Learn the Virginia laws and legal penalties associated with underage alcohol, tobacco and marijuana possession and use; the health and safety risks of underage drinking and strategies for staying safe and sober.
What is an alcoholic beverage?
The term “alcoholic beverages” is defined in Code of Virginia § 4.1-100 as including “alcohol, spirits, wine, and beer, and any one or more of such varieties containing one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume, including mixed alcoholic beverages, and every liquid or solid, power or crystal, patented or not, containing alcohol, spirits, wine, or beer and capable of being consumed by a human being.” Crystallized alcohol is also included in this category and is also illegal.
At what age am I allowed to drink alcohol?
Age 21. It is illegal for any person under the age of 21 to purchase, possess, or attempt to purchase or possess any alcoholic beverage. (Code of Virginia § 4.1-305)
At what age am I allowed to buy alcohol?
Age 21. It is illegal for any person under the age of 21 to purchase, possess, or attempt to purchase or possess any alcoholic beverage. (Code of Virginia § 4.1-305)
What is the penalty for someone under 21 possessing or purchasing alcohol?
According to Code of Virginia §§ 4.1-305(C), 16.1-278.9 and 16.1-278.8:
It is illegal for anyone under 21 to possess any alcoholic beverage. Violators are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor and face a fine of up to $2,500 and/or a year in jail if convicted. At a minimum, the court will order a mandatory minimum fine of $500 or a mandatory 50 hours of community service and suspend the driver’s license or deny driving privileges for not less than six months. The court may also order substance abuse education, counseling and treatment.
What if a law enforcement officer finds alcohol in my possession?
He or she may confiscate the alcohol and charge you with being in violation of §4.1-305 of the Code of Virginia, which makes it illegal for any person under the age of 21 to purchase, possess, or attempt to purchase or possess any alcoholic beverage.
Can I drink at home as long as it’s okay with my parents?
Virginia’s Alcohol Beverage Control law allows a person to keep and possess lawfully acquired alcoholic beverages in his residence for his personal use or that of his family. It is illegal for your parents to serve alcohol to guests in their home unless the guests are 21 years of age
or older or are accompanied by a parent, guardian, or spouse who is 21 years of age or older. (Code of Virginia § 4.1-200(7)).
Note the restrictions for anyone under 21 years:
a. in the residence and
b. accompanied by a parent.
Anyone, including your parents, who purchases for, or otherwise gives, provides, or assists in the provision of alcoholic beverages to another person knowing that the person is less than 21 years of age is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. If convicted, the court may order jail time for up to 12 months and/or a fine of up to $2,500. (Code of Virginia § 4.1-306 (A1)).
What if someone else gives me alcohol or buys it for me?
It is illegal for any person to purchase for, or otherwise give, provide, or assist in providing alcoholic beverages for another person whom they know to be less than 21 years of age. This is a Class 1 misdemeanor and, if convicted, the court may order jail time for up to 12 months and/or a fine of up to $2,500. (Code of Virginia § 4.1-306(A1)).
What if I use a fake ID to buy alcohol?
Using a fake ID to establish a false identity or false age to purchase alcoholic beverages is a Class 1 misdemeanor and, upon conviction, you can face a fine of up to $2,500 and/or one year in jail and a mandatory minimum $500 fine or 50 hours of community service, and can lose your driver’s license for up to one year. (Code of Virginia § 4.1-305).
Can I get in trouble for having a fake ID?
Yes. It is illegal to possess, manufacture, use, or sell an altered/false driver’s license or military or university identification. It is also illegal to loan your driver’s license or identification card to another person. Persons who possess, use, or distribute fake IDs are charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor (Code of Virginia § 18.2-204.1).
What if I drink and drive?
As part of a “Zero Tolerance” policy, Virginia has enacted some of the toughest laws in the United States for minors caught driving under the influence of alcohol. Under Code of Virginia § 18.2-266.1, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to operate a motor vehicle after illegally consuming alcohol. A violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Punishment includes loss of your driver’s license for one year from the date of conviction and a mandatory minimum fine of $500 or having to perform a minimum of 50 hours of community service.
What if I take alcohol to school?
Schools have the discretionary decision to report to law enforcement agencies offenses that involve alcohol and are required to immediately report incidents that constitute a felony offense. (Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.3:1).
You may be subject to both school disciplinary action and criminal action. This means you may be suspended from school and be required to go to court to face criminal charges.
Anyone (whether an adult or a minor) possessing or consuming alcohol on public school property can face a fine of up to $1,000 and six months of jail time. (Code of Virginia § 4.1-309).
What happens if a store sells beer to someone under age 21?
Under Virginia law, the clerk (seller/server) and the establishment with the license to sell alcohol (licensee) are penalized. The seller/server can receive up to $2,500 fine and/or up to 12 months in jail. For a first time offense, a licensee can be penalized up to $2,000 and/or have their ABC license suspended or revoked. (Code of Virginia §§ 4.1-304 and 4.1-305). For more information visit https://www.abc.virginia.gov/library/licenses/pdfs/licensee-responsibility-guide-2023.pdf
If someone sells alcohol to a person under the age of 21 and does not require that individual to provide bona fide evidence of legal age, the seller will be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor. (Code of Virginia § 4.1-304(B)).
Why are there laws prohibiting use of alcohol? It’s legal for adults. Why not teens?
Underage drinking is recognized as a major health and safety threat to youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Underage drinking is a major cause of death from injuries among young people. Each year, excessive drinking is responsible for more than 3,900 deaths and 225,000 years of potential life lost among people under age 21. People under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking; this includes deaths from motor vehicle crashes, homicides, suicide, as well as hundreds from other injuries such as falls, burns, and drownings.
- Underage drinking increases the risk of committing or being the victim of a physical assault or sexual assault.
- Underage drinking plays a role in risky sexual activity.
- Underage drinking can lead to other problems. These may include bad grades in school, higher rates of school absences, run-ins with the law, and drug use.
But isn’t drinking something teens do as a “rite of passage” and part of having a good time?
Many people are unaware of the health and safety risks and think that underage drinking is a “rite of passage.” Tragically, many young people don’t survive this rite.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
- Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens;
- About a quarter (25%) of fatal crashes involve an underage drinking driver;
- In 2020, 29% of young drivers 15 to 20 years old who were killed in crashes had a BAC of .01 g/dL or higher;
- To reduce alcohol-related fatal crashes among youth, all states have adopted a minimum legal drinking age of 21; and
- The minimum drinking age laws have saved 31,959 lives.
What if I am with someone who has drunk so much he or she may need medical attention?
Seek help immediately. Unfortunately, it is sometimes possible for someone to have a life-threatening physical reaction to drugs or alcohol: this is known as an overdose. It is critical that someone who is having this sort of reaction get immediate medical attention, as that person may die if left untreated.
Under Code of Virginia § 18.2-251.03(B)(1)-(3), someone who seeks or obtains emergency medical attention for himself or for another individual because of a drug- or alcohol-related overdose in progress may be protected from being convicted for certain possession or intoxication crimes if the person reports an overdose to a firefighter, EMS personnel, or a law enforcement officer (most commonly by calling 911 for emergency medical response) or assists or provides care to the individual. To be eligible for this “affirmative defense,” the person reporting the overdose must identify themselves as being the one who reported the overdose.
What are some strategies for staying “safe and sober?”
Teens have an important role to play in preventing and reducing underage drinking. Some suggestions:
1. You and your parents can sign what is called a “Contract for Life.” In such a contract, you agree to:
- do everything you can to avoid making decisions that jeopardize your health (such as drinking and driving or riding with someone who has been drinking); and
- call your parents if you are ever in a situation that threatens your safety.
Your parents agree to:
- provide safe, sober transportation home;
- defer discussions about the situation until it can be discussed in a calm and caring manner; and
- to not drink and drive themselves.
Samples of such pledges are on the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) website (https://www.sadd.org/resources).
2. Support underage drinking prevention efforts in your school and community. These might be sponsored by organizations such as Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), or other community prevention organizations and coalitions.
3. Learn more strategies by reading some of the publications and visiting the websites listed on the Virginia Rules website.
What is tobacco?
Tobacco is a plant whose brown-colored leaves are cured and dried. People can smoke tobacco in cigars, cigarettes, or a pipe. People can also chew tobacco or snort it as snuff.
Is tobacco a drug?
Yes, contrary to what many people believe, tobacco is a drug. By definition, a drug is a nonfood substance that can cause changes in the function of the body and/or mind. Tobacco leaves contain a complex mixture of chemicals that affect the body in many ways. Nicotine is one of the main ingredients in tobacco. It is a drug that occurs naturally in the tobacco leaf, acting paradoxically as both a stimulant and a depressant. It is the substance that causes the craving for tobacco. Nicotine can kill a person when taken in high concentrations all at once. Its action on the cardiovascular system, increasing cardiac output and raising blood pressure, probably contributes to the elevated risk of cardiovascular mortality in smokers.
At what age am I allowed to smoke or chew tobacco?
Age 21. According to Code of Virginia § 18.2-371.2(B): “No person less than 21 years of age shall purchase, attempt to purchase or possess any tobacco product, including but not limited to cigarettes, cigars, bidis, rolling papers, nicotine vapor products, and alternative nicotine products, and hemp products intended for smoking.” The exception to this age restriction are active duty military personnel.
At what age am I allowed to buy tobacco?
Age 21. According to Code of Virginia § 18.2-371.2(B): “No person less than 21 years of age shall purchase, attempt to purchase or possess any tobacco product, including but not limited to cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, bidis, rolling papers, nicotine vapor products, alternative nicotine products, and hemp products.” The exception to this age restriction are active duty military personnel.
What are bidis?
Bidis are thin, often flavored, cigarettes from India or South Asia that are made of tobacco wrapped in a leaf.
Is it legal to vape?
According to Code of Virginia § 18.2-371.2(B) it is illegal for minors to buy, sell or possess nicotine vapor products. This is a Class 4 misdemeanor.
What is the penalty for someone under 21 possessing or purchasing tobacco?
Violations shall be punishable by a civil penalty not to exceed $100 for the first violation, and $250 for subsequent violations. In lieu of the civil penalty, a judge may prescribe up to 20 hours of community service for a first violation and up to 40 hours of community service for a second violation. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-371.2(E)).
The law prohibiting anyone less than 21 from possessing any tobacco product does not apply to the possession of tobacco products by persons less than 21 years of age making a delivery of tobacco products in pursuance of his employment.
What if a store sells tobacco to someone under 21 years of age?
According to Code of Virginia § 18.2-371.2: “No person shall sell to, distribute to, purchase for or knowingly permit the purchase by any person less than 21 years of age, knowing or having reason to believe that such person is less than 21 years of age, any tobacco product, including but not limited to cigarettes, cigars, bidis, rolling papers, nicotine vapor products, and alternative nicotine products, and hemp products intended for smoking.” Proof that the person demanded, was shown, and reasonably relied upon a photo identification stating that the individual was at least 21 years of age as required by law shall be a defense to any action brought under this subsection.
Violation by an individual or a separate retail establishment, except for the sale of bidis, shall be punishable by a civil penalty not to exceed $100 for the first violation, up to $200 for a second violation and up to $500 for subsequent violations. If the retail establishment offers proof that it has trained its employees, the court shall suspend certain penalties. If the court finds that there is no training program then they may impose a penalty not to exceed $1,000.
What about buying tobacco products from a vending machine?
If you buy cigarettes from a vending machine, you are still in violation of Code of Virginia § 18.2-371.2(A), which prohibits possession or purchase by anyone less than 21 years of age. Virginia law says: “Violators shall be punishable by a civil penalty not to exceed $100 for the first violation, and $250 for subsequent violations.” In lieu of the civil penalty, a judge may prescribe up to 20 hours of community service for a first violation and up to 40 hours of community service for a second violation.
Vending machines are required to be located in a place that is not open to the general public and is not generally accessible to minors. A notice must also be posted on the machine indicating that the purchase or possession of tobacco products by minors is unlawful. Violations are subject to the same penalties provided for the sale or distribution of tobacco products to minors. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-371.2(A)).
If I work in a store that sells tobacco, am I allowed to sell tobacco?
Yes. Virginia law does not prohibit sale by someone under 21 years of age. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-371.2(B)).
What if a law enforcement officer finds tobacco in my possession?
He or she may confiscate the tobacco and charge you with being in violation of Code of Virginia § 18.2-371.2, which prohibits anyone under 21 years of age from buying or trying to buy, or possessing any tobacco products, including but not limited to cigarettes, cigars, bidis, rolling papers, nicotine vapor products, and alternative nicotine, and hemp products.
I see signs in restaurants and offices that say “Smoke Free.” What will happen if someone smokes there?
Virginia law limits tobacco use in many public places, schools, and certain restaurants. Anyone who smokes in a designated no-smoking area and anyone who continues to smoke after being asked to refrain from smoking is subject to a civil penalty of not more than $25. Any law enforcement officer may issue a summons for violation of this law. (Code of Virginia § 15.2-2824).
Why are there laws prohibiting use of tobacco? It’s legal for adults. Why not teens?
Smoking is recognized as a major health threat to youth. According to the American Cancer Society, cigarette smoking causes serious health problems among children and teens, including:
- Shortness of breath;
- More frequent headaches;
- Increased phlegm (mucus);
- Respiratory illnesses;
- Worse cold and flu symptoms;
- Reduced physical fitness;
- Poor lung growth and function;
- Worse overall health; and
- Addiction to nicotine.
But isn’t trying a cigarette something teens do as a “rite of passage?”
Many people don’t realize how quickly a casual experimentation with tobacco can become an addiction — one that carries with it serious health risks.
A 2021 survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that each day, about 1,600 youth smoke their first cigarette and nearly 200 youth start smoking every day. Flavorings in tobacco products can make them more appealing to youth. In 2021, 80.2% of high school students and 74.6% of middle school students who used tobacco products in the past 30 days reported using a flavored tobacco product. However, during 2019 to 2020, the use of tobacco products decreased among middle and high school students. There were 1.73 million fewer current youth tobacco product users in 2020 (4.47 million) compared to 2019 (6.20 million). The younger you are when you begin to smoke, the more likely you are to be an adult smoker.
If cigarette smoking continues at the current rate among youth, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 will die early from a smoking-related illness. That’s about 1 of every 13 Americans aged 17 or younger alive today.
What is marijuana?
The term “marijuana” is defined in Virginia law as “any part of a plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not, its seeds or resin; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds, its resin, or any extract containing one or more cannabinoids.” (Code of Virginia § 4.1-600).
The term “marijuana products” is defined in Virginia law as “(i) products that are composed of marijuana and other ingredients and are intended for consumption, ointments, tinctures or (ii) marijuana concentrate.” (Code of Virginia § 4.1-600). This includes edibles, rubs, oils, etc.
Am I allowed to use marijuana or marijuana products?
Virginia law restricts possession and consumption of marijuana or marijuana products by those under 21 years of age, excepting a law enforcement officer when possession of marijuana is necessary in the performance of his duties. (Code of Virginia § 4.1-1105.1).
What are the penalties for using marijuana or marijuana products?
Penalties depend on the amount of marijuana possessed, the age of the possessor, and whether the crime involves possession, or sale or distribution of marijuana.
|Violations||Penalties (Code of Virginia § 4.1-1105.1)|
|Possession of marijuana by juveniles||Civil penalty of no more than $25; entry and completion of a substance abuse treatment or education program.|
|Possession of marijuana by persons under 21 years of age||Civil penalty of no more than $25; entry and completion of a substance abuse treatment or education program.|
|Sale, distribution, or possession with intent to sell, give, or distribute (Code of Virginia § 18.2-248.1)|
|Possession of not more than one ounce of marijuana with intent to sell or otherwise distribute||Class 1 misdemeanor – confinement in jail for up to one year and a fine up to $2,500, either or both.|
|Possession of more than
one ounce to five pounds of marijuana with intent to sell or otherwise distribute
|Class 5 felony – imprisonment from one to 10 years, or at the discretion of the jury or the court trying the case without a jury, confinement in jail for up to one year and a fine of up to $2,500, either or both.|
|Possession of more than five pounds of marijuana with intent to sell or otherwise distribute||Felony punishable by imprisonment of not less than five nor more than 30 years.|
|Manufacturing marijuana, or possessing marijuana with the intent to manufacture||Felony punishable imprisonment of not less than five nor more than 30 years and a fine not to exceed $10,000|
Felony conviction, see Code of Virginia § 18.2-10; Misdemeanor conviction, see Code of Virginia § 18.2-11
What if I take marijuana or marijuana products to school?
Schools have the discretionary decision to report to law enforcement agencies offenses that involve alcohol, marijuana, a controlled substance, imitation controlled substance, or an anabolic steroid and are required to immediately report incidents that constitute a felony offense. (Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.3:1(A))
You could be subject to both school disciplinary action and criminal action. Code of Virginia § 22.1-277.08 allows local school boards to consider expulsion of any student determined to have brought a controlled substance, imitation controlled substance, or marijuana onto school property or to a school-sponsored activity. This is the most serious disciplinary action that a school board can impose.
In addition to penalties imposed by the school board, a student can also be convicted of criminal offenses for possessing, using, or distributing marijuana at school.
What if I smoke and drive?
Similar to alcohol, you can be charged with a DUI/DUID while you are under the influence of marijuana. Code of Virginia § 18.2-266 says that it is illegal for any person to drive a car while such person is under the influence of any narcotic drug or any other self-administered intoxicant or drug of whatsoever nature, or any combination of such drugs, to a degree which impairs his ability to drive or operate any motor vehicle; or while such person is under the combined influence of alcohol and any drug or drugs to a degree which impairs his ability to drive or operate any motor vehicle.
Additionally, it is a Class 4 misdemeanor, punishable by a $250 fine, to consume marijuana or marijuana products while driving a motor vehicle on the public highways in Virginia. It is also illegal to use or consume marijuana as a passenger in a motor vehicle being driven on the public highways in Virginia. (Code of Virginia § 4.1-1107)
What are “counterfeit edibles”?
Despite being illegal, certain distributors have been making THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) infused edibles that are packaged to look like popular candy and snack brands. THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. These fake products can easily be confused with regular snacks and candy – pay close attention to notices on packaging and do not eat any products that mention cannabis or THC.
The National Poison Control Centers received over 10,000 exposure cases in a 16-month period involved with THC edibles, with 77 percent of them involving patients age 19 or younger.