 to 18 in 2013.|
|Spain||18||None||Minimum age raised from 16 to 18 in 2015 in Asturias, 2010 in Galicia, 2006 in Castile and León and in 2002 in Madrid, Valencia and Catalonia.|
|18||None||The canton Ticino prohibits selling any type of alcohol to minors under the age of 18.|
|United Kingdom||187||16/188||18||5||England and Wales.|
North America, Central America and the Caribbean
Under the Constitution of Canada, responsibility for enacting laws and regulations regarding the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages in Canada is the sole responsibility of the ten provinces. Canada's three territories have also been granted similar autonomy over these matters under the provisions of federal legislation.
Most provinces of Canada enacted prohibition of alcohol sales, consumption and distribution between the years of 1910 and 1920. After prohibition was ended, most provinces had a minimum drinking age of 21 years, while in the early 70s the age limit was lowered to either 18 or 19 years of age. Later a few provinces and territories raised their age limit from 18 to 19 in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
- British Columbia:
- Newfoundland and Labrador:
- New Brunswick:
- Northwest Territories:
- Nova Scotia:
- Prince Edward Island:
The legal age for buying and possessing (but not necessarily for drinking) has been 21 years in every state since shortly after the passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, which tied federal highway funds to states' maintaining a minimum drinking age of 21.
Despite a rekindled national debate in 2008 on the established drinking age (initiated by several university presidents), a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll found in September 2008 that 76% of New Jerseyans supported leaving the legal drinking age at 21 years. No significant differences emerged when considering gender, political affiliation, or region. However, parents of younger children were more likely to support keeping the age at 21 (83%) than parents of college-age students (67%).
Seventeen states (Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Wyoming) and the District of Columbia have laws against possession of alcohol by minors, but they do not prohibit its consumption by minors.
Fourteen states (Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, and Virginia) specifically permit minors to drink alcohol given to them by their parents or by someone entrusted by their parents.
Many states also permit the drinking of alcohol under the age of 21 for religious or health reasons.
Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, has maintained a drinking age of 18.
Taxation and regulation of production
Alcoholic beverages are subject to excise taxes. Additionally, they fall under different jurisdiction than other consumables in many countries, with highly specific regulations and licensing on alcohol content, methods of production, and retail and restaurant sales. Alcohol tax is an excise tax, and while a demerit tax, is a significant source of revenue for governments. The U.S. government collected 5.8 billion in 2009. In history, the Whiskey Rebellion was caused by the introduction of an alcohol tax to fund the newly formed U.S. federal government.
In most countries, the commercial production of alcoholic beverages requires a license from the government, which then levies a tax upon these beverages. In many countries, alcoholic beverages may be produced in the home for personal use without a license or tax.
Home production of wine and beer is not regulated. Home distillation of spirits is legal but not common because it is subject to the same tax as spirits sold commercially. Danish alcohol taxes are significantly lower than in Sweden and Norway, but higher than those of most other European countries.
The production of distilled beverages is regulated and taxed. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (formerly a single organization called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) enforce federal laws and regulations related to alcohol. All packaging of alcoholic products must contain a health warning from the Surgeon General.
In most of the American states, individuals may produce wine and beer for personal consumption (but not for sale) in amounts [usually] of up to 100 gallons per adult per year, but no more than 200 gallons per household per year.
The illegal (i.e., unlicensed) production of liquor in the United States is commonly referred to as "moonshining." Illegally produced liquor (popularly called "white lightning") is not aged and contains a high percentage of alcohol.
Restrictions on sale and possession
The state-run vendor is called Systembolaget in Sweden, Vinmonopolet in Norway, Alko in Finland, Vínbúð in Iceland, and Rúsdrekkasøla Landsins in the Faroe Islands. The first such monopoly was in Falun in the 19th century.
The governments of these countries claim that the purpose of these monopolies is to reduce the consumption of alcohol. These monopolies have had success in the past, but since joining the European Union it has been difficult to curb the importation of liquor, legal or illegal, from other EU countries. That has made the monopolies less effective in reducing excessive drinking.
There is an ongoing debate over whether to retain these state-run monopolies.
In Norway, beers with an alcohol content of 4.74% by volume or less can be legally sold in grocery stores. Stronger beers, wines, and spirits can only be bought at government monopoly vendors. All alcoholic beverages can be bought at licensed bars and restaurants, but they must be consumed on the premises.
At the local grocery store, alcohol can only be bought before 8PM(6PM on Saturdays, municipalities can set stricter regulations). And the government monopoly vendors close at 6PM (Monday - Friday) and 3PM (Saturdays). On Sundays, no alcohol can be bought, except in bars.
Norway levies some of the heaviest taxes in the world on alcoholic beverages, particularly on spirits. These taxes are levied on top of a 25% VAT on all goods and services. For example, 700 mL of Absolut Vodka currently retails at 300+ NOK.
In Sweden, beer with a low alcohol content (called folköl, 2.25% to 3.5% alcohol by weight) can be sold in regular stores to anyone aged 18 or over, but beverages with a high alcohol content can only be sold by government-run vendors to people aged 20 or older, or by licensed facilities such as restaurants and bars, where the age limit is 18. Alcoholic drinks bought at these licensed facilities must be consumed on the premises; nor is it allowed to bring and consume your own alcoholic beverages bought elsewhere.
In most Canadian provinces, there is a very tightly held government monopoly on the sale of alcohol. Two examples of this are the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, and the Liquor Distribution Branch of British Columbia. Government control and supervision of the sale of alcohol was a compromise devised in the 1920s between "drys" and "wets" for the purpose of ending Prohibition in Canada. Some provinces have moved away from government monopoly. In Alberta, privately owned liquor stores exist, and in Quebec a limited number of wines and liquors can be purchased at dépanneurs and grocery stores.
Canada has some of the highest excise taxes on alcohol in the world. These taxes are a source of income for governments and are also meant to discourage drinking. (See Taxation in Canada.) The province of Quebec has the lowest overall prices of alcohol in Canada.
Restrictions on the sale of alcohol vary from province to province. In Alberta, changes introduced in 2008 included a ban on "happy hour," minimum prices, and a limit on the number of drinks a person can buy in a bar or pub at one time after 1 a.m.
In the United States, the sale of alcoholic beverages is controlled by the individual states, by the counties or parishes within each state, and by local jurisdictions. In many states, alcohol can only be sold by staff qualified to serve responsibly through alcohol server training. A county that prohibits the sale of alcohol is known as a dry county. In some states, liquor sales are prohibited on Sunday by a blue law.
The places where alcohol may be sold or possessed, like all other alcohol restrictions, vary from state to state. Some states, like Louisiana, Missouri, and Connecticut, have very permissive alcohol laws, whereas other states, like Kansas and Oklahoma, have very strict alcohol laws.
In 18 alcoholic beverage control states, the state has a monopoly on the sale of liquor. For example, in most of North Carolina, beer and wine may be purchased in retail stores, but distilled spirits are only available at state ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) stores. In Maryland, distilled spirits are available in liquor stores except in Montgomery County, where they are sold only by the county.
Most states follow a three-tier system in which producers cannot sell directly to retailers, but must instead sell to distributors, who in turn sell to retailers. Exceptions often exist for brewpubs (pubs which brew their own beer) and wineries, which are allowed to sell their products directly to consumers.
Most states also do not allow open containers of alcohol inside moving vehicles. The federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century of 1999 mandates that, if a state does not prohibit open containers of alcohol inside moving vehicles, then a percentage of its federal highway funds will be transferred instead to alcohol education programs each year. As of December, 2011, only one state (Mississippi) allows drivers to consume alcohol while driving (below the 0.08% limit), and only five states (Arkansas, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, and West Virginia) allow passengers to consume alcohol while the vehicle is in motion.
Five U.S. states limit alcohol sales in grocery stores and gas stations to beer at or below 3.2% alcohol: Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Utah. In these states, stronger beverages are restricted to liquor stores. In Oklahoma, liquor stores may not refrigerate any beverage containing more than 3.2% alcohol. Missouri also has provisions for 3.2% beer, but its permissive alcohol laws (when compared to other states) make this type of beer a rarity.
Pennsylvania is starting to allow grocery stores and gas stations to sell alcohol. Wines and spirits are still sold at locations called "state stores," but wine kiosks are starting to be put in at grocery stores. The kiosks are connected to a database in Harrisburg, and purchasers must present valid ID, signature, and look into a camera for facial identification to purchase wine. Only after all of these measures are passed is the individual allowed to obtain 1 bottle of wine from the "vending machine". The kiosks are only open during the same hours as the state run liquor stores, and are not open on Sundays.
- Wine law
- Alcohol exclusion laws
- Alcohol advertising
- Drunk driving law by country
- Public intoxication
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