The Catholic University of America

Summary of District of Columbia Laws

Miscellaneous Laws

"D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Act"

D.C. Code Ann. § 25-1002 et seq. and DC Code §25.101 et seq. for Licenses

The Law: The Act requires that everyone (including individuals, partnerships, associations, and corporations) obtain a license in order to manufacture for sale, keep for sale, or sell any alcoholic beverage within the District (including if it will actually sell outside the District). It prohibits the sale to, and consumption of alcoholic beverages by, individuals under the age of 21 years.

Licenses: The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is in charge of issuing licenses to individuals, partnerships, or corporations (not unincorporated associations). The Board may establish certain requirements (which must be in writing and include their rationale) if it determines that such requirements are in the best interests of the location where the establishment is located.

No person without a license may purchase alcoholic beverages and supply them to a minor, nor otherwise offer, give, provide or make such beverages available to them, except to perform lawful employment duties. Penalties for violation of this provision include a fine of no more than $1,000, imprisonment for no more than 180 days, or both. See D.C. Code Ann. § 25-102.

There are many different kinds of licenses classified under the law. See D.C. Code Ann. § 25-110 et.seq. Application for a license must be filed with the Alcohol Control Board in the form prescribed by the Mayor, containing (but not limited to) the following information:

  1. the name and address of the individual, or the names and addresses of each member of the partnership, or the names and addresses of each of the corporation's principal officers and its stockholders with 25% or more of its common stock;

  2. name and address of the true and actual owner of the establishment and where it is located, including the nature of the operation proposed (i.e. food to be offered, type of entertainment, food and services offered and hours of operation);

  3. class of license sought;

  4. address of establishment for which the license is sought, including its size and design; and

  5. proximity to the nearest public, private, or parochial elementary, junior high, or high school.

One must file for amendment if substantial changes are made in the nature of the operation.

In addition, an applicant must demonstrate that the license is appropriate considering the locale. In making this determination, the Board will look to such evidence as the effect on real property values; peace, order, and quiet; parking needs and vehicular and pedestrian safety; and length of time establishment has held previous licenses or if transfer is appropriate. For more detailed information on qualifications, go to the DC Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration

Age Limit: The District age limit for consumption, purchase, or possession of alcoholic beverages is 21 years of age. An exception for employees under age 21 exists which allows one to possess alcoholic beverages if it is necessary to perform lawful employment responsibilities. It is unlawful to falsely represent one's age or possess or present false identification in order to purchase alcoholic beverages or for the purpose of entering an establishment that sells liquor. See D.C. Code Ann. § 25-1002. In the summer of 2003, in the case of Cass v. DC; 829 A. 2d 480 (D.C. C.A. 2003) the District of Columbia Court of Appeals held as follows:

Thus, the language and structure of the ABC Act, as well as its legislative history, lead us to conclude that the possession of alcoholic by a person under twenty-one is punishable only by a civil fine as described in D.C. Code § 25-130 (b-2) and suspension of driving privileges under D.C. Code § 25-130 (c), and is not a criminal offense.

In response to this decision, in July of 2004 the DC Council adopted emergency legislation  making possession or drinking when under age 21 a civil as opposed to a criminal offense. This is codified at D.C. Code Ann. § 25-1002 (c) (4)(D)

False representation of age and fraudulent use of an ID are still midemeanors under the code. 

Violations of these laws will subject one to a fine of not more than $300 and to revocation of driving privileges in the District for 90 days upon the first offense, $600 and 180 days for the second, and $1,000 and one (1) year for a third violation. For the penalties and further treatment  see D.C. Code Ann. § 25-1002.

See 18 U.S.C. § 1028 for federal criminal penalties in connection with a false ID.

No licensee may permit minors to sell, give, furnish or distribute any alcoholic beverages. However, an individual at least 18 years old may sell, serve, or deliver the beverages on a licensed premise, but may not serve as a bartender. A bartender is defined as one who fixes, mixes, makes, or concocts the alcoholic beverages. See D.C. Code Ann. §§ 25-784(a) and (b).

Recordkeeping is required. DC Code 25-773.

Other Provisions:

Intoxicated persons: It is prohibited to sell, serve, or deliver any alcoholic beverage to an intoxicated person, a person of notoriously intemperate habits, or to one who appears intoxicated. There will be no liability for refusal of sale. Nor shall a licensee permit the consumption of alcohol on the licensed premises by these individuals (including minors), with no liability attached for failure to serve. See D.C. Code Ann. § 25-781(a) and (b).

Proof of age: A licensee must refuse to sell, serve, and deliver alcoholic beverages to individuals who fail to present valid identification. Valid identification consists of official identification issued by a governmental agency which must at least contain the individual's name, date of birth, signature, and photograph. All retail licensees must post a notice of proof of age requirements on the premises which is close to the entry way and in good condition. The licensee may also be required to pose any additional requirements established by the Board. The licensee has a duty to take reasonable steps necessary to ascertain whether an individual is of legal drinking age. See D.C. Code Ann. §§ 25-713 and 25-783.

Penalties for license violations regarding proof of age: A first violation will result in a fine between $1,000 and $2,000, or a suspended license for 10 consecutive days. A second violation will result in a fine between $2,000 and $4,000 and a suspended license for 20 consecutive days. Upon a third violation, a fine between $4,000 and $10,000 will be issued and a suspended license for 30 days, or a revocation of the license. The Alcohol Beverage Control Division will post a notice on the premises regarding any suspension or revocation of a license and the reason for it. See D.C. Code Ann. §§ 25-1002(d) and (e).

Operation of motor vehicles, etc.: One may not be intoxicated and operate a train (as conductor or brakeman), streetcar, elevator, watercraft, or horse drawn vehicle. Penalties include a fine of no more than $300, imprisonment for no longer than three (3) months, or both. See D.C. Code Ann. § 25-1009. (Also see under "Traffic Offenses - Alcohol Related Offenses")

Drinking and intoxication in a public place: It is unlawful to drink or possess alcohol in an opened container in any non licensed premise (including a street or in a place where the public is invited). In addition, no person may be intoxicated and endanger the safety of oneself, others, or of private or public property. Penalties for a violation of this law include a fine of no more than $100, imprisonment for no more than 90 days, or both. See D.C. Code Ann. § 25-1001. Also, see D.C. Code Ann. § 24-604 for additional consequences of public intoxication.

Labeling of containers: Containers sold must have a label which states the nature and percentage of each ingredient (except water), the age of the ingredient, and the alcoholic content by volume. See D.C. Code Ann. § 25-752.

Warning signs of dangers: All vendors (business selling alcoholic beverages at retail) must have a sign in a conspicuous place which says: "Warning: Drinking alcoholic beverages during pregnancy can cause birth defects." The signs can be obtained from the Board free of charge. See D.C. Code Ann. § 25-712.

Keg registration: Licensee must affix a registration seal on keg at the time of sale displaying the registration number, name of the licensee selling the keg, and any other information required by the Board. See D.C. Code Ann. § 25-753.

Updated to include DC Act. 15-493 (Aug. 2, 2004 amendment to 25-1002) and the Cass case.
links updated 4/24/06 pth
Revised NTC 11-7-07
DC code update 2/25/08 RAB
links updated 6/9/08 rab
Page checked August 5th, 2010, FJL.