Before 1955, the California Alcohol Beverage Commission (CABC) was a division of the state tax collections department, the California Board of Equalization. In 1955, the CABC became an independent organization and broadened its scope, particularly as a result of a 1951 California Supreme Court decision mandating that a liquor license could not be suspended because an establishment catered to homosexual individuals. The CABC currently oversees all alcohol-related affairs in the state of California and has two district offices that cover both Northern and Southern California with 24 local offices within the state.
CABC regulates and supervises all statewide statutes associated with the use and purchase of alcohol. CABC has the power to regulate and oversee the manufacture and importation of all alcoholic beverages in the state as well as exclusive power regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages. CABC basically inspects, sets compliance standards, and administers the statutes regarding the legal sale and possession of alcohol within the state, and has the power to grant or deny licenses to sell alcohol after a legal hearing.
Information in the article comes directly from the California Alcohol Beverage Commission website. The information in this article is also of a very general nature and more specific and in-depth interpretations of the laws can be found on the state website and on other legal websites associated with the State of California.
- Definition of an alcoholic beverage: According to state statutes, beverages that contain less than one-half of 1 percent alcohol are not considered to be alcoholic beverages.
- Legal age to drink alcohol: The legal age is 21 years old.
- Legal age to serve alcohol: For bartenders and servers, the legal age is 21 years of age. To serve alcohol in a legitimate restaurant, or where the primary purpose of the establishment is to serve food and alcohol is an incidental part of the overall duties of the server, the legal age is 18. Bartenders are defined by the state as individuals who primarily mix and serve alcoholic beverages; cocktail servers are defined as individuals whose primary purpose is to serve alcoholic beverages. These definitions can obviously be a bit vague in some establishments, but typically when the primary purpose of the establishment is to serve alcohol, only individuals who are 21 can serve it.
- Legal age to pour alcohol: The legal age for bartenders and cocktail servers is 21. When alcohol is served in a place where the primary service is food, and alcohol is an incidental part of the server’s overall duties, individuals 18 and over can pour alcohol. The same designations listed above apply here.
- Laws regarding training for individuals serving alcoholic beverages: There appear to be no state laws that regulate training for individuals who serve alcohol. Some specific municipalities may have specific regulations regarding server training.
- Maximum level of alcohol per drink: There are no state requirements.
- Maximum number of drinks one can serve at one time: There are no state requirements.
- General issues regarding minors and the sale of alcohol: It is illegal to serve or sell alcohol to any person under the age of 21, and these persons are not allowed to enter any establishment where the primary purpose of the establishment is to sell alcohol unless they are entering it for some lawful business transaction. These are what the state refers to as green-colored ABC licenses. Pink-colored licenses are given to establishments where the primary purpose of the establishment is not the sale of alcohol but alcohol is sold there; minors are allowed to be present in these establishments.
- Host liability issues: According to state laws, professional establishments are generally not held liable for damage occurring as a result of an intoxicated adult who procured alcohol at a restaurant or bar (though these are subject to interpretation and legal situations). Private individuals serving alcohol appear to be offered the same rather general protections. However, both professional establishments and private hosts can be held liable for serving alcohol to minors. Some of the liability laws listed on the state website include:
- Sale to an intoxicated person: maximum penalty of $1,000 and/or six months in county jail
- Sale of alcohol to a habitual drunkard (obviously defined by the courts): maximum penalty of $1,000 and/or six months in county jail
- Sale of alcohol during prohibited hours: maximum fine of $1,000 and/or six months in county jail
- Sale to minors: maximum fine of $250 and/or 24-32 hours of community service
- Sale to minors second offense: maximum fine of $500 and/or 36-48 hours of community service
- Furnishing alcohol to a minor: fines of up to $1,000 and 24 hours community service
- Furnishing alcohol to a minor that results in great bodily injury or death: minimum six months in jail and/or maximum $1,000 fine
- Minor in a public area such as a bar: penalty for licensee is a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or six months in county jail; penalty for the minor is a fine of not less than $200
- Sales of alcohol: Sales of alcohol are permitted between 6 a.m. and 2 a.m. the next day unless there are certain special restrictions. This applies to both retail stores and other establishments (e.g., bars and restaurants).
- Identification that is acceptable for the purchase of alcohol: The State Regulatory Committee recommends that only bona fide and valid government agency-issued identification cards that have the person’s name, photograph, date of birth, and physical description, and are valid (have not expired), be accepted. There is no mandatory designation of a recommended age to card an individual (e.g., the individual appears to be at a specific age or younger).
- Specials and happy hour regulations: According to the statutes, it is illegal to offer free drinks, two-for-one drink specials, or other similar values relating to alcohol sales. The establishment can offer food and drink combination specials as long as the alcoholic drink is not free and the price of the meal alone is less than the price of the meal and the alcoholic drink together.
Penalties for Drinking and Driving Offenses
- First offense: Four days to six months in jail, fines of up to $1,000, license suspension of 30 days to one year, and an ignition interlock device may be required in some counties
- Second offense: Ten days to one year in jail, up to $1,800 in fines, license suspension for 1-2 years, and ignition interlock device required
- Third offense: A range of 120 days to one year in jail, up to $1,800 in fines, license suspension for three years, and ignition interlock device required
- Fourth offense (within 10 months of third offense): Sixteen months in jail, up to $18,000 in fines, license suspension of four years, and ignition interlock device required
Of course, in each condition, the actual fine and penalty will be decided by the court.
Penal Code 647(f)
Public intoxication is not a crime in California; however, there is a code that can be enforced when an individual is extremely intoxicated. Typically, the code is enforced when the person is so intoxicated that they cannot care for their own safety or the safety of others, or the person is so intoxicated that they prevent others from using “public ways,” such as streets or sidewalks
The violation of this code is a misdemeanor. It can result in up to a $1,000 fine and up to six months in the county jail.