Alcohol laws of Pennsylvania

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Location of Pennsylvania

The alcohol laws of Pennsylvania contain many peculiarities not found in other states, and are considered some of the strictest regulations in the United States.[1][2][3]

Alcohol sales[edit]

For consumption off-premises[edit]

Pennsylvania is an alcoholic beverage control state. Spirits are to be sold only in the state owned Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores, which also sell wine, but not beer. Prices are generally the same throughout the state, but state stores may offer special discounts and sales,[4] and county sales tax may cause the price to differ slightly. People under the age of 21 are allowed to enter Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores, contrary to popular belief, but only if accompanied by a parent or guardian. Monday through Saturday, a store may open as early as 9 am and close as late as 10 pm. On Sunday, many stores sell liquor from 11 am until 7 pm.[5]

Wineries are common throughout the Commonwealth, and often sell their wines at storefronts in shopping malls; persons under the age of 21 are permitted to enter these establishments. Wine was available for a short time in supermarket kiosks, but this practice has ended.[6][7] Many supermarkets now operate restaurants at which they are permitted to sell small quantities of wine as well as beer (see below).

Beer may only be purchased from a distributor or in limited quantities at many supermarkets. Beverage distributors are permitted sell beer in any amount whereas supermarkets have quantity restrictions. Beverage distributors (which also sell soft drinks) may sell beer and malt liquor, but not wine[citation needed] or hard liquor. People under 21 may enter most beverage distributors without an adult, since most distributors also sell water, soda, ice, tobacco products, and some snack foods. They are subject to the rules of the individual establishment.

The hours of operation of beer distributors are typically similar to that of Wine and Spirits stores and other retail establishments. These hours are only restricted by the state on Sundays, where a special license is required to sell beer, and sales before 11 am are not permitted.[8] Although state law permits late-night beer distributors, local authorities can place additional restrictions, and stores typically close before 10 pm.

Beer and wine in small quantities may be purchased from a restaurant, bar, or licensed retailer. These establishments may sell six and twelve packs of beer, along with individual bottles such as 40 ounce or 24 ounce beers. Their licenses permit them to sell up to 192 fluid ounces of beer per purchase. They may also sell up to 4 bottles of wine per purchase.[4]

Some supermarkets, including Acme, Giant, Giant Eagle, Wegmans, and Weis, have begun to sell alcohol within restaurants attached to the main supermarket building, but only under very specific conditions (the restaurant must have a defined separation from the rest of the supermarket, a separate cashier, and seating for at least 30 patrons)[9]. Supermarket chain ShopRite has begun to attach Wine and Spirits stores to its stores.

For a time, Sheetz obtained a liquor license for a restaurant attached to one of its convenience stores in Altoona.[10] After several debates, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the store must sell beer to in-house customers as well as take-out.[11] The 17th Street store now again sells beer and allows limited in store consumption.[12] In 2015, a Wawa convenience store location in Chadds Ford was given approval to sell beer as part of a pilot.[13] Several Rutter's convenience stores in Central Pennsylvania have Beer Caves that sell beer.[14]

Governor Tom Wolf signed Act 39 into law on June 8, 2016, which allowed for wine sales at supermarkets, restaurants, and hotels.[15] On August 8, 2016, Act 39 went into effect.[16] The act also allowed for additional alcohol licenses at retailers across the state.[17]

For consumption on-premises[edit]

Closing time for restaurants and bars in Pennsylvania is 2 am and for private clubs is 3 am.

Attempts to privatize[edit]

Pennsylvania state lawmakers have attempted to privatize the sales of wine and spirits in the commonwealth. The state has had a monopoly over the sales of wine and spirits since the repeal of Prohibition. In the 2011 legislative session, the privatization of sales of wine and spirits was the focus of some controversy. This controversy is due to the budget deficit that the commonwealth faces. Supporters of the bill argue that sales taxes and license sales could generate nearly $1 billion worth of revenue for the state.

In the 2012 session, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, with the backing of Governor Tom Corbett, announced a plan to issue 1,600 new liquor store licenses and auction the 600-plus liquor stores currently owned by the state. Stores would be allowed to sell beer in any configuration and without limit. Supporters say it could raise as much as $1.6 billion for the state. Opponents say that the proposed pricing would make it difficult for mom-and-pop stores to afford such licenses. Major opponents include the liquor store clerks union and the Pennsylvania Beer Alliance.[18]

Drinking age[edit]

The minimum drinking age in Pennsylvania is 21 years. Minors are prohibited from purchasing, possessing, or consuming alcohol, even if it is furnished by the minor's immediate family. Persons over the age of 18 are permitted to serve alcohol, so an exception is made in the possession portion of the law in this respect. Many states have exceptions for consuming alcohol made for religious or medicinal purposes, but Pennsylvania does not have exceptions for either.[19]

A person under the age of 21 may also be arrested, charged, and convicted of underage drinking through constructive possession, even if they had not consumed any alcohol, simply by being in the presence of alcohol. This is mainly exercised when officials break up large parties or other events where alcohol is being consumed and the issuance of chemical tests to every individual is deemed impractical.

Drunk driving[edit]

Driving, operating, or being in actual physical control of the movement of vehicle under the influence is a crime in Pennsylvania, and is subject to a great number of regulations outside of the state's alcohol laws. Pennsylvania's maximum blood alcohol level for driving is 0.08% for persons at or over the age of 21 (with suspension of license on the first offense), and 0.04% for a person operating a commercial vehicle (0.02% for a school bus) with revoking of the license on the first offense.[20] For those under 21, Pennsylvania follows a "zero tolerance" policy, meaning that any BAC over 0.02% is enough to warrant a DUI (the small allowance is for certain medicinal purposes such as some cold medicines that contain alcohol). Penalties include fines, license suspension, and possible imprisonment.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cowell, Tom (January 12, 2010). "PA's Disgraceful Liquor Laws". Philadelphia Weekly. Review Publishing Limited Partnership. Archived from the original on January 31, 2014. Retrieved June 6, 2014.
  2. ^ "45 States That Allow Underage (under 21) Alcohol Consumption - Minimum Legal Drinking Age -". Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  3. ^ Baylen Linnekin (December 20, 2014). "Cops Seized Couple's $160,000 Wine Collection—And Want to Destroy It All: When it comes to alcohol laws, Pennsylvania is about as close to Saudi Arabia as you can get in America".
  4. ^ a b "Governor Wolf Signs Historic Liquor Reform Bill". Governor's Office. Retrieved 21 May 2017.
  5. ^ "Check out the 94 PA Liquor Stores That Will Now Be Open on Sunday". Governor's Office. Retrieved 21 May 2017.
  6. ^ "Pennsylvania introduces first wine 'kiosks' - Business - US business - Food Inc. - NBC News". Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  7. ^ "State Pulls Plug On Wine Kiosk Program". WGAL. Retrieved 24 September 2014.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Types of Licences". The Pennsylvania Liquor License Company. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  9. ^ "Pennsylvania Wine Law Primer". Wine School of Philadelphia.
  10. ^ "A convenience store to sell beer in Pa". 2007-02-01. Archived from the original on March 2, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
  11. ^ Malloy, Daniel (2009-06-16). "Court OKs beer to-go but Sheetz must also sell on-site". Retrieved 2009-09-06.
  12. ^ "Pa. Supreme Court Stops Sales Of Takeout Beer At Altoona Sheetz". Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  13. ^ Wilson, Shawnette (August 4, 2015). "Chadds Ford Wawa Soon To Sell Beer". Philadelphia, PA: WTXF-TV. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  14. ^ "Beer Caves". Rutter's. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  15. ^ "Act 39 of 2016". Retrieved 2018-07-15.
  16. ^ Shaw, Colt (August 8, 2016). "Law allowing expanded wine sales, liquor store hours goes into effect". PennLive. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  17. ^ Gleiter, Sue (March 30, 2017). "Another Rutter's Farm Store in Central Pa. adds beer sales". PennLive. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  18. ^ Couloumbis, Angela (2012-06-09). "Showdown vote promised on Pa. liquor system - with beer in the mix". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia. Archived from the original on 2017-01-10. Retrieved 2017-01-10.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  19. ^ "Eight Different Exceptions to the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) of 21". Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  20. ^
  21. ^ Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (2005-02-16). "edu: Pennsylvania's Zero Tolerance Law". Archived from the original on September 25, 2006. Retrieved 2009-09-06.