Alcohol is a commodity of trade since wine was made from the first crushed grapes. While there are different laws governing its sale, alcohol is basically legal in the United States and Britain. These laws are many and vary in how and when it is sold, and how it can be sold and consumed.

During the Prohibition Era in the US, a nationwide ban on sale, manufacture, and transportation of spirits of any type were made illegal. This law was created by the Eighteenth Amendment to the US constitution, and lasted from 1920 to 1933. The movement leading to this amendment was pushed forward by the Anti-Saloon League. They were led by Protestants of all political persuasion who banded together to make alcoholic beverages illegal. It was a decided failure that led to the formation of outlaw “moonshiners” who created deadly concoctions of alcohol (grain or wood) and sold it for drinking in “speakeasies.” These were private clubs, allowing members to drink illegally, and had back exits for escape when police “raided” them. The illegal “moonshine” and “bathtub gin” created during this time caused many to die, go blind, and to suffer from the effects of methanol poisoning. Prohibition also saw the beginnings of the Mafia-type gangsters who profited from the smuggling and sale of illegal alcohol. Laws establishing the legal drinking age in the US have fluctuated. Some states had laws allowing 18 or 19 year-olds drinking rights. Currently, a nationwide law states that a person must be 21 years of age to drink legally.

Laws Vary By State

Laws governing the sale and purchase of alcohol vary from state to state. Some states sell only beer having an alcohol content of 3.2%, while others sell beer having a percentage of alcohol content (standard) of 4-6%. Some states have “dry” counties that do not allow sales of alcohol at all, while others prohibit sales of alcoholic beverages on certain days and times. A liquor store in California is vastly different from one in Utah, as is one in New York. Some mandate the age at which a person may enter the stores, while other states allow liquor to be sold in convenience stores, grocery stores and supermarkets. Many restaurants gauge their business model on whether they serve beer and wine or have a license to dispense and sell “hard” liquor and mixed drinks. Some states have laws against the mixing of drinks and sell only glasses with ice and mixes for those who provide their own alcohol, purchased before entering the club or restaurant.

Hours of operation, for drinking establishments, are relatively standard, from state to state. Either 6 or 7am until either 1am or 2am fits the majority of the states, while Louisiana has a 24-hour legal drinking law. Some states mandate that certain hours are not legal for the sale of alcohol. At one time, nationwide laws existed to ban alcohol sales on election days, but few states adhere to this law today. Other states have specific laws governing drinking days and times, while some are governed by religious groups within those jurisdictions.

Other laws created around alcohol use and consumption are those that govern driving under the influence and being “drunk in public” or under the influence while causing a public disturbance. Risks to self and others are the reason for many of these laws. Alcohol becomes an illegal substance primarily upon consumption of an amount deemed to impair the drinker’s ability to function, either in public settings or to operate motor vehicles or heavy equipment and machinery. Blood alcohol content is a standard measure used to determine when a person is legally “under the influence,” and has been lowered over the years as drunk driving has become a deadly social problem. Nationwide, the limit set for blood alcohol is .08. For a variety of reasons, this amount will be different for everyone. According to weight, body size, and whether a meal has been consumed with or before consuming alcohol, these factors determine how much and how fast this level is reached for each person.

Statistics cited reveal that in 2001, 41 percent of all traffic deaths (over 17,000) were related to drunk drivers.

Some states (36 at this time) have enacted legislation governing the liability of those who serve alcohol to persons involved in traffic accidents. These are known as “dramshop” laws and sometimes extend to a host who serves alcohol in a private home.

Drinking Laws in Canada and the UK

The legal drinking age in Canada depends on the province and territory, with it either being 18 or 19. Canada also has strict blood alcohol laws, with an imprisonment sentence up to five years. The legal drinking age in Britain is 18 years old. If caught while driving under the influence, a six-month imprisonment and up to a 5000 euro fine can result.

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