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Minimum Drinking Age

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Definition - What does Minimum Drinking Age mean?

In 1984 all states raised the minimum drinking age to 21 with the passage of the National Minimum Drinking Act. Federal highway funds were withheld from any state that failed to comply with the new law. Under the National Minimum Drinking Act it is illegal for any person under 21 to purchase an alcoholic beverage (from a vendor or other source) or have in their public possession an alcoholic beverage. Drinking is not necessarily illegal for all persons under the age of 21 in all circumstances. Public possession of alcohol does not include any of the following:

  • Drinking for an established religious purpose. The minor must be with a parent, spouse, or legal guardian age 21 or older.
  • Drinking for medical reasons if the minor is prescribed to do so by a licensed physician, nurse, pharmacist, dentist, hospital, or medical facility.
  • Drinking in a private establishment.
  • Drinking while employed by a licensed manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer.

State laws have also been created to monitor the selling or giving alcohol to minors, minors misrepresenting their age to buy alcohol and minors consuming alcohol. Many states have also instituted zero tolerance laws which make it illegal for a minor to operate a motorized vehicle with any alcohol in their system.

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