U.S. History of Alcohol Minimum Purchase Age By State - Additional Notes

Additional Notes

  • Contrary to popular belief, since the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, not all states specifically prohibit minors' and young adults' consumption of alcohol in private settings. That is due to the fact that the federal law is only concerned with purchase and public possession, not private consumption, and contains several exceptions. As of January 1, 2007, 14 states and the District of Columbia ban underage consumption outright, 19 states do not specifically ban underage consumption outright, and 17 states have family member and/or location exceptions to their underage consumption laws. Federal law explicitly provides for religious, medical, employment and private club possession exceptions; as of 2005, 31 states have family member and/or location exceptions to their underage possession laws.
  • In the 1960s the age for buying or drinking beer and wine in the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) was 18; the age for hard liquor was 21. Residents from Virginia and Maryland would often drive to D.C. to obtain alcohol. In Louisiana, the 1987 law raising the age from 18 to 21 was deliberately written solely to comply with the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 to avoid losing highway funding, while still allowing 18–20 year olds to drink like before. Not only did it still allow 18–20 year olds to consume in private, it contained a major loophole allowing bars and stores to sell alcohol to 18–20 year olds without penalty (despite purchase being technically illegal) which meant that the de facto age was still 18. In other words, the drinking age was 21 only on paper. This loophole was closed in 1995, but in 1996 the Louisiana Supreme Court declared a drinking age of 21 unconstitutional. That briefly lowered the de jure purchase age to 18, causing an uproar which prompted the Louisiana Supreme Court to reverse its decision, raising the age to 21 three months later. Other exceptions still remain to this day, including drinking in a private residence, and Louisiana still has some of the most liberal general alcohol laws of any state.
  • Some states were "dry" well before national Prohibition was enacted in 1919, in some cases since achieving statehood. Also, some states did not become fully "wet" until several years after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 (e.g. Mississippi in 1966). Since 1966, all states and territories of the USA have been "wet", but dry counties and towns still exist in some states.
  • In Canada, the historical changes to the drinking age followed a similar pattern (first no limit, then prohibition, then 21 after repeal, lower to 18 or 19, then raise some more provinces to 19), except that no province or territory raised their age limit back to 21 (or even 20). Most provinces/territories are currently 19, while three (Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec) are 18.

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