U.S. History of Alcohol Minimum Purchase Age By State

U.S. History Of Alcohol Minimum Purchase Age By State

The alcohol laws of the United States regarding minimum age for purchase have changed over time. The history is given in the table below. Unless otherwise noted, if different alcohol categories have different minimum purchase ages, the age listed below is set at the lowest age given for (e.g. if the purchase age is 18 for beer and 21 for wine or spirits, as was the case in several states, the age in the table will read as "18", not "21"). In addition, the purchase age is not necessarily the same as the minimum age for consumption of alcoholic beverages, although they have often been the same.

As one can see in the table below, there has been much volatility in the states' drinking ages since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Shortly after the ratification of the 21st amendment in December, most states set their purchase ages at 21 since that was the age of majority at the time, but a few set their limits lower. Most of these limits remained constant until the early 1970s. From 1969 to 1976, some 30 states lowered their purchase ages, generally to 18. This was primarily because the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1971 with the 26th amendment, and nearly all states lowered their ages of majority as well. Twelve states kept their purchase ages at 21 since repeal of Prohibition and never changed them. Most of the age lowering occurred in 1972 or 1973.

From 1976 to 1983, several states voluntarily raised their purchase ages to 19 (or, less commonly, 20 or 21), in part to combat drunk driving fatalities. In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which required states to raise their ages for purchase and public possession to 21 by October 1986 or lose 10% of their federal highway funds. By mid-1988, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had raised their purchase ages to 21 (but not Puerto Rico, Guam, or the Virgin Islands, see Additional Notes below). South Dakota and Wyoming were the final two states to comply with the age 21 mandate. The current drinking age of 21 remains a point of contention among many Americans, not least because of it being higher than the age of majority (18 in most states) and higher than the drinking ages of most other countries. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act is also seen as a congressional sidestep of the tenth amendment. Although the issue has been on the back burner for a while, a few states are currently considering lowering their drinking ages, while Guam has raised its drinking age to 21 in July 2010.

State Pre-Prohibition
(prior to 1919)
Post-Prohibition
(after 1933)
1970s / 26th Amendment
(adopted in 1971)
1980s /
Drinking Age Act of 1984
21st century
Alabama ? 21 Lowered to 19 in 1975 Raised to 21 in 1985 21
Alaska ? 21 Lowered to 19 in 1970 Raised to 21 in 1983 21
Arizona ? 21 Lowered to 19 in 1972 Raised to 21 in 1985 21
Arkansas ? 21 21 21 21
California ? 21 21 21 21
Colorado ? None, 18 in 1945 18 Raised to 21 in 1987 21
Connecticut ? 21 Lowered to 18 in 1972 Raised to 19 in 1982
Raised to 20 in 1983
Raised to 21 in 1985
21
Delaware ? 21 Lowered to 20 in 1972 Raised to 21 in 1984 21
District of Columbia ? 18 18 Raised to 21 in 1986 (after Sep) 21
Florida ? 21 Lowered to 18 in 1973 Raised to 19 in 1980
Raised to 21 in 1985
21
Georgia ? 21 Lowered to 18 in 1972 Raised to 19 in 1980
Raised to 20 in 1985
Raised to 21 in 1986
21
Hawaii ? 20 Lowered to 18 in 1972 Raised to 21 in 1986 21
Idaho ? 20 (beer),
21 (liquor, wine)
Lowered to 19 (all)
in 1972 (Jul 1)
Raised to 21 in 1987
w/ grandfather clause
2 years - 1989 (Apr 11)
21
Illinois ? Age of majority:
21 (men), 18 (women)
Raised to 21 for all in 1961
Lowered to 19 (beer/wine) in 1973. Raised to 21 in 1980 21
Indiana ? 21 21 21 21
Iowa ? 21 Lowered to 19 in 1972 (Jul 1)
Lowered to 18 in 1973 (Jul 1)
Raised to 19 in 1978 (Jul 1)
Raised to 21 in 1986 (Jul 1) 21
Kansas ? 18 18 Raised to 21 in 1985 21 (However, anyone under 21 may consume cereal malt beverages with parental supervision on their own property)
Kentucky ? 21 21 21 21
Louisiana ? 18 as of 1948 18 Raised to 21 de jure in 1987,
but de facto age was still 18
until 1995 due to a sale loophole.
De facto age raised to 21
in 1995 when loophole was closed.
In 1996, briefly lowered by
Louisiana Supreme Court
to 18 until it reversed its decision,
raising to 21 three months later.
Other exceptions still remain.
21
Maine ? 21 Lowered to 20 in 1969
Lowered to 18 in 1972
Raised to 20 in 1977
Raised to 21 in 1985 21
Maryland ? 21 Lowered to 18 (beer/wine) in 1974 Raised to 21 (all) in 1982 21
Massachusetts ? 21 Lowered to 18 in 1973
Raised to 20 in 1979
Raised to 21 in 1985 21
Michigan ? 21 (Age of majority) Lowered to 18 in 1972 (Jan 1)
(w/ age of majority)
Raised to 19 in 1978 (Dec 3)
Raised to 21 in 1978 (Dec 21),
18 days later.
First state to raise age to 21
since it was lowered
21
Minnesota ? 21 Lowered to 18 in 1973
Raised to 19 in 1976
First state to raise age after lowering.
Raised to 21 in 1986 21
Mississippi ? 18
(alcohol not legalized until 1966)
18 Raised to 21 in 1986 21
Missouri ? 21 (since 1945) 21 21 21
Montana ? 21 Lowered to 18 in 1972
Raised to 19 in 1979
Raised to 21 in 1987 21
Nebraska ? 21 Lowered to 20 in 1969
Lowered to 19 in 1972
Raised to 20 in 1980
Raised to 21 in 1985.
21
Nevada ? 21 21 21 21
New Hampshire ? 21 Lowered to 18 in 1973
Raised to 20 in 1979
Raised to 21 in 1985. 21
New Jersey Before 1880: none
Post-1880: 18
(penalties only against businesses)
21 Lowered to 18 in 1973
(w/ age of majority)
Raised to 19 in 1980
Raised to 21 in 1983
21
New Mexico ? 21 21 21 21
New York 21 18 18 Raised to 19 in 1982 (Dec)
Raised to 21 in 1985 (Dec)
21
North Carolina ? 18 18 (beer/wine), 21 (liquor) Beer/Wine raised to 19 in 1983
Raised to 21 in 1986 (Sep 1)
21
North Dakota ? 21 21 21 21
Ohio ? Initially 16,
raised to 18 in 1935
18 Raised to 19 in 1984
Raised to 21 in 1987
21
Oklahoma ? 3.2% beer
21 (men), 18 (women)
Lowered to 18 (3.2% beer)
for both sexes in 1976 (Dec)
Last state to lower the drinking age.
Raised to 21 in 1983. 21
Oregon ? 21 21 21 21
Pennsylvania ? 21 21 21 21
Rhode Island ? 21 Lowered to 18 in 1972 Raised to 19 in 1980
Raised to 20 in 1981
Raised to 21 in 1984
21
South Carolina 21 21 18 (beer/wine), 21 (liquor) Beer/Wine raised to 19 in 1984
Raised to 20 in 1985
Raised to 21 in 1986
21
South Dakota ? 21 (all) in 1934
Lowered to 18 (3.2% beer) in 1939
Raised to 19 sometime later
Lowered to 18 (3.2% beer) in 1972 Raised to 19 in 1984
Raised to 21 (all) in 1988,
pending result of (failed)
court challenge.
21
Tennessee ? 21 Lowered to 18 in 1971
Raised to 19 in 1979
Raised to 21 in 1984 21
Texas ? 21 Lowered to 18 in 1973 Raised to 19 in 1981
Raised to 21 in 1986 (Sep 1)
21
Utah ? 21 21 21 21
Vermont ? 21 Lowered to 18 in 1971 Raised to 21 in 1986 21
Virginia ? 21 Lowered to 18 (beer/wine only. Liquor has always been 21) in 1974 Raised to 19 in 1981
for off-premises consumption
Raised to 19 (all beer) in 1983
Raised to 21 in 1985
21
Washington "Age of majority"
since 1877
21 21 21 21
West Virginia ? 18 (beer/wine), 21 (liquor) Lowered to 18 (all) in 1972 Raised to 19 in 1983
(& 21 for non-residents)
Raised to 21 in 1986
21
Wisconsin 1839–1866:
18 (wine/liquor),
no age for beer;
post-1866:
21 (all)
18 (beer), 21 (wine/spirits)
but 21 (all) in some municipalities
(age of majority: 21).
As of 1957, 21 for residents of
bordering states with age 21.
Raised to 21 in 1963
(off-premise beer sales,
remained 18 for on-premise).
Lowered to 18 (all) in 1972 (Mar)
Border state restriction
lifted in 1977
Raised to 19 in 1984
Raised to 21 in 1986
21 (however anyone can drink when parents or legal guardians are present)
Wyoming ? 21 Lowered to 19 in 1973 Raised to 21 in 1988 (Jul 1)
Last state to raise de jure
drinking age to 21
21
American Samoa ? ? ? 21? 21
Northern Mariana Islands ? 21? 21
Puerto Rico ? 18 18 Kept at 18
despite 10% highway funding
penalty under Drinking Age Act.
18
Virgin Islands ? ? ? 18 18
Guam ? 21? 18 18 Raised to 21
in 2010 (Jul 8)

Read more about U.S. History Of Alcohol Minimum Purchase Age By State:  Additional Notes

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