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Pennsylvania is an alcoholic beverage control state. Wine and spirits are to be sold only in the state owned Wine And Spirits shops, where all prices must remain the same throughout the state (county sales tax may cause the price to differ slightly). People under the age of 21 are allowed to enter Wine and Spirits shops, contrary to popular belief - but only if accompanied by a parent or guardian. The operating hours for these stores vary from one location to the next. Monday through Saturday, a store may open as early as 9am and close as late as 10pm. On Sunday, hours vary from 10am to 5pm, with many stores closed Sundays, as was previously the case for all stores. Searches for store locations, hours and phone numbers are available on the PLCB web site. Wineries are common throughout the commonwealth, and often sell their wines at storefronts in shopping malls, and persons under the age of 21 are permitted to enter these establishments. Wine was available for a short time in supermarket kiosks, but this practice has ended.
Beer may only be purchased from a restaurant, bar, licensed beer store, or distributor. Beer distributors mainly sell cases and kegs of beer, not smaller volumes of beer such as six packs. Six and twelve packs, along with individual bottles such as 40 ounce or 24 ounce beers, are sold at bars, restaurants, and licensed retailers. A license granted to a bar or restaurant permits the licensee to sell up to 192 fluid ounces of beer per purchase. For larger quantities one must go to a beverage distributor which sells beer only by the case or keg. Beverage distributors (which also sell soft drinks) may sell beer and malt liquor, but not wine or hard liquor. Unlike the Wine and Spirits shops, people under 21 may enter most beverage distributors without an adult, since most distributors also sell water, soda, ice, and some snack foods. They are subject to the rules of the individual establishment.
The hours of operation of beer distributors is typically similar to that of Wine and Spirits stores and other retail establishments. These hours are only restricted by the state on Sundays, where a special license is required to sell beer, and sales before 11AM are not permitted. Although state law permits late-night beer distributors, local authorities can place additional restrictions, and stores typically close before 10PM.
Some supermarkets, including Wegmans, Giant Eagle, Giant, and Weis, have begun to sell alcohol within restaurants attached to the main supermarket building, but only under very specific conditions (the restaurant must have a defined separation from the rest of the supermarket, a separate cashier, and seating for at least 30 patrons). Supermarket chain ShopRite has begun to attach Wine and Spirits stores to its stores. For a time, Sheetz obtained a liquor license for a restaurant attached to one of its convenience stores in Altoona. After several debates, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the store must sell beer to in-house customers as well as take-out. The 17th Street store now again sells beer and allows limited in store consumption.
Even though beer labeled "non-alcoholic" contains less than 0.5% alcohol by volume and can be sold at supermarkets, Pennsylvania requires a person to be over the age of 21 to both purchase and consume non-alcoholic beer. A person under the age of 21 consuming non-alcoholic beer is subject to arrest for underage drinking.
Closing time for restaurants and bars in Pennsylvania is 2 a.m. and for private clubs is 3 a.m..
Pennsylvania state law makers have attempted to privatize the sales of wine and spirits in the commonwealth. The state has had a monopoly over the sales of wine and spirits since the repeal of prohibition. In the 2011 legislative session the privatization of sales of wine and spirits has been the focus of some controversy. This controversy is due to the budget deficit that the commonwealth faces. Supporters of the bill argue the sales taxes, and selling licenses could generate nearly $1 billion worth of revenue for the state.
In the 2012 session, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, with the backing of Governor Tom Corbett, announced a plan to issue 1,600 new liquor store licenses and auction the 600-plus liquor stores currently owned by the state. Stores would be allowed to sell beer in any configuration and without limit. Supporters say it could raise as much as $1.6 billion for the state. Opponents say that the proposed pricing would make it difficult for mom-and-pop stores to afford such licenses. Major opponents include the liquor store clerks union and the Pennsylvania Beer Alliance.
The minimum drinking age in Pennsylvania is 21 years, like all other states in the country. Minors are prohibited from purchasing, possessing, or consuming alcohol, even if it is furnished by the minor's immediate family. Persons over the age of 18 are permitted to serve alcohol, so an exception is made in the possession portion of the law in this respect. Exceptions for consuming alcohol are made for religious or medicinal purposes.
A person under the age of 21 may also be arrested, charged, and convicted of underage drinking through constructive possession, even if they had not consumed any alcohol, simply by being in the presence of alcohol. This is mainly exercised when officials break up large parties or other events where alcohol is being consumed and the issuance of chemical tests to every individual is deemed impractical.
Like every other state in the United States, driving (driving, operating or being in actual physical control of the movement of vehicle) under the influence is a crime in Pennsylvania, and is subject to a great number of regulations outside of the state's alcohol laws. Pennsylvania's maximum blood alcohol level for driving is 0.08% for persons at or over the age of 21 (with suspension of license on the first offense), and 0.04% for a person operating a commercial vehicle (0.02% for a school bus) with revoking of the license on the first offense. For those under 21, Pennsylvania follows a "zero tolerance" policy, meaning that any BAC over 0.02% is enough to warrant a DUI (the small allowance is for certain medicinal purposes such as some cold medicines that contain alcohol). Penalties include fines, license suspension, and possible imprisonment.