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Drinking age in California

The U.S. drinking laws are a subject of contention. They were generally 21, but changed when the majority age was lowered with the 26th amendment to 18. Then, the drinking ages in most of the states were lowered to match up with the new majority age. This only seemed right because the age at which you could vote and register for the draft should be the same as the age when you could drink.

However, those laws started to change in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Some states started raising their drinking ages to 19. Then, came the federal law pertaining to underage drinking problems, specifically drunk driving, and drunk driving fatalities. It was called the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, and it stipulated that all the states had to bring up the legal age when they could drink, or they would lose 10% of their highway construction funds. This seemed like a way of getting around the 10th Amendment, and allowing the federal government to coerce the states into doing what they wanted them to do.

This was a sore point, and a subject of much debate throughout the years, and there are still some states that are considering lowering their drinking ages to 18. After all, the majority age in this country is 18, and it doesn’t seem right that you shouldn’t be able to drink and do all the adult things at 18, because that’s the age when you can go to war, register for the draft, and vote. So, what’s the issue here? Well, the states had a big problem with drunk driving fatalities, and they wanted to cut down on them. So, they tried to get around the 10th Amendment by withholding 10% of federal highway construction funds unless they did what the government wanted them to do.

The drinking age in California has always seemed to be around 21. That’s kind of unusual for a state that’s always been seen as more liberal. However, they’ve been 21 all throughout the years though.

California is sort of unusual because it had a 21-year-old limit pre-prohibition, post-prohibition, in the 1970s when the 26th Amendment was adopted, and in the 1980s when the Drinking Age Act was passed. In the 21st century, it still remains 21.

Possession of alcohol is prohibited except at a private location, with a parent or legal guardian, or with a spouse that’s over 21. California has a rule about any private location, but that excludes possession in a motor vehicle. California’s law about alcohol possession by a person who’s less than 21 has an exception for a responsible adult relative, but it doesn’t talk about which relatives are included. Youth can purchase alcohol for law enforcement purposes though. Furnishing alcohol to minors is never allowed under any circumstances. Of course, this would not be true in the case of being in a private location with a responsible parent or adult guardian. If you’re unsure about any of California’s drinking laws, consult a local lawyer.




  1. Scott E Lundbergh says:

    I find this explanation a little vague. A person under 21 may drink as long as it is in private but the parent cannot furnish the alcohol. They cannot possess it or purchase it, but can drink it?

  2. Desiree Grossland says:

    Can you drink at the age of 19 in the state of California? Making a trip this summer and wanna know!

  3. Tracy says:

    It’s illegal to drink AT ALL under the age of 21 in California. This article did sound confusing, however, maybe I can clarify it a bit for you. Let’s say you’re a 20 yr old male, married to a 21 yr old female. If she’s in the car with you and you have beer unopened in the back seat, you won’t get arrested. If the 21 yr old wife IS NOT in the vehicle and you’re taking it home to her, you will get arrested for being a minor in possession. Same with parents. If you’re 18 and have beer, arrested. If parents are with you and as long as you aren’t drinking, you won’t get arrested. Trust me when I say to wait until you’re 21…..then go to either Lake Tahoe or Vegas to have your first drink. You’ll never forget it!!! Your friends will make it a LOT more special if they know you’re’re an alcohol virgin. Trust me, it’ll be worth the wait!

  4. Tracy says:

    Ok, I read that again and now I’m confused again, too. I have a friend in law enforcement that I’ll call tomorrow and ask about this. The way they’ve phrased it is that as long as you’re on private property with a parent or “responsible adult”, minors CAN drink. So does that mean you can get your 3 year old drunk, just as long as it’s on “private property”? Sounds fishy to me. Child abuse comes to mind. Baby won’t stop crying? Have a little tequila in that bottle, darling. Am I crazy here, or does this sound totally bogus? I began drinking at an early age and wish I hadnt. Some things just can’t be undone. You think it’s YOU making the choices but it’s the alcohol, & you’re no longer in control. I must also add that I’ve also heard of party mom’s getting arrested for giving alcohol to minors. I’ll find out for sure tomorrow and let you guys know. :-)

  5. Tim says:

    Are you allowed into pubs/clubs if you are 18 in California?

  6. Chrissy says:

    Tim, yes many clubs in California are 18+ and will let you in with a valid I.D.

  7. Katz says:

    What about consumption? If I’m 19 and married to a 23 year old, can my husband and i drink at a bar in CA? or does it have to be private? we are going next week and i got curious but i’m not finding a lot of specific information.

  8. Sandra Veziano says:

    We are going to California this summer with our son, 17 1/2, and his girlfriend who will be 2 months shy of her 18th. I am completely confused. If they have a drink with us in a hotel room or our tent, is that considered private? Are we liable to prosecution? This is weird for us as in the UK it’s 18 to buy, 16 to drink with a meal in a restaurant and any age over 5 (!) at home.


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