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September 15, 2009

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: A look at drinking laws

pony beerThis week, Owl Meat did some digging and came up with a rather interesting topic: The law on drinking. Personally, I fought the law, and the law won. Owl Meat might have more luck. Here he is:

Twenty five years ago, Americans landed on college campuses and waded into the freedom and responsibility of adulthood. In most states, they had liberty to sip the frothy freedom of a cold beer or other adult libation.

But former Tinseltown party dude Ronald Reagan was about to harsh everyone's buzz. Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984.

Oh snap! The party was over and frat boys wept like purple doves.
Despite the name of the law, there is no national minimum drinking age nor is there one in Maryland. Dazed and confused?  I was too. ...

The Maryland Underage Drinking Prevention Coalition summarizes the law:
"[the law] required all states to raise their minimum purchase and public possession of alcohol age to 21. States that did not comply faced a reduction in highway funds under the Federal Highway Aid Act. The U.S. Department of Transportation has determined that all states are in compliance with this act. The national law specifically prohibits purchase and public possession of alcoholic beverages. It does not prohibit persons under 21 from drinking."
That's interesting, but what does Maryland law specify? The following summary is from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The text is literally excerpted, so don't blame me for weird grammar and shouty capitalization. Dig it.

(1) Underage Possession of Alcohol
Possession is prohibited WITH THE FOLLOWING EXCEPTION(S):
  •  parent/guardian consent
(2) Underage Consumption of Alcohol
Consumption is not explicitly prohibited
(3) Underage Purchase of Alcohol
Purchase is prohibited - no explicit exceptions noted in the law

(4) Furnishing of Alcohol to Minors
Furnishing is prohibited WITH THE FOLLOWING EXCEPTION(S):
  •  private residence AND EITHER
  •  - parent/guardian
  •  - legal-age spouse
  •  one or more specified religious, educational, or medical purposes
Notes: Maryland's exception allows furnishing of alcohol to minors by members of their immediate family when the alcoholic beverage is furnished and consumed "in a private residence or within the curtilage of the residence."
[Note: curtilage means yard.]

(5) Minimum Ages for On-Premises Servers and Bartenders
Server Bartender
Beer 18 18
Wine 18 18
Spirits 18 21.
(6 ) Minimum Ages for Off-Premises Sellers
Beer 18
Wine 18
Spirits 21
Notes: Maryland statutes allow for exceptions by specific localities within Maryland that may have more or less restrictive laws on the age to sell or serve alcoholic beverages.
(7) Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits:
Youth (Underage Operators of Noncommercial Motor Vehicles)
BAC limit: 0.00  –  any detectable alcohol in the blood is per se (conclusive) evidence of a violation
Applies to drivers under age 21.  
(8) Prohibitions Against Hosting Underage Drinking Parties
Action by underage guest that triggers violation: possession consumption.
Property type(s) covered by liability law: residence, outdoor, other.
Host must have actual knowledge of the occurrence
Exception(s): family, other (may include religious, medical, educational, or other exceptions)
Some observations and a caveat:
(1) My legal expertise comes from watching Law and Order.
(2) It's legal to send your kid down the street with her little red wagon to fetch another case of beer for the barbeque.
(3) I once suggested that the French practice of serving watered-down wine to children at dinner occasionally might be a healthy way to introduce them to alcohol. Apparently this is quite legal in Maryland.
(4) An 18 year old server at, for example, TGI Friday's can bring you a margarita, but the bartender has to be 21. Utterly Byzantine.
(5) A bartender told me that he used to make his own beer in college, because it was legal. He might be right.
I am not promoting underage drinking any more than I recommend wearing your sunglasses at night. My goal is to show how confusing the laws are. No doubt the laws vary among counties too, which makes this more difficult to understand than the popularity of Miley Cyrus, Totino's pizza rolls, or piano key ties.

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:25 AM | | Comments (51)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays


I'm 20 years old and a bartender. Sometimes a customer wants to buy me a beer and I have to decline. When I tell them why, they think it's kind of weird. But that excuse also comes in handy plenty of times.

It is bizarre that a bartender 18-20 can be in charge of other people's alcohol consumption and has a lot of responsibility but isn't mature enough to drink themselves. Goofy.

Geez Owl Meat..why not just let everyone drink no matter how young...dont you think this city has anough we are going to have drunk teenage hoods roaming the streets and causing probelms..wait they already do!!!..but now they'd be drunk!!!! Do you have underage parties at your house and get all the high school kids bombed????? What are the drugs laws in it alright if I smoke crack with my kid as lon as we are inside...You probably voted for Dixon Too!!!!!!!!!!

Louisiana was the longest holdout. The drinking age was 18 longer than in other states, and I happily took advantage of same. From wiki:

In 1987 the law was first changed to raise the age to 21 to SELL alcohol to; but under the Napoleonic Code that rules Louisiana, it still allowed those who were 18 to consume it. Basically, this meant that anyone who was 18 could still drink, and buy...and they did. It was only illegal to sell alcohol to those who were 18 to 20 years old. The double standard allowed a loophole for which no one was ever prosecuted.

It wasn't until 1996, when the Federal Government threatened to withhold money for highway construction that the law was changed and the minimum age was raised to 21 across the board for buying, consuming and selling.

I picked up a brochure at back-to-school night from Baltimore County Department of Health, Bureau of Substance Abuse. It's written for parents, exhorting them not to allow their kids to drink at home as this sends a mixed message. Among other things, it says:

"When parents ignore the fact that underage drinking is ILLEGAL, is it any wonder that many teens think underage drinking is no big deal?"

and this:

"Drinking alcohol is not a 'rite of passage'. It is neither safe nor acceptable for individuals under the age of 21 to drink alcohol."

No opinion is offered on whether it is safe or acceptable for individuals under the age of 21 to be riding in a Humvee through Basra, searching for IEDs.

Two comments:

The laws regarding highway funding being tied to states' alcohol ages are vastly misreported. The defenders of the law imply that a state that lowers its alcohol age below 21 will lose ALL Federal highway funding. Patently untrue. The law states that they will lose a SMALL percentage (I think it was eight or ten percent) of ONE matching grant program.

Second, the Federal law allowing homebrewing, passed late in Jimmy Carter's term, permitted those 18 and over to make up to 100 gallons of beer a year, or two hundred gallons per household, because many states at the time still allowed 18-year-olds to partake of beer. AS FAR AS I KNOW, that Federal law has never been updated to raise the age, but state/local law may override the Federal statute. I've often wondered if some enterprising frat house could have started up a home brewery. (By the way, 100 gallons a year equals about three 12-ounce bottles daily.)

"Drinking alcohol is not a 'rite of passage'. It is neither safe nor acceptable for individuals under the age of 21 to drink alcohol."

It sounds like it is a rite of passage if alcohol becomes magically safe at age 21. Cheers.

I believe that it is legal for anyone to brew their own beer no matter what age. At Christmas time you can buy a Mr. Beer from CVS and other stores. It has everything needed to brew a batch of beer, I think 6 - 8 12 oz. beers. No ID required. Two weeks later you will have some really crappy beer that you made yourself.

Wiki actually has it backwards. It was legal for bars to sell to anyone over 18, but it was illegal for anyone between 18-20 to purchase alcohol.

It was legal for anyone over 18 to consume or possess alcohol.

A friend from college actually did get a $50 fine for buying a beer in a bar. Everyone else just put theirs down until the police left.

I remember going into many Baltimore bars and venues when as young as 14 and being served without so much as a second glance.
(I was usually by myself and didn't make a spectacle of it... gee whiz what a concept!)

My favorite places to go with an actual crowd of us were The Good Master Mustard Seed (in Fells Point) and No Fish Today.
Good times.

On point: If you are unable to act responsibly with a beer (or three) in you then you aren't likely a responsible person without them. The alcohol is incidental to you A-holeishness... not causal.

MrRational, I completely agree with your last statement!

Regarding the "rite of passage", I've waited on several different groups who were celebrating the occasion of someone's twenty-first birthday by buying him 21 shots. I've always wondered how many of these people ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning.

Seems like it would be more sensible to ease into it gradually over a period of years, starting at home.

Whatever we're doing here seems to be screwed up. I don't think many other countries are as dysfunctional about alcohol as we are.

Geez Owl Meat..why not just let everyone drink no matter how young...dont you think this city has enough we are going to have drunk teenage hoods roaming the streets and causing problems.

In a perfect world they would all be getting their Drank on and napping peacefully around town.
[Drank being the sedating energy drink Sam tried].

Did somebody say something about Drank?

When did Georgetown raise their age?

More interesting factoids... DC and MD decriminalized underage drinking.

New legislation [in DC] was passed because, although underage drinking had been decriminalized in 1997, police had continued to arrest young people for what was no longer a crime. A class action suit led to an injunction against additional illegal arrests.

Neighboring Maryland has also decriminalized possession and consumption of alcohol by those under the age of 21.

DC cops arresting people for non-crimes. Sweet.

I could outdrink my dad by age my 14 can outdrink me...good genes I guess....BTW..anyone know where I can pick up a sumurai sword..there will probably be a run on them now.

So it sounds like maybe the best way to handle this with my son (he's 16 now) is to offer him some watered down wine, maybe at Christmas or his birthday. Also offer some to his friends if their parents are present and approve. And gradually increase the amount and occasions while we can still supervise the driving.

Seems better than this all or nothing, turn a blind eye in college approach.

Milestones are important, but sometimes I think the stages of our lives have become too compartmentalized.

Is that horse in the photo supposed to be a visual hallucination the little boy is seeing? Kind of reminds me of that James Thurber story, "The Unicorn in the Garden".

Interpret the photo as you like, Filbert.

I'm back and I will be invading your dreams and photos. I was kidnapped by Panamanian money laundresses but I escaped when they all passed out from drinking Cuba Libres.

Here in Pennsylvania, you can not only tend bar at 18, you can OWN a bar at 18; but you can't drink in it. At 18, you can purchase a rifle or shotgun, you can legally become a prostitute (in parts of Nevada), you can marry, adopt, and assume a mortgage, you can drive a car or truck, fly a plane or glider, enlist in the military, enter into a contract, serve on a jury, become an armed police officer (in several states and the military), vote, be sentenced to death (or serve on a jury and sentence others to death), buy cigarettes (and condoms), buy a porno movie (or act in one), and run for most public offices...but you can't drink.
Makes a lot of sense to me.

I grew up in PA part of the time and they had a liquor control system that was positively Stalinist. You could only buy wine and liquor from a State Store, which was a store owned and operated by the State. There was a counter and a newsprint catalog of products. There was no shopping or browsing. It was like something straight out of Soviet Russia.

They did open actual stores later, but this was the system they originally had and probably still do in smaller towns.

The only way you could buy beer to go was by the case at a distributor or by the quart at a bar. There were no six packs then. I heard that later they allowed something called six-pack stores to open but you could only buy three six packs at a time. Government logic.

I always thought that forcing people to buy a case of beer at a time really encouraged alcoholism or at least hangovers.

The kind of beer you could get by the quart from the corner bar was not primo.

This info is wildly out of date, but it's what I remember from when I was a kid.

I did walk into a State Store when I was 16 and buy a couple of bottles of liquor for a party. My secret: I wore a suit.

@Lew Bryson, I clicked on your name link and found your very interesting blog. I especially liked the piece about the "Stupid Drink". That sounds like a good idea for people of any age, not just college students.

Sounds like it's at cross purposes with these groups pushing for abstinence of all kinds.

Abstinence is the finest example of perfection being the enemy of the good.

Mary, you've got spunk.

I hate spunk.

Whew, what a difference a week makes. So far no angry representatives of Miley Cyrus, TGI Fridays, or Totino's.

Woo hoo. Midnight Sun won the City Paper's Readers' Poll for Best Baltimore Blog

OMG tells us: "Woo hoo. Midnight Sun won the City Paper's Readers' Poll for Best Baltimore Blog"

probably cause I rarely visit. ;(

Maybe I just need to get out more so I can have some opinions to offer. Nah it would probably just be yet another venue to embarrass my grown 20something kids.

Louisiana was the longest holdout

I believe West Virginia also held out for a while. I remember that factoid from a very special episode of Family Ties.

Fine work, Sam.

Now, who wants a drink?

I'll have a Brandy Alexander.

I have decoded OMG's mysterious photo. It says that if you want your kids to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, you should buy them a pony. Or maybe if you spend time with your son buying a case of Heineken cans (???) your boy will see pony mirages. I give up. Cute picture.

(4) Furnishing of Alcohol to Minors
Furnishing is prohibited WITH THE FOLLOWING EXCEPTION(S):
• - legal-age spouse

So according to Maryland law, I can buy beer for my 18 year old new pool boy/husband Jesus, since I'm over 30, I mean 21?

Not to take away from your moment but Beyonce's blog was one of the BEST blogs EVER!

Maybe I just need to get out more so I can have some opinions to offer. Nah it would probably just be yet another venue to embarrass my grown 20something kids.

Oh MrRational, I'm 71 years old, wait that's my liver's age. Never mind. Seriously, I think MS has a really diverse audience and you should stick around. You never know what's going to happen. Plus who's to say that your kids are cooler than you. They could be like, Republicans or Democrats or something.

I was frankly blown away by the technical expertise of the commenters on the Beatles re-issue post.

@ Lew Brison

that was the exact argument in the late 70's that forced a change in the drinking laws (in MD at least) where an 18 year old could buy & drink beer & wine. even go to bars and drink said same. the explosive rise in teen automobile/alcohol related accidents also forced them to change the laws back to 21 for everything. proving the yewt's can't handle the responsibility given to them over this.

Did you say "yewts"?

So maybe we should raise the driving age to 21.

Interesting article popped up on CNN today. I wonder if the author is a Midnight Sun reader!

So maybe we should raise the driving age to 21.

Not to worry. In the future when leather-clad rape gangs roam the country looking for gasoline to siphon, all this will seem foolish, until one man comes along. They call him the Road Warrior.

So maybe we should raise the driving age to 21.

Not to worry. In the future when leather-clad rape gangs roam the country looking for gasoline to siphon, all this will seem foolish, until one man comes along. They call him the Road Warrior.


Or the Postman.

Wouldn't it be worthwhile to have a breathalizer control on all cars so that ir wouldn't drive if you were in the tank?

Cut to a shot of Miley Cyrus eating pizza rolls saying "Huh?"

Do you know that it is a federal law that a bar owner can not bartend at his own establish if he participates in tip pooling. Not only that a manager or a general manager can not bartend with their staff if tip pooling is involved. I wonder how many places would be affected by this ridiculous law, I know of one myself, unfortunately. To be continued...

Jason Z, what's the logic of that? Is it an IRS thing or a labor thing?

Isn't it standard etiquette that business owners are never tipped? Not the law, but god help you if followed this, I guess. Me? I tip everyone.

I think the idea is that since the owner gets to keep all the money and pays himself in a wage and profits and the employees get base pay plus tips, oh hell, I need a beer now.

Jason, it sounds like they figure you're going to do something illegal or at least corrupt. That's bad law.

just browsing-it's a federal law that has something to do with minimum wage and tip pooling, I am still trying to figure this stuff out. I can work at a place if I work by myself and/or do not share any of the tips made.

voodoopork-I have never paid myself a salary, I have always made bartender's salary of $3.18 an hour. If I paid myself a salary, I wouldn't still be in business.

Like I said this also affects bar managers and general managers that have a bartending shift that helps supplement their salary.

They think that since I have control of schedule that I can influence who works and how much they make??? Still not sure. It is a bad law.

Twain could probably explain this better.

I think we have way too many laws. It's probably a nightmare for small business owners.

That government is best which governs least.
– Thomas Jefferson

Owl Meat Gravy-

Unfortunately they don't give you a handbook with all of the laws in it when you start your own business.

I will be keeping Sam posted on this matter as it happens.

The thing that sucks the most is that I have to defend myself no matter what and that costs a lot of money and they get a lawyer who works on a contigency fee and hopes you settle out of court because it is usually cheaper than fighting the issue.

another thing to remember about laws...
whenever they pass a law, we lose a freedom!

I agree ss2. When I was in Spain a friend of mine commented on that. He lived here for six months. He said that we're always going on about freedom but there are so many laws governing our behavior that he felt there was more freedom in Spain. (Post Franco of course). We were in little cafe/bar and he wanted me to see something down the street. I went to put my beer down and he said to bring it. I asked if it was legal and he said Sure as long as you don't hit someone with it.

There seem to be SO many laws that govern harmless behavior in order to prevent some other behavior here.

Owl Meat Gravy
Just google my name and you can read all about it, it makes me sick to my stomach.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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