Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to frequently asked questions about enforcement and violations.

Does ABC have employees who enforce the ABC Act?

Yes, ABC employs Agents who are fully sworn peace officers that enforce the provisions of the ABC Act.

What should a licensee know about ABC Agents and local law enforcement officers?

Police officers, sheriff's deputies, and ABC Agents 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)

Do ABC Agents wear uniforms?

Yes, when they are working in a high-profile capacity. However, ABC Agents typically work in plain clothes.

May the licensee refuse an ABC Agent permission to examine the licensee's books and records pertaining to the licensed business?

No. Any licensee who refuses to permit ABC Agents to inspect or examine their 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)

Are local authorities empowered to enforce the Act?

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)

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

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 per Rule 141, California Code of Regulations and Section 25658:

  • 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.

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

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))

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

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 Allowed." (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.

What is a valid form of identification?

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)

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

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

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

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)

What are Retail Operating Standards?

Retail Operating Standards apply to stores (License Types 20 & 21), bars, and taverns (License Type 40, 42, 48 and 61). They do not apply to bona fide eating places (License Types 41, 47 or 75), convention centers, exhibit halls, auditoriums, ball parks, stadiums, coliseums, hotels, motels, certain marine parks, wineries or beer manufacturers.

You can find detailed information about Retail Operating Standards on our website under Merchant Education. You can also read the law at California Legislative Information.

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

Yes. For detailed information, refer to our Merchant Education section under Harmful Matter

You may also read the pertinent law (Penal Code Section 313.1)  at California Legislative Information.

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

Yes. Rule 139 provides the requirements for interior illumination.

What is a disorderly house?

Information can be found under Intoxicated Persons and Disorderly Premises on our Merchant Education page.

You may also read the relevant laws at the California Legislative Information website. Section 25601 describes a disorderly house and Section 24200 outlines the grounds that constitute a basis for the suspension or revocation of licenses.

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

You can find detailed information under Objectionable Conditions on our Merchant Education page.

You may also read Business and Professions Code Section 24200 at California Legislative Information to learn about the grounds that constitute a basis for the suspension or revocation of licenses.

If a licensee violates the Health & Safety Code, may his license be fined, suspended, or revoked?

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)

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

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

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?

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

Must a beer keg that is sold to consumers be registered?

Every retailer selling keg beer to consumers must place an identification tag on all kegs of beer at the time of sale, and the purchaser must sign a receipt. Keg identification allows kegs to be traced.

Possession of a keg with knowledge that the keg is not identified OR providing false information by the purchaser on the Beer Keg Registration Receipt is a misdemeanor. (Section 25659.5)

May minors be employed in "on-sale" premises?

In a bona fide public eating place, minors between 18 and 21 years of age may serve alcoholic beverages in an area primarily designed and used for the sale and service of food for consumption on the premises as an incidental part of their overall duties. These minors cannot act as bartenders. (Section 25667)

No minor can be employed during business hours on the portion of any premises which is primarily designed and used for the sale and service of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises. There are exceptions, under limited circumstances, with respect to musicians. (Sections 25663 and 25663.5)

May a minor enter and remain in a licensed premises even though the minor does not purchase or consume any alcoholic beverages?

Not if the premises are licensed as an on-sale general public premises, on-sale beer and wine public premises or on-sale beer public premises. There are no restrictions regarding minors entering or remaining on premises licensed for off-sale of alcoholic beverages or premises licensed and maintained and operated as a bona fide public eating place. (Section 25665)

May an off-sale licensee hire minors or use the services of a person under 18 years of age for the sale of alcoholic beverages?

Yes, if the person under 18 years of age is under the continuous supervision of a person 21 years of age or older. (Section 25663[b])

May a habitual drunkard or an obviously intoxicated person be sold alcoholic beverages?

No. Every person who sells, furnishes, gives or causes to be sold, furnished or given away, any alcoholic beverages to any habitual drunkard, or to any obviously intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor. (Section 25602)

How may a licensee determine whether a customer is obviously intoxicated?

A customer is obviously intoxicated when an average person can plainly observe that the patron is intoxicated. The usual signs are staggering, alcoholic breath, slurred speech, poor muscular coordination, etc. (Section 25602)

Is a retail licensee required to close the doors of the licensed premises and not serve alcoholic beverages during the hours that an election is being held?

No. The Legislature has repealed the law which prohibited sales on election days.

What are the lawful hours for retail sale of alcoholic beverages?

From 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. of the following day. In other words, it is unlawful to sell alcoholic beverages either by the drink or by the package, between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. of the same day.

It is also unlawful for any person to knowingly purchase any alcoholic beverages between the hours of 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. (Section 25631)

ABC may further restrict the operating hours of licensed premises. Such restrictions may be imposed in the following situations:

  • If grounds exist for the denial of an application for a license or where a protest against the issuance of a license is filed and if ABC finds that those grounds may be removed by imposition of those conditions;
  • Where findings are made by ABC which would justify a suspension or revocation of a license, and where the imposition of a condition is reasonably related to those findings. In the case of a suspension, the conditions may be in lieu of or in addition to the suspension;
  • Where ABC issues an order suspending or revoking only a portion of the privileges to be exercised under the license;
  • Where findings are made by ABC that the licensee has failed to correct objectionable conditions within a reasonable time after receipt of notice to make corrections given pursuant to subdivision (e) of Section 24200.

At what time must a licensee cease sales of alcoholic beverages when the time changes from standard time to daylight savings time and vice versa?

On the day that a time change occurs from Pacific Standard time to Pacific Daylight time or back again to Pacific Standard time, "2 o'clock a.m." means two hours after 12 o'clock a.m. of the day preceding the day such change occurs. (Section 25631)

May an on-sale licensee stack drinks or sell and serve drinks a few minutes before 2 a.m. and permit patrons to remain on the premises consuming alcoholic beverages after that hour?

No. It is a misdemeanor for any retail licensee or employee of the licensee to permit any person, including himself, to consume alcoholic beverages on the licensed premises between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. of the same day. (Section 25632)

May a retail licensee sell alcoholic beverages to another retailer for resale?

No. The law provides that only a licensed wholesaler, beer manufacturer, winegrower, rectifier or brandy manufacturer may sell alcoholic beverages to retailers, with the exception that an off-sale general licensee may sell distilled spirits to a holder of a daily on-sale general license. (Sections 23402 and 24045.1)

May a licensee sell beer in unlabeled cans or bottles?

No. Beer containers must be labeled and the labels must show the name and address of the manufacturer of the beer and also the bottler of the beer, if other than the manufacturer. Reasonable allowance will be made if the labels slough off in the water cooler, but care should be taken to avoid this. (Section 25200 and Rule 130)

Does the customer who requests an alcoholic drink by brand name have any assurance that the brand ordered will be served?

State law requires that the licensee or employee of the licensee must first inform the purchaser of a substitution of a different type or brand of beverage than that ordered by the patron. The patron then, of course, has the choice of refusing to accept the substitute. If the purchaser is not informed, the licensee or employee is guilty of a misdemeanor. (Section 25609)

May any person have on a licensed premises any alcoholic beverage other than the type authorized by the license?

Generally, licensees may not have or allow customers to have any alcoholic beverage on the premises that are stronger than those named on the license. An exception is made for a bona fide public eating place with an on-sale beer and wine license to have brandy, rum or liqueurs solely for cooking purposes. (Section 25607)

May wine be placed in decanting bottles by an on-sale licensee?

Yes. This may be done at the time of service to patrons for consumption on the premises.

May partially consumed wine bottles be removed from an on-sale licensed premises?

Yes, but only from on-sale licensed premises maintaining a bona fide eating place. (Section 23396.5)

Is the refilling of a distilled spirits bottle unlawful?

Any person who refills a bottle with distilled spirits is guilty of a misdemeanor. It is also unlawful to offer to keep for sale any distilled spirits in a bottle which has been refilled or partly refilled. (Sections 25176 and 25177)

The law which required that empty bottles be broken has been repealed.

May empty distilled spirits bottles be sold by an on-sale general licensee or his employees?

Is there any law prohibiting the use of open pouring spouts?

No, but it should be remembered that the use of open pouring spouts, particularly on slow moving items, can cause either or both of the following violations:

  • Contamination of the beverage by insects. (Insects are particularly attracted to sweet alcoholic beverages.)
  • Loss of proof by evaporation (approximately 4 to 5 proof per year).

Are there any special restrictions for licensees who sell both alcoholic beverages and gasoline?

Yes. Outlets that sell both alcoholic beverages and gasoline must abide by these conditions:

  • No beer or wine shall be displayed within five feet of the cash register or the front door unless it is in a permanently affixed cooler as of January 1, 1988.
  • No advertisement of alcoholic beverages shall be displayed at motor fuel islands.
  • No display or sale of beer or wine shall be made from a drive-in window.
  • No display or sale of beer or wine shall be made from an ice tub.
  • No beer or wine advertising shall be located on motor fuel islands and no self-illuminated advertising for beer or wine shall be located on buildings or windows.
  • Employees on duty between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. who sell beer or wine shall be at least 21 years of age. (Note: Non-selling employees are unregulated.) (Section 23790.5[d])

May a licensee have a cannabis license at their premises also?

No. Refer to Section 25621.5 of the Business and Professions Code.

May a licensee sell any product at their premises that is or contains cannabis?

No. Refer to Section 25621.5 of the Business and Professions Code.


Additional information may be obtained by contacting:

Alcoholic Beverage Control
3927 Lennane Drive, Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95834

Email us at
Call (916) 419-2500