At the store I used to work at, if you ask for ID, the customer NEEDS to provide it. They could have grey hair, a cane, and even be verified as 21+ by someone else, and it still wouldn't matter. We were told that this was Washington State law. I've had this happen before and when the customer doesn't believe me, I call my manager and they repeat that it is the law. Recently someone said that isn't true, and in researching it, I haven't been able to confirm either way.

I've seen things about an ID not being necessary, but it doesn't specifically mention anything about if they had been asked for their ID already.

SO: Once you have asked for ID, is it necessary to see the ID before selling Alcohol, even if the person looks old enough?

Edit: I feel that maybe I was a bit confusing in this question. I am specifically interested in exactly where the line between policy and law is. I understand why the laws are in place, I don't understand what the minimum requirement is, and what is just trying to cover the bases just in case.

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    @Nij I don't understand the question. Do you mean why would I ask in the first place? Accident/Misjudging Age/ Autopilot and don't look at the customer. Or do you mean why would I then decide to sell it to them without an ID? I would not (as I would have been fired for doing so), but the reasons to consider it are: They have grey hair and are obviously old enough/They start yelling/A coworker says they have carded them before/ etc.
    – user14261
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 3:53
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    @Nij don't understand why you are talking about this. As I said: I would NOT sell to them. Further, comments are not for answers, if you have an answer, please write it below. Just looking for the exact line between law and policy
    – user14261
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 4:07
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    @AytAyt Maybe you should just ask "Am I required to verify ID before I sell someone alcohol?" Saying "he looks 90 years old" is still a red herring because it's how old the person actually is, not how old they look, that is legally relevant. Just to make up a dumb situation: suppose a high school drama student puts on old-looking clothes, gets aging makeup (the kind used in movies) and uses voice acting to convince you he is a senior-aged man. Then you tell the judge "well, he looked old enough" when you get busted. I don't think that is going to matter.
    – Brandin
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 16:48
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    @AytAyt If you found an answer and can cite the sources, then it's better to add your own answer to your own question. That way others that find this and had a similar or same question can benefit from it.
    – Brandin
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 16:55
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    Extremely Relevant: seattletimes.com/seattle-news/…
    – abelenky
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 22:50

4 Answers 4


It is illegal to sell alcohol to a minor in Washington (RCW 66.44.270). The seller can get into various kinds of trouble, including losing their license, under liquor board regulations. However, as long as the establishment follows the rules for acceptable ID, they escape liability if in fact they sell alcohol to a minor: the license holder is legally allowed to accept an identification of the specific type. That is the sense in which this is required by law: the customer must have actually presented the identification, in order for the establishment to escape liability (RCW 66.20.210). Looking old enough is not the issue. It is legal to sell alcohol to a person who is over 21, and the law does not require presentation of identification as a condition for a sale. However, under RCW 66.20.180 a person is require to produce ID "upon request of any licensee, peace officer, or enforcement officer of the board". The legal risk attached to sales in an age-marginal situation is very high, and actual presentation of ID is required to escape liability by the establishment, so in that sense, it is "required by law".

All requests to produce ID for liquor sales (at least in Washington, and leaving out deliveries which are governed by other laws) are driven by company policy. Typical policies are quite rational, being designed to protect the company's interest in not getting into a heap of trouble for an under-age sale. There is no law saying when you must ask, or when you are protected if you don't ask. Usually, store policy is to use "common sense" so that 90 year olds are not required to produce ID (they may be asked, jokingly).

Non-compliance with RCW 66.20.180 carries no legal penalty, that is, there is nothing in the statute that says "if the customer doesn't...". The most obvious would be that the seller would refuse to sell, which the seller can arbitrarily do anyhow. There is no statutory penalty imposed on a licensee if they request ID of a person over 21 and the person fails / refuses to produce the ID. Obviously, the licensee cannot be punished if a customer fails to provide ID (and leaves), especially if they lost it. But the law "requires" them to provide an ID, with ne except "unless you leave / put the bottle back". Somewhat less obviously, if the legislature wants to, it can enact a provision that once a licensee requests ID, they are forbidden to sell alcohol to that customer until ID is provided. But there currently is no such law.

"The law" also included regulations, such as WAC 314-17-105. This regulation is a chart, and the relevant entry is

PERMIT: Failure to produce permit or identification upon request. See RCW 66.20.310 and 66.20.180.

for which the 1st offense consequence is "5-day permit suspension OR $100 monetary option". This is a problematic regulation (potential lawsuit fodder), since it can be interpreted in a number of ways. The question is, of whom is the permit or identification predicated? Only the licensee has a permit, but customers and employees can both have identification. If we interpret this regulation as meaning "Failure by licensee or customer", then we arrive at the absurd conclusion that if a customer fails to produce ID on request, the establishment is fined. It is important to note that this regulation is under a chapter about server training, thus the regulation can only reasonably be interpreted as being about licensee providing identification.

  • I will be accepting your great answer, but just a minor point: You say "There is no law saying "if you ask, they must show". It seems like that statement is incorrect. I made an answer which contains exactly that law (RCW 66.20.180). It states "a valid card of identification must be presented by the holder if requested"
    – user14261
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 21:46
  • Further, that situation (Customer jokingly says "Don't you want to see my ID" or clerk jokingly says "Well I'm gonna need to see some ID, youngster"), our store policy was that they then HAD to present ID, no matter what. I've had to turn away people who made jokes like that. But that was definitely store policy.
    – user14261
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 21:49
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    Rather famously: Former WA Governor Christine Gregoire (age 61 at the time) tried to enter a bar with her full entourage of security and staff, but didn't have her ID (Governors don't usually carry a purse/wallet). The bouncer refused to let her in, even though as a public persona she was well known, and clearly over 21. (seattletimes.com/seattle-news/…)
    – abelenky
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 22:49

I have been looking through the Washington Liquor Control Board website for more information. On the FAQ page, there is this quote:

Does State law require ID checking when selling alcohol or tobacco?

No. ID checking is not required by state liquor laws but a valid card of identification must be presented by the holder if requested by any licensee or employee, peace officer, or enforcement officer of the board. RCW 66.20.180

(emphasis mine) This answers the main issue I was wondering about. You are not necessarily required to ask for ID when someone wants to buy alcohol (although, as other answers have pointed out, it is a really really good idea to do so), but if you ask for ID, then the person MUST present it. There is still the issue of asking someone for their ID, then looking up and seeing a 90 year old. My manager has OK'd me to sell alcohol in that case before, and (as far as I can tell) that violates no law, because it is the licensee who has allowed them to purchase the alcohol.

Link to actual law

  • Good catch. One word makes things even more complex.
    – user6726
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 22:21
  • That's exactly how I feel!
    – user14261
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 22:24
  • I disagree with your interpretation. By editing the words of the law you have removed the context and created an absolute - “must”. (You even emphasized it) “Must” is only for a purpose that may or may not be required. Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 18:30
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    Because by your interpretation the Governor would have violated the law in this instance: seattletimes.com/seattle-news/… The mere act of asking doesn’t bind someone to a legal requirement: They can always exercise the right to simply leave, unless of course they are already in the establishment and are drinking, in which case law enforcement might have reasonable suspicion that a violation has occurred. Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 19:54

Generally speaking a store has the legal right to refuse service to anyone.

So if you request identity and a person refuses to show it to you, you are allowed to refuse to sell alcohol to them.

For your jurisdiction, I'm guessing it's just illegal to sell alcohol to minors, not that anyone who has their identity requested must show it.

So to clarify: the risk falls on the shopowner. He may choose not to ask for ID, but if the person is a minor, he will get in trouble.


If a person is obviously over 21, you are not required by the state to ask for ID. That is up to the establishment where you are employed. Someone on this thread gave a ridiculous response, saying perhaps I minor DRESSED UP like a 90 year old. Lol. Right. Anyway, it is up to the proprietary. When the liquor board comes into a bar, they approach YOUNG people and ask them to produce ID. The whole point is not selling to minors. Period. I think businesses that force EVERYONE to provide ID lose business. Sometimes the older person has ID. They are just not going to show you because they think it's absurd that you would mistake them for a 20 year old.

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