U.S. history of alcohol minimum purchase age by state

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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 debates have not been highly publicized, a few states have proposed legislation to lower their drinking age,[1] while Guam has raised its drinking age to 21 in July 2010.[2]

Minimum legal drinking age as of 1975:
  Minimum age is 21
  Minimum age is 20
  Minimum age is 19
  Minimum age is 18

Both age limits apply for striped countries:
Washington, D.C.: The legal drinking age is 18 for beer and wine, and 21 for liquor.
Illinois: The legal drinking age is 19 for beer and wine, and 21 for liquor.
Kansas: The legal drinking age is 18 for 3.2 ABV beer, and 21 for beer with more than 3.2 ABV, wine and liquor.
Maryland: The legal drinking age is 18 for beer and wine, and 21 for liquor.
North Carolina: The legal drinking age is 18 for beer and wine, and 21 for liquor.
Oklahoma: The legal drinking age is 18 for 3.2 ABV beer, and 21 for beer with more than 3.2 ABV, wine and liquor.
South Carolina: The legal drinking age is 18 for beer and wine, and 21 for liquor.
South Dakota: The legal drinking age is 18 for 3.2 ABV beer, and 21 for beer with more than 3.2 ABV, wine and liquor.
Virginia: The legal drinking age is 18 for beer and wine, and 21 for liquor.
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[citation needed] Lowered to 19 in 1975 [3] Raised to 21 in 1985 [4] 21 (no one underage is allowed consumption Section 28-1)
Alaska  ? 21[citation needed] Lowered to 19 in 1970 [5] Raised to 21 in 1983 [6] 21
Arizona  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 19 in 1972 [7][8] Raised to 21 in 1985 [4] 21
Arkansas  ? 21[citation needed] 21 21 [4] 21
California  ? 21[citation needed] 21 21 [4] 21 (except small amounts for religious ceremonies)
Colorado  ? None,[6] 18 in 1945 [8] 18 [9] Raised to 21 in 1987 [4] 21
Connecticut  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 18 in 1972 [10] Raised to 19 in 1982
Raised to 20 in 1983
Raised to 21 in 1985 [11]
21
Delaware  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 20 in 1972 [8] Raised to 21 in 1984 [4] 21
District of Columbia  ? 18 (beer, wine)[6]
21 (liquor)[12][13]
18 (beer, wine)[8][13]
21 (liquor)
Raised to 21 in 1986 (Oct 1) w/ grandfather clause[14][15] 21
Florida  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 18 in 1973 Raised to 19 in 1980
Raised to 21 in 1985 [4]
21
Georgia  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 18 in 1972 [7] Raised to 19 in 1980
Raised to 20 in 1985
Raised to 21 in 1986 [4]
21
Hawaii  ? 20 [6] Lowered to 18 in 1972 [8] Raised to 21 in 1986 [4] 21
Idaho  ? 20 (beer),[16][17]
21 (liquor, wine) [6][18]
Lowered to 19 (all) in 1972
(Jul 1)[8][19]
Raised to 21 in 1987 (Apr 11) w/ grandfather clause[4][20] 21
Illinois  ? Age of majority:
21 (men), 18 (women) [21]
Raised to 21 for all in 1961 [22]
Lowered to 19 (beer/wine)went into effect on: 1/1/1974.when nightclubs stamped hands with 19 and 21[23] Raised to 21 in 1980 [24] 21
Indiana  ? 21[citation needed] 21 21[4] 21
Iowa  ? 21[citation needed] Lowered to 19 in 1972 (Jul 1)
Lowered to 18 in 1973 (Jul 1)
Raised to 19 in 1978 (Jul 1)[25]
Raised to 21 in 1986 (Jul 1)[25] 21
Kansas  ? 18[6] 18 (3.2 beer alcohol by content for under 21)[9] Raised to 21 in 1985[4] 21 (However, anyone under 21 may consume cereal malt beverages with parental supervision on their own property)
Kentucky  ? 21[citation needed] 21 21[4] 21
Louisiana  ? 18 as of 1948 [8] 18 [9] Raised to 21 de jure in 1987,[4]
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.[26]
In 1996, briefly lowered by
Louisiana Supreme Court
to 18 until it reversed its decision,
raising to 21 three months later.[27]
Other exceptions still remain.[28]
21
Maine  ? 21[citation needed] Lowered to 20 in 1969
Lowered to 18 in 1972 [7]
Raised to 20 in 1977 [4][29]
Raised to 21 in 1985 [4] 21
Maryland  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 18 (beer/wine) in 1974 [30][31] Raised to 21 in 1982 [4][32] 21
Massachusetts  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 18 in 1973
Raised to 20 in 1979 (Apr 16)[33][34][35]
Raised to 21 in 1985 [4] 21
Michigan  ? 21 (Age of majority)[citation needed] Lowered to 18 in 1972 (Jan 1)
(w/ age of majority)[36]
Raised to 19 in 1978 (Dec 3)[37][38]
Raised to 21 in 1978 (Dec 21),
18 days later.[4]
First state to raise age to 21
since it was lowered
21
Minnesota  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 18 in 1973
Raised to 19 in 1976 [39]
First state to raise age after lowering.
Raised to 21 in 1986 [40] 21
Mississippi  ? 18 [6]
(alcohol not legalized until 1966)
18 [9] Raised to 21 in 1986 [4] 21
Missouri  ? 21 (since 1945)[citation needed] 21 21 [4] 21
Montana  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 19 in 1971 [41]
Lowered to 18 in 1973 [42][43]
Raised to 19 in 1979
Raised to 21 in 1987 [4][44] 21
Nebraska  ? 21 [45] Lowered to 20 in 1969
Lowered to 19 in 1972 [45]
Raised to 20 in 1980
Raised to 21 in 1985.[45]
21
Nevada  ? 21[citation needed] 21 21[4] 21
New Hampshire  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 18 in 1973 [46]
Raised to 20 in 1979
Raised to 21 in 1985.[4][11] 21
New Jersey Before 1880: none
Post-1880: 18
(penalties only against businesses)[47][48][49]
21[citation needed] Lowered to 18 in 1973
(w/ age of majority)[7]
Raised to 19 in 1980
Raised to 21 in 1983 [4]
21
New Mexico  ? 21[citation needed] 21 21[4] 21
New York 21 18 [50] 18 Raised to 19 in 1982 (Dec)
Raised to 21 in 1985 (Dec)[11][51][52]
21
North Carolina  ? 18 [6] 18 (beer/wine),[9] 21 (liquor) Beer/Wine raised to 19 in 1983
Raised to 21 in 1986 (Sep 1) [4][15]
21
North Dakota  ? 21[citation needed] 21 21 [53] 21
Ohio  ? Initially 16,[6]
raised to 18 in 1935 [8]
18 [9] Raised to 19 in 1984
Raised to 21 in 1987 [4][44]
21
Oklahoma  ? 3.2% beer
21 (men), 18 (women) [54]
Lowered to 18 (3.2% beer)
for both sexes in 1976 (Dec) [55]
Last state to lower the drinking age.
Raised to 21 in 1983.[6][56] 21
Oregon  ? 21[citation needed] 21 21 [4] 21
Pennsylvania  ? 21[citation needed] 21 21 [4][38] 21
Rhode Island  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 18 in 1972 [7][57] Raised to 19 in 1980
Raised to 20 in 1981
Raised to 21 in 1984 [11]
21
South Carolina 21 21 [6] 18 (beer/wine),[9] 21 (liquor) Beer/Wine raised to 19 in 1984
Raised to 20 in 1985
Raised to 21 in 1986 [4]
21
South Dakota  ? 21 (all) in 1934
Lowered to 18 (3.2% beer) in 1939
Raised to 19 sometime later [58]
Lowered to 18 (3.2% beer) in 1972 [8] Raised to 19 in 1984 [4]
Raised to 21 (all) in 1988,
pending result of (failed)
court challenge.[44]
21
Tennessee  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 18 in 1971 [9][59][60]
Raised to 19 in 1979
Raised to 21 in 1984 [4] 21
Texas  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 18 in 1973 [61] Raised to 19 in 1981
Raised to 21 in 1986 (Sep 1)[4][15]
21
Utah  ? 21[citation needed] 21 21 [4] 21
Vermont  ? 21[citation needed] Lowered to 18 in 1971 [62][63] Raised to 21 in 1986 [11][63] 21
Virginia  ? 21 [64] Lowered to 18 (beer/wine only. Liquor has always been 21) in 1974 [64] Raised to 19 in 1981
for off-premises consumption
Raised to 19 (all beer) in 1983
Raised to 21 in 1985 [64]
21
Washington "Age of majority"
since 1877 [65]
21[citation needed] 21 21 [4] 21
West Virginia  ? 18 (beer/wine), 21 (liquor) [6] Lowered to 18 (all) in 1972 [66] Raised to 19 in 1983
(& 21 for non-residents) [4][29]
Raised to 21 in 1986 [4]
21
Wisconsin 1839–1866:
18 (wine/liquor),
no age for beer;
post-1866:
21 (all) [67]
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.[68]
Raised to 21 in 1963
(off-premise beer sales,
remained 18 for on-premise).[68]
Lowered to 18 (all) in 1972 (Mar) [68]
Border state restriction
lifted in 1977 [68]
Raised to 19 in 1984
Raised to 21 in 1986 [68]
21 (however anyone can drink when parents, spouses, teachers or legal guardians are present)
Wyoming  ? 21 [6] Lowered to 19 in 1973 [8] Raised to 21 in 1988 (Jul 1) [69]
Last state to raise de jure
drinking age to 21
21
American Samoa  ?  ?  ? 21? 21 [70]
Northern Mariana Islands  ? 21? 21 [71]
Puerto Rico  ? 18 18 Kept at 18
despite 10% highway funding
penalty under Drinking Age Act.
18 [72]
Virgin Islands  ?  ?  ? 18 18 [73]
Guam  ? 21? 18 18 Raised to 21
in 2010 (Jul 8) [2]

Additional notes[edit]

  • 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 because the federal law is concerned only 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.[28]
  • 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.[12][13] 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 as 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.[26] 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.[26] 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.[27] Other exceptions still remain to this day, including drinking in a private residence,[28] 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.

References[edit]

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