General Alcohol Policy

A combination of Federal, State, and local laws help shape the role alcohol plays in the United States, including how we:

  • Manufacture alcohol
  • Sell alcohol
  • Decide who can drink alcohol
  • Respond to alcohol-related problems

In general, Congress has the power to regulate importing and taxing alcoholic beverages. 

Also, the primary Federal law governing alcohol policy is the 21st Amendment, which repealed national prohibition. It also gives individual States control over:

  • Whether to allow sale of alcohol in the State
  • Whether to allow importing alcohol into the State
  • How to distribute alcohol throughout the State
  • Possession of alcohol in the State

Some States offer local governments control over alcohol policy development and enforcement. Other States control alcohol policy at the State government level.

Minimum Legal Drinking Age

Even with this flexibility for the States, Congress retains the power to use financial and tax incentives to promote certain alcohol policies, such as the minimum legal drinking age. The Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984 sets the minimum legal drinking age to 21 and every State abides by that standard.

According to this Act, the Federal government can withhold ten percent of Federal funding for highways from States that do not prohibit people under age 21 from buying or publically possessing any alcoholic beverage.  While every State abides by this standard, State law varies on specifics about possession and exceptions to the law, such as allowing people under 21 to drink with their parents.

To learn more about Alcohol Policy in the United States, visit NIAAA's Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS)