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The alcohol laws of New York are among the most lenient of any state in the Atlantic Northeast of the United States, but they remain considerably more restrictive than those of Louisiana, Missouri (see alcohol laws of Missouri), Nevada, Illinois, New Mexico, and Arizona.
The New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) and its agency arm, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), were established under New York State Law in 1934 to "regulate and control the manufacture and distribution within the state of alcoholic beverages for the purpose of fostering and promoting temperance in their consumption and respect for and obedience to law." The SLA is also authorized by statute to "determine whether public convenience and advantage will be promoted by the issuance of licenses to traffic in alcoholic beverages … and to carry out the increase or decrease in the number thereof and the location of premises licensed … in the public interest."
In New York, for the purposes of state law, there are only four hours out of each day of the week in which alcohol may not be served: 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. This was designed to accommodate New York City nightlife as well as late night workers statewide in general. Some upstate areas such as Buffalo, Albany, and Saratoga Springs retain the 4am closing time although individual counties are free to set an earlier "last call." In Binghamton, this is at 3:00 a.m., in Syracuse, Plattsburgh, Oneonta, and Rochester, bars close at 2:00 a.m., and Elmira, Geneva, and Ithaca, have some of the earliest closing times in the state at 1 a.m. In some counties, Alcohol may not be served before 12 Noon on Sunday. For a complete list closing hours by county, see http://www.sla.ny.gov/provisions-for-county-closing-hours.
The SLA does not permit establishments to allow patrons to "B.Y.O.B." if the establishment does not have a license or permit to sell alcoholic beverages. However, the SLA does not have authority to take any direct action against an establishment that is not licensed with the SLA, unless the establishment is then or will be in the future applying for a liquor license.
Only liquor stores may obtain a license to sell liquor for off-premises consumption. Grocery and drug stores may obtain a license to sell beer or beer and wine products only. Wine and spirits purchases may not be returned. Minors visiting a liquor store must be accompanied by an adult at all times; a violation can lead to the owner or manager being charged with second-degree unlawfully dealing with a minor, a Class B misdemeanor.
Until the mid-2000s, sales of beer for off-premises consumption were prohibited statewide before noon on Sundays, a remnant of a royal decree during the Colonial era, and between 3–6 a.m. any day. Changes to the law made in the last years of Governor George Pataki's administration loosened those restrictions, and now beer sales are only prohibited from 3–8 a.m. Sundays. Counties are free to adjust those hours in either direction, all the way to midnight and noon, and allow 24-hour beer sales on other days of the week.
A few years after those changes, Governor David Paterson sought to allow supermarkets to sell wine as well. He argued that the increase in excise taxes collected would help the state close its budget deficit. The proposed law aroused so much opposition from liquor store owners that it was never voted on by either house of the New York State Legislature.
A provision unique to New York requires that every license to sell wine or spirits at retail for off-premises consumption be held by a single individual who lives within a few miles of the store and holds no other such licenses in the state. It was intended to prevent any chain liquor stores from doing business in the state, and none have ever done so. However, some proprietors open other stores in the names of their family members while maintaining complete control over the other establishments. Corroboration isn't only limited to families, for example, Premier Group in western New York has three locations each individually owned and operated.
There are no dry counties in New York as they are not allowed to make that decision. However, individual cities and towns may. In the case of towns, the decision would also be binding on any villages within them, or the parts of villages within them. Cities and towns may become totally dry, forbidding any on- or off-premises alcohol sales, or partially dry by forbidding one or the other or applying those prohibitions only to beer or to wine and spirits.
Ten towns forbid on-premises consumption but allow off-premises; four allow both only at a hotel open year-round. Seventeen disallow only special on-premises consumption. The town of Spencer in Tioga County allows only off-premises and special on-premises consumption. Williamson, in Wayne County, bans on-premises sale of beer at race tracks, outdoor athletic fields and sports stadia where admission is charged. In all, there are 39 partially dry towns.
In response to the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, which reduced by up to 10% the federal highway funding of any state which did not have a minimum purchasing age of 21, the New York Legislature raised the drinking age from 19 to 21, effective December 1, 1985. (The drinking age had been 18 for many years before the first raise in 1982, to 19.) Persons under 21 are prohibited from purchasing alcohol or possessing alcohol with the intent to consume, unless the alcohol was given to that person by their parent or legal guardian. There is no law prohibiting where people under 21 may possess or consume alcohol that was given to them by their parents. Persons under 21 are prohibited from having a blood alcohol level of more than 0.02% while driving.
Like every other state in the United States, driving under the influence is a crime in New York, and is subject to a great number of regulations outside of the state's alcohol laws. New York's maximum blood alcohol level for driving is 0.08% for persons over the age of 21 and there is a "zero tolerance" policy for persons under 21. Minors caught with any alcohol in the blood (defined legally as 0.02% or more, presumably to avoid false positives) are subject to license revocation for 6 months or more. Other penalties for drunken driving include fines, license suspension/revocation, and possible imprisonment, and in some cases the implementation of an ignition interlock device. A lesser charge, driving with ability impaired (DWAI), may apply when a driver's BAC exceeds 0.05%.
New York State has no law against being intoxicated from alcohol in public, but there is a law prohibiting other substances. Any person found under the influence of a substance other than alcohol in public who is endangering themselves and others is guilty under the New York State Penal Code. This also applies to those found under the influence and bothering others or damaging public or private property.
It is illegal to have an open container of alcohol on a public sidewalk, road or park in New York State. Drinking in public was first outlawed in New York City by Ed Koch in 1979. The law was originally pitched as targeting antisocial derelicts congregating in parks and on sidewalks, with Frederick E. Samuel, one of the measure's proponents in the New York City Council, stating "We do not recklessly expect the police to give a summons to a Con Ed worker having a beer with his lunch". By the end of the year similar laws had spread to municipalities in Westchester County.
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