Frequently Asked Questions


These are ABC's most frequently asked questions about:

Q. 57. Are local authorities empowered to enforce the Act?

A. Yes. It is the duty of every peace officer and every district attorney in this State to enforce the provisions of the Act. (Section 25619)

Q. 58. May local law enforcement agencies use minor decoys to buy alcoholic beverages from licensed premises?

A. Yes. The California Supreme Court has held that the Decoy Program is legal and not entrapment. The Decoy Program allows local law enforcement agencies to use persons under age 20 as decoys to buy alcoholic beverages from licensed premises. The decision to use the Decoy Program is up to each law enforcement agency.

Law enforcement agencies that choose to use the Decoy Program must follow these rules:

  • The decoy must be under 20 years old;
  • The decoy must appear under 21 years old;
  • The decoy must carry his or her own I.D. showing the decoy's correct date of birth or carry no I.D. A decoy who carries I.D. shall present it upon request to any seller of alcoholic beverages;
  • The decoy must answer truthfully any questions about his or her age; and
  • After the sale, the decoy must identify the seller, face to face.
  • After completion of a decoy program the law enforcement agency must notify licensees of the results, whether or not the licensees violated the law.

(Rule 141, California Code of Regulations and Section 25658)

Q. 59. Does ABC have a staff of employees whose duty it is to enforce the Act? How are they identified?

A. Yes. ABC employs investigators who are peace officers to enforce the penal provisions of the Act. (Section 25755)
These officers are identified by a gold badge and by a plastic identification card, which bears the investigator's picture and states "State Peace Officer."

Q. 60. May the licensee refuse an ABC investigator permission to examine the licensee's books and records pertaining to the licensed business?

A. No. Any licensee who refuses to permit ABC investigators to make an inspection or an examination of books and records for which provision is made in the Act is guilty of a misdemeanor. In addition, it is a misdemeanor for a licensee to falsify or to fail to keep books and records required to be kept under the provisions of the Act or the regulations of the Department.
(Sections 25617, 25751, 25753 and 25755)

Q. 61. What should a licensee know about ABC investigators and local law enforcement officers?

A. Police officers, sheriff's deputies, and ABC investigators are all sworn law enforcement officers (peace officers) with powers of arrest. Whether in plain clothes or uniform, peace officers have the legal right to visit and inspect any licensed premises at any time during business hours without a search warrant. This includes inspecting the bar and back bar, store room, office, closed or locked cabinets, safes, kitchen, or any other area within the licensed premises. It is legal and reasonable for licensees to exclude the public from some areas of the premises. However, licensees cannot and must not deny entry to, resist, delay, obstruct, or assault a peace officer.
(Sections 25616, 25753 and 25755; Sections 148 and 242 Penal Code)

Q. 62. What are Retail Operating Standards?

A. The law requires stores (license Types 20 and 21), bars, and taverns (license Types 40, 42, 48, and 60) to do the following:

  1. Post "No Loitering" signs upon written notice from the Department
  2. Post "No Open Container" signs upon written notice from the Department
  3. Prohibit consumption of alcoholic beverages on the premises of a Type 20 or 21 license
  4. Illuminate the exterior of the premises during all hours of darkness when open for business
  5. Remove litter daily from the premises, adjacent sidewalks and parking lots under the licensee's control and sweep/clean these areas weekly.
  6. Remove graffiti from the premises and parking lot within 120 hours of application.
  7. Have no more than 33% of windows covered with advertising or signs.
  8. Have incoming calls blocked at pay phones upon request of local law enforcement or ABC.
  9. 9. Have a copy of the operating standards available during normal business hours for viewing by the general public. (The above requirements do not apply to restaurants [License Types 41 and 47], convention centers, exhibit halls, auditoriums, ballparks, stadiums, coliseums, hotels, motels, a certain marine park, wineries, or beer manufacturers.)
    (Section 25612..5)

Q. 63. Are there restrictions that apply to the sale of adult videos and adult magazines?

A. Yes. Any person who sells, rents, gives or shows harmful matter to a person under age 18 is guilty of a misdemeanor. Harmful matter includes, but is not limited to, a book, magazine, newspaper, or video tape that ". . . depicts or describes in a patently offensive way sexual conduct and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors."
If a licensee sells or rents videos of harmful matter, he must create an area within the licensed premises for the placement of the videos and label it, "Adults Only."
If a licensee sells books or magazines of harmful matter, he should contact the local police or sheriff's department to find out what local ordinances may apply. Some cities and counties require "blinder racks" in front of such material. (Sections 313, 313.1 and 313.4 Penal Code)

Q. 64. Is there any requirement with regard to interior lighting of retail premises?

A. Yes. There shall be sufficient interior light in retail premises to make easily discernible the appearance and conduct of all persons in the premises. This is to assist in enforcement so far as minors and intoxicated persons are concerned and to aid the licensee in this respect. (Rule 139)

Q. 65. What is a disorderly house?

A. A disorderly house is a licensed premises that disturbs the neighborhood or is maintained for purposes which are injurious to the public morals, health, convenience or safety. For example, a licensed outlet that (a) disturbs the neighborhood with noise, loud music, loitering, littering, vandalism, urination or defecation by patrons, graffiti, etc.; or (b) has many crimes ongoing inside, such as drunks, fights, assaults, prostitution, narcotics, etc. The licensed premises includes the parking lot.
Any licensee, or employee of any licensee, who keeps or permits such a disorderly house is guilty of a misdemeanor, and the license is subject to disciplinary action. (Sections 25601 and 24200)

Q. 66. Is a licensee responsible for correcting nuisance conditions on or about the licensed premises?

A. Yes. Upon notice, a licensee must take reasonable steps to correct objectionable, nuisance conditions on or about the licensed premises and on abutting public sidewalks up to 20 feet from the premises. A licensee must correct the conditions within a reasonable period of time after receiving notice. The conditions include disturbance of the peace, public drunkenness, drinking in public, harassment of passersby, gambling, prostitution, loitering, public urination, lewd conduct, drug trafficking, or excessive loud noise. Exception: Restaurants (License Types 41 and 47), hotels, motels, wineries, and beer manufacturers are not responsible for correcting nuisance conditions on abutting public sidewalks. (Section 24200[e][f][g])

Q. 67. If a licensee violates the Pure Food and Drug Laws (Health and Safety Code), may his license be suspended or revoked?

A. Yes. A violation of any penal provisions of law of California prohibiting or regulating the sale, exposing for sale, use, possession, giving away, adulteration, dilution, misbranding or mislabeling of alcoholic beverages is ground for suspension or revocation of licenses. (Section 24200)

Q. 68. May a retail licensee import alcoholic beverages from outside the State?

A. No. Only persons holding importer's licenses are permitted to have alcoholic beverages shipped to them into the State. (Sections 23355 and 23374)

Q. 69. May any person other than a licensed importer bring alcoholic beverages into this State?

A. Yes, under certain limited conditions. Any adult may bring into this State from without the United States up to 60 liters of alcoholic beverages when traveling by common carrier and when the beverages accompany the adult traveler. The beverages may not be shipped to this State at a later date. California adult residents returning from Mexico by motor vehicle or on foot may only bring in one liter of alcoholic beverages (the duty free amount) for personal or household use. Any adult may receive no more than two cases (9 liters each case) of wine per month from another state which affords California residents an equal reciprocal shipping privilege.
(Sections 23661 and 23661.2)

Q. 70. With regard to purchase, consumption or possession of alcoholic beverages, what is the age of majority?

A. The age of majority for these purposes is 21 years of age. (Section 22 of Article XX, California Constitution)

Q. 71. What is the penalty for a person who furnishes alcohol to a minor?

A. A minimum $1,000 fine and 24 hours of community service. If a person buys alcohol and furnishes it to a minor who consumes it and causes great bodily injury or death to himself or others, the furnisher faces a minimum 6-12 months in county jail and a $1,000 fine. (Sections 25658(a), 25658(c) and 25658(e)(2)(3))

Q. 72. Would the licensee be in violation of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act for selling an alcoholic beverage to a person under 21 who appeared to be twenty-one years of age or older?

A. Yes, the licensee is required to exercise the caution which would be shown by a reasonable and prudent person in the circumstances. (Section 25658)

Q. 73. Is there anything a licensee or an employee may do to prevent selling to minors?

A. A licensee is authorized to demand documentary evidence of the age and identity of any person prior to the sale whenever there is the slightest doubt of the age of the prospective patron. Proof that a licensee was shown bona fide identification of the age and identity of the person, and in good faith relied on the evidence, establishes a defense. (Section 25660)
A 1999 amendment to Section 25659 says a licensee or an employee may seize an ID that shows the person is under 21, or that is false. A receipt must be given, and the ID turned over to the local law enforcement agency within 24 hours.
A licensee or employee has the right to refuse service to any person whose majority is questionable. (Section 25659)
A public premises licensee must post a sign visible from each public entrance and a similar sign inside reading "No Person Under 21 A1lowed." (Rule 107)
Training for licensees and their employees on how to prevent sales to minors and other violations is available through ABC's LEAD Program, or a private training provider. Contact the local ABC District Office for more information.

Q. 74. What is documentary evidence of age and identity?

A. To be suitable as evidence for a defense, the identification card must be issued by a governmental agency and have a current description and a picture of the person presenting it which reasonably describes the person as to date of birth weight, height, sex and color of eyes and hair. No defense will exist if the card has obviously been altered or has expired. A registration certificate issued under the Federal Selective Service Act is no longer considered documentary evidence of age, identity and date of birth. (Section 25660)

Q. 75. What other defense is available to a licensee accused of selling to minors?

A. A licensee accused of selling to minors has only three defenses:

  • No sale or serving of alcoholic beverages was made to the minor.
  • The person sold or served is in fact twenty-one years of age or older.
  • The person to whom the alcoholic beverage was sold or served furnished bona fide documentary evidence of majority and identity as described in Q.74. An example would be a motor vehicle operator's license or an identification card issued by the Armed Forces which the licensee in good faith carefully examined and reasonably relied upon as such evidence. (Section 25660)

Q. 76. May a minor be arrested for purchasing, consuming or possessing alcoholic beverages?

A. Yes. Any one of the above constitutes a misdemeanor. (Sections 25658 and 25662)

Q. 77. Is there any law against minors attempting to purchase alcoholic beverages?

A. Any person under the age of 21 years who attempts to purchase any alcoholic beverage from a licensee, or the licensee's agent or employee, is guilty of an infraction and shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars ($100). (Section 25658.5)