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Can You Buy Alcohol With Vertical or Paper License?

Do You Need License to Buy Alcohol?

Yes, you can buy alcohol with a vertical license or a paper license as long as you are now 21. Vertical (portrait) licenses are used to designate an underage driver, as in under age 21.

It is also used to curtail underage drinking, and so that establishments that require age verification will know immediately that they are dealing with someone under 21. However, you could be 21 or over and still be carrying a vertical license.

You can still buy alcohol with a vertical license as long as your ID shows that you’re 21. Obviously, nobody can get a new horizontal ID until after their 21st birthday and it would be unreasonable to expect them to do it on their birthday so they can order a drink.

However, the person selling you the alcohol can deny the purchase simply because your ID says underage. Yes, they can also do the math and find out that you are not underage, but they don’t have to accept that form of ID for alcohol purchases.

While understandably frustrating for those newly christened 21-year olds who still have their vertical license, it is perfectly legal for restaurants and bars to not serve alcohol to them based on the type of ID they produce.

Even though the federal government has given the flexibility to individual states regarding statutes pertaining to the use of alcohol, it does retain the ability to use tax incentives and federal funding to get states to support certain alcohol policies. One of these policies is the establishment of a legal age for drinking alcohol.

The Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984 established the minimum legal drinking age as 21 years old, and almost every state concurs with that standard, although there are some exceptions that states in various localities may recognize.

The federal government can withhold certain percentages of federal funding if states do not abide by this minimum standard. Again, most states abide by the minimum standard; however, there are some exceptions in some states that allow individuals under the age of 21 to drink alcohol with parents, certain family members, or guardians.

Have it in mind that the specification of who actually qualifies as a guardian or family member also tends to vary depending on the state that has this policy.

Additionally, some localities may choose to extend this exception to allow individuals under the age of 21 to drink alcohol within their own private residence or in the residence of a parent or guardian. One can check with their state website to see how these exceptions may be applied in their specific locality.

However, in the majority of states, the legal age to serve alcohol is 21 in establishments where alcohol sales are the main function (e.g., a bar or lounge). In establishments where the main purpose is to serve food, states often lower this requirement to 18.

The legal age for bartenders is 21 in most states, but again, the nature of the business can result in certain exceptions. Most states require that an individual present a government-issued identification card with a picture on it in order to verify that the individual is qualified to purchase alcoholic beverages; however, there may be different interpretations of acceptable forms of identification from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Also, note that many states have strict regulations regarding the use of “happy hours” or other specials in facilities that serve alcoholic beverages. In most cases, establishments cannot offer free alcoholic beverages in combination with other alcoholic beverages (e.g., two-for-one drink specials) or free alcohol with meals.

Other Factors Associated With Sale and Possession of Alcoholic Beverages

Note that the regulation of the sale of alcoholic beverages has been turned over to state and local authorities. Even though different states will have different statutes of limitations regarding who can sell alcohol and who can purchase alcohol.

The federal government formally defines an alcoholic beverage as any beverage containing over 0.05 percent alcohol, and most states honor this limit; however, there may be some variability within certain states and localities. Here are few other factors associated with sales and possession of alcoholic beverages in the United States;

  1. Penalties Associated with Illegal Possession, Use, or Sale of Alcohol

Penalties for the illegal sale of alcohol, violating statutes regarding the sale of alcohol to minors, possession of alcohol by minors, etc., tend to vary from state to state and from locality to locality. Also, different states regulate who can enter businesses, such as a bar, where the main business purpose of the establishment is to serve alcoholic beverages.

Note that some states do not allow any individuals under the age of 18 to enter these premises, whereas other states have different specifications.

  1. Penalties Associated with Serving Alcohol to a Pregnant Woman

Only 18 states formally prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages to pregnant women. Note that the determination of liability, penalties for drinking while pregnant, etc., are established on a case-by-case basis in states where there is no specific law that prohibits serving alcoholic beverages to a pregnant woman.

For some, this issue has generated some controversy when the State of New York ruled that refusal to serve a pregnant woman was a violation of the individual’s rights. Meanwhile, some states have different regulations that may allow authorities to charge a woman with a criminal offense if she has delivered a baby that has a diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome.

  1. Illegal Intoxication

Note that the standard measure of the amount of alcohol in an individual’s system is known as blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is commonly expressed in terms of a percentage. An individual who has a measured a BAC of 0.08 percent has eight parts of alcohol per 10,000 parts of blood in their system.

BAC levels are more or less often detected by an analysis of an individual’s breath, urine, or blood. Note that some jurisdictions specify the preferred or required type of measurement that can be used for legal determinations of intoxication.

Notably, there is no standard level of alcohol consumption that will result in a specific BAC level in anyone. So many factors interact with the amount of alcohol an individual uses to produce a specific BAC level in an individual. These factors include the individual’s weight, their gender, amount of food consumption, individual differences in metabolism, etc.

All states and local jurisdictions have adopted laws regarding minimum BAC level to establish limits of legal intoxication for driving and public intoxication. If an individual has a BAC level above this limit, the individual has committed a violation regardless of any other evidence that the person is sober or intoxicated.

Also have it in mind that the maximum level of alcohol per drink, and the maximum number of drinks one can serve an individual at one time, varies from state to state and location to location. States have specific regulations regarding the retail sale of alcoholic beverages and the licensing of businesses allowing them to sell different types of alcoholic beverages.


In most jurisdictions in the United States, a vertical (or portrait) license is issued to individuals under the age of 21, so that it is apparent at a glance that they are not legally able to purchase alcohol. After 21, they are able to be issued a horizontal (or landscape) license. You could be 21 or over and still be carrying a vertical license.

The establishment has a duty to verify that you are at least 21 if you are purchasing alcoholic beverages or entering a club or an adult entertainment venue. When you turn 21, your license is still valid, and you can now do those things that only 21+ can do, even with a vertical license. But you can go to the DMV and get an updated license if you want.