Generally, the legal drinking age in the United States is 21 years and older. Drinking minors and adults enabling underage drinking can face major legal consequences. Maryland’s attorney general Doug Gansler was caught at a wild party swarming with minors and plenty of alcohol, yet the state’s top law enforcer ironically did nothing to stop the apparent underage drinking. His excuse? The party took place in Delaware, at another family’s home.
Interestingly, different circumstances could give some parents a better excuse for neglecting to put a cork in underage drinking on their watch.
21 and Over — Unless…
Although the minimum drinking age is officially 21 in all 50 states, 45 states legally exempt minors from underage drinking laws under certain circumstances, according to ProCon.org.
These exceptions for underage drinking, which have detailed, state-specific requirements, include:
- On private property (including homes and offices) with parental presence and consent: 29 states
- On private property (including homes and offices) without parental presence and/or consent: 6 states
- For religious purposes: 25 states
- For medical purposes: 16 states
- For government work-related purposes (like working undercover): 4 states
- For educational purposes (such as culinary school): 11 states
- When reporting a medical emergency (such as when one underage drinker dials 911 for another minor): 17 states and Washington D.C.
- On alcohol-selling premises (such as restaurants and bars) with parental presence and consent: 11 states
Five states have no exceptions to their underage alcohol consumption laws: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, New Hampshire, and West Virginia.
No matter what state you live in, be aware of local social host liability laws; if someone drinks on your property, then drives drunk and hurts themselves or someone else, you could be held liable.