Hello people who know a lot more about alcohol laws than me,

So a general gist of my question is, why is it legal for certain stores to deny the sale of alcohol to me (who is over 21) with a minor present (20 year old).

So some background information on this, on my 21st birthday I went to Sam's club with some friends to buy alcohol for my birthday party, I heard from other people that they would deny sale if not everyone in your party at checkout is over 21, so to avoid that hassle I had my friends just walk right past the checkout line and I purchased it by myself.

Yesterday afternoon I went to a Sam's Club near my place with one of my roommates (she is 20 years old). We were doing some apartment shopping for groceries and misc things for our place, and on the way out I was asked by my parents over the phone to pick up a few bottles of wine for dinner that night. Not thinking to much about it I grabbed a few bottles and threw it in my cart that was piled high with items. Once we shopped for everything on the list, we went to checkout, piled everything on the conveyor belt and had the sales associate scan it all. While I was standing there with my membership card and credit card and my roommate was loading stuff back into the cart, the associate got to the wine bottles and asked for the ID's of both myself AND my roommate for the sale of the alcohol. I argued saying that I was buying the alcohol for personal use not to give to the minor, and she called over her manager who confirmed what she said. That they have to ID everyone at the checkout lane and ensure that they are all over 21. Clearly my roommate couldn't meet that so they took the wine out and we continued our purchase.

Over this past weekend, I went to a Ralph's with my girlfriend (20 years old and she wasn't going to drink) and purchased some beer and mike's hard lemonade. We had a few other things to pick up so she carried one of 24 packs of alcohol to the register while I carried the rest. She went in first, and set the alcohol down and gave it the cashier to scan, and walked right on past to pick it up at the other end. I dropped off my stuff and after that they asked for my ID (which I gave without an issue) and I paid for it all and left. No hassle, no extra questions, nothing else.

I am under the assumption that stores "reserve the right to refuse service to anyone", but how does the denial of sale of alcohol work? Is this Sam's Club policy? Is it a California law? Is it a city/county law?

Some questions(plus the ones right above) that I would like answered if possible:

  • Where is the law/rule that states you can't sell alcohol to a legal adult if a minor is present?
  • Why was I able to purchase it at Ralph's without an issue? Was Ralph's the one in the wrong here for NOT denying the sale?
  • If this law/policy does exist? What is the point of it if I can just make the minor wait outside, purchase it, and give it to them?
  • When I was a kid my Dad purchased alcohol (beer) all the time at Wal-Mart, Ralphs, etc (not at Sam's Club as far as I can recall), and never had this issue. If a minor went with him and he wanted to purchase alcohol, would they deny him for the exact same reason they denied me? If they wouldn't have denied it to him why would they have denied it to me (profiling)?
  • Is the purpose of this law/policy just to make it more difficult to give alcohol to minors? It doesn't change the fact that the person purchasing it is over 21 (and they accept the liabilities if they do end up giving it to a minor) and can just go next door and purchase alcohol there?

I am not pissed that they denied the sale as I should've paid more attention like I did the first time, I was just rather annoyed that I had to drive to another alcohol selling location and pay more there. I am mainly curious as to why this happened.

  • This is apparently a recurring meme with large stores. It is reported that (a) Walmart has in some instances (Des Moise IA) refused to sell alcohol when a minor is present and (b) corporate later says "No, that is not our policy".
    – user6726
    Oct 14, 2018 at 0:11

4 Answers 4


I think this relates to individual stores interpretation of California's "ABC Laws":

§ 25658. Sale to and consumption by person under 21 years of age; Use by peace officers to apprehend sellers of alcoholic beverages to minors

(a) Except as otherwise provided in subdivision (c), every person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away any alcoholic beverage to any person under 21 years of age is guilty of a misdemeanor.

(b) Except as provided in Section 25667 or 25668, any person under 21 years of age who purchases any alcoholic beverage, or any person under 21 years of age who consumes any alcoholic beverage in any on-sale premises, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

(c) Any person who violates subdivision (a) by purchasing any alcoholic beverage for, or furnishing, giving, or giving away any alcoholic beverage to, a person under 21 years of age, and the person under 21 years of age thereafter consumes the alcohol and thereby proximately causes great bodily injury or death to himself, herself, or any other person, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

The last part is the part that scares business owners. Some interpret it as "if they furnish alcohol to you (a person over 21) and have reasonable suspicion that the purchase will be given to the minor, the person furnishing the alcohol is guilty of a misdemeanor".

This is absolutely true in the case of bar owners/bartenders. If they sell somebody a drink, even if that person is over 21, and that drink is then given to a minor, they can be (probably not successfully) held responsible in some form for any injury that person sustains or commits as a result of alcohol consumption.

Some stores take this much more seriously (because a violation can mean the loss/suspension of the liquor license) than others, and it is at the stores discretion to deny the sale based on any suspicion, whether based in reality or not.

  • So I saw those ABC laws, but wouldn't the fault lie with the person who is giving the minor alcohol, NOT with the person selling it? If there ever is a case can't the restaurant/store just say they sold it to the legal adult and he/she are the ones at fault for being the one who "furnishes, gives" the alcohol to the minor? In terms of the bar owner, I can see how they would try to be held responsible, but it doesn't make sense since they aren't the ones actually selling it to the minor. Aug 15, 2018 at 14:26
  • The adult would be at fault, but the seller would also be at fault. If a 21 year old and a 20 year old enter the shop, and the 21 year old buys alcohol, it's a reasonable assumption that the 20 year old may drink half of it. (That said, I was a legal adult at 18, so the whole situation seems ridiculous. With an 18 and 17 year old, it makes a lot more sense to me).
    – gnasher729
    Oct 14, 2018 at 0:14
  • 1
    Also, I think shops will interpret this different if a parent arrives with young children. If a parent buys a bottle of brandy, it's not a reasonable assumption that they will give it to their five year old son, so that would be Ok.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 14, 2018 at 0:16
  • I understand that, but doesn't this fall under profiling or something like that? At what line do you draw that then? In your example what happens if a brother (21+) is with a younger sibling (<21) and buys a bottle of brandy, at what age is that line draw. When the younger sibling is 18? 16? 14? etc? I understand your logic, and I agree, but I am trying to find some legal standpoint on this. All I have found and interpreted (I could have misunderstood however) are the ABC laws but then the adult who gave the minor the alcohol would be at fault, not the one selling it. Jun 7, 2019 at 0:33
  • @97waterpolo even if it is profiling what makes you think it's illegal? The store can't let someone off legal age but alcohol fir someone that's not. In your scenario when i worked as a cashier i would card everyone and not sell if the siblings were questionable and didn't have id. If the sibling was young enough i wouldn't even ask for id. It was my discretion and if the customer argued I'd let the manager decide.
    – Andy
    Jun 15, 2019 at 20:23

There was an incident years ago that set a legal precedent. A young couple came into a mom\pop store to purchase alcohol. The young man was of age, but the girl wasn't. Technically, the cashier did the correct thing by carding the young man.

The couple went out drinking. The girl drank way too much and ended up in the hospital with permanent brain damage. The parents sued the store and won 7.5 million, which shut down the store.

This was the incident that set the legal precedent. So while there may no be a 'law' to dictate the whole group must be carded, it is the business' prerogative to set policies to protect itself.

  • 1
    Thanks for this; it's an interesting result. Do you recall the case citation, by chance?
    – Pat W.
    Feb 27, 2019 at 15:10
  • I'd definitely love to know more about this case, and the lasting impact it has on the ABC law's. Did it occur in California? How old was this case? How was it the stores fault if the young man was the one to give the alcohol to the girl? How is it any different if he had the girl wait in the car instead of going in with him? Mar 1, 2019 at 17:34
  • This case is probably around 7 years old by now, if I remember right. I found an article on it once, but can't find it again. I don't remember where it happened, just what it said had happened. It was a mom & pop store and I remember they lost 7.5 million when they lost the court case. The store couldn't recover from that loss and they had to shut down. Mar 1, 2019 at 20:19
  • Is there any chance you found this case. I would love to know the actual legal outcome of this case. Jun 7, 2019 at 0:37

Part of the problem is you never know who's going to swipe their card in the end. Also, if you see money being exchanged between the two you have to assume it's a community buy, which in this case involves someone who is under age.

I ALWAYS card the group. I can't tell you how many near misses I've avoided by doing this.

I had 4 women buying stuff, including a case of beer. One woman is 50+, the other three look young, one of which is pregnant. I ask for everyone's ID. The 50+ flashes hers. I explain I need everyone's ID. The rest comply except for the pregnant girl. It finally comes out the girl is only 17 years old. I deny the sale, which upsets the 50+ woman a lot and she demands a manager. My manager comes over and backs me up - we're not selling the alcohol to them.

Guess who was paying for everything? The pregnant girl.

You NEVER know who's going to pay in the end. I wish the state would include a group ID statement and spare us cashiers in retail the aggravation of having to constantly deal with these combative alcoholics on our own.

  • This is a helpful answer, but can you clarify what is the law behind this and what jurisdiction are you writing about?
    – feetwet
    Feb 16, 2019 at 16:41
  • I'm a cashier at Walmart in California. This is more store policy, although recently they changed it to carding only the person making the purchase. Which, as I've demonstrated, you don't always know who is going to make the payment. I've been told one person in the group is paying, then right at the end, someone else does, or the card is passed from one person to another. Some of us cashier will still demand ID from everyone in the group. If a manager wants to approve a sale I've denied, they can do it under their ID. I'm not taking the risk. Feb 27, 2019 at 12:58
  • Just to clarify, Walmart does not card young children with their parents or adult in charge of their care. It can get 'ify' when a teenager is present. Then it comes down to a judgement call. An obvious family group is usually no problem. But I had a woman, over 18, with her "mother" come through and the young woman was telling her "mother" to buy the alcohol for her. That's when I required her ID. She was trying to use her "mother" to buy alcohol. She got mad and very vocal, but I still refused the sale. These are the kinds of issues we have to deal with. Feb 27, 2019 at 13:07
  • In some states it is legal for parents to serve alcohol to their minor children.
    – phoog
    Mar 13, 2019 at 4:40
  • Parents are in authority over their children and responsible for them. If they choose to feed them alcohol they just can't do it in my presence. As a mandatory reporter, I'd have to call the authorities if I were to witness an adult feeding alcohol to a child, even if it's their parent. Mar 13, 2019 at 19:28

This is how serious it is for California cashiers:

  1. A bad sale will be the end of your job, will be listed as a criminal record, and make finding another job nearly impossible.

  2. You could be arrest. At the very least you will end up in court.

  3. You will be charged a $1,000 fine, minimum, which by law cannot be waived. The fine can go higher.

We had someone who lost their job over this. I refuse to take the chance.

My store get a lot of undercover buyers. These undercover buyers can be people under 21, juveniles, and law enforcement in plain clothes.

  • Can you elaborate on what constitutes a "bad sale?" The original question was whether the law forbids the sale to a person when another person under the age of 21 is in some sense "with" the buyer.
    – feetwet
    Mar 11, 2019 at 23:33
  • I completely understand your point of view, and I 100% agree that selling alcohol to minors should not be allowed. Period. What I don't understand is where the line is drawn for selling alcohol when there is a minor WITH someone who is of age. Why are cashiers/stores able to make the decision to determine whether the alcohol is being given to the minor? I can't logically see how the fault would lie with the store if an adult bought the alcohol and gave it to a minor. The only difference here is the minor is in the checkout line and not outside the store? Mar 15, 2019 at 16:00
  • As I stated on March 1st, a legal precedent had been set when a mom/pop store lost a court case for 7.5 million dollars. Technically, the cashier did the right thing by carding the young man who was of age. He female companion was not. The court decided the store could have done more to prevent the girl from suffering permanent brain damage from alcohol poisoning. There is no direct law, just the legal precedent. Businesses are allowed to set policies to protect themselves. In this case, carding everyone in the group. Mar 18, 2019 at 3:03
  • A 'bad sale' is one that results in fines, job loss, criminal record, potential loss of liquor license, law suit, etc., because the cashier was careless when selling alcohol. Mar 18, 2019 at 3:09
  • Again, store policy and cashier discretion is in play here. There is NO law that states the cashier must sell the alcohol to just anyone in a group showing proof of age. It is reasonable to assume it is a community buy by all present. The law is clear on its intent to prevent the sale of alcohol to prevent under age drinking. The burden of proof is on the customer(s). I've had way too many customers try to pull a fast one on me that could have gotten me into a lot of trouble had I not carded everyone in the group. I'm not risking losing my job and going to court or jail. Mar 18, 2019 at 3:21

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