What's the Legal Drinking Age in Washington?

How old do you have to be to purchase alcohol in Washington?

Legal drinking age in Washington State
Kate Borkowski

Washington is a liberal state with alcohol sold in grocery stores and cannabis stores open throughout the state. Minors will certainly see alcohol and marijuana around them in stores, maybe with friends or peers, and maybe with their family as well. However, the rules are that minors may not even be around places where people are showing the effects of drinking (i.e. getting tipsy or drunk). It pays to know the rules surrounding minors and substance use as consequences can be unpleasant to severe.

In Washington, as in most states, the age to legally purchase or drink alcohol is 21 years. Likewise, minors are not allowed to possess alcohol. If minors are caught drinking, in possession or buying alcohol, they can face penalties ranging from a large fine to jail time.

The state tends to be very strict about minors with either marijuana or alcohol, but also is strict to adults who help minors buy or who sell substances to minors. Often, the punishments for adults who sell to minors are even worse than minors caught with substances.

Getting Carded

If you purchase alcohol in retail stores or at restaurants, you will be carded. Many adults will even be carded and a great deal of cash registers at grocery stores and liquor stores will even stop the cashier for your birth date (which is usually taken by scanning your ID) before the sale can be completed. There are strict fines in place for cashiers or servers who sell alcohol to minors, and there may be penalties for the minor even if they attempt to buy alcohol (successful or not).

Minor in Possession

Minors who are caught with alcohol in their possession or who have been drinking are subject to strict penalties as well. A Minor in Possession charge related to alcohol happens when a minor ages 13-17 is caught with alcohol. Even if the minor doesn't have alcohol on them, if a breathalyzer test or even statements from others lead an officer to believe a minor has been drinking, the minor could end up with a Minor in Possession charge, which could lead to large fines, jail time or loss of driver's license.

For more details about Minor in Possession charges (they can also result from minors having firearms or drugs), see the Department of Licensing website.

Are There any Circumstances Where a Minor can Drink?

The only legal circumstances were a person under 21 can drink in Washington is in a private residence in the presence of their parent or guardian or for a religious ceremony such as Roman Catholic communion.

Drinking and Driving

Washington has a zero tolerance policy towards underage drinking and driving. While the over-21 blood alcohol level for a DUI is .08, it is just .02 for anyone under 21. Note that it takes very little alcohol to achieve .02 and the penalties for a minor driving under the influence can be very severe. If minors are caught driving with even a .02 blood alcohol level, they are likely to lose their license for up to three months. If you get caught a second time, you're likely to lose your license until you're 18.

The Law

The full rules and current fine amounts, jail time and other penalties are listed on the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board website.

Marijuana and Minors

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in Washington State and most of the rules for alcohol apply to this substance as well. In fact, when marijuana became legal in 2012, it was the Washington State Liquor Board that took over the laws for marijuana as well. Like alcohol, anyone who wants to partake must be at least 21. However, punishments for minors in possession of marijuana can be severe, with some even being charged with felonies (in rural Asotin County in 2015, but it's probably unlikely in most counties). If an adult sells to a minor, they can also be charged with a felony.

Updated by Kristin Kendle.

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