Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Law

What is California's Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) law?

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has the exclusive power to regulate the manufacture, importation and sale of alcoholic beverages, as well as the licensing and operation of alcoholic beverage retailers. It has the power to take away and give licenses to sell alcoholic beverages for good cause.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Act is codified at California Business and Professions Code section 23200, et seq. It provides part of the basis for the liability of licensees and their employees. Licensees and their employees can be subject to criminal, administrative, and civil liability.

Administrative Liability:

The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control can take disciplinary action against licensees for violating the laws, regulations, or rules promulgated by the Department.

Licensees can face the following forms of discipline:
  • A fine (often ranging in the thousands of dollars);
  • Suspension of the license to sell alcoholic beverages;
  • Imposition of conditions on the license;
  • A forced sale of the license;
  • Revocation of the license.
Criminal Liability:

Licensees, owners, and employees can be held criminally liable for selling to minors or intoxicated persons. Criminal punishments can include fines, arrest, and even imprisonment.

Civil Liability:

As of 2013, under current laws, a licensee in California can only be held civilly liable for money damages for selling alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor. This means that if you sell alcohol to a minor that is apparently intoxicated, then he goes and crashes his car and hurts himself or somebody else, you could be sued for substantial sums of money. There are frequently attempts to broaden this law's scope to include persons over the age of 12, and one day one of these efforts may be successful. Be safe and don't sell to anybody who looks like they're drunk.

More Information About California's Alcoholic Beverage Control Law

Please review our other articles on California's Alcoholic Beverage Control on this website or give us a call if you have any questions. Here are some useful articles we have written:

  1. What is a Decoy Operation?
  2. What do I do if my Employee Sold Alcohol to a Minor in California?
  3. California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Penalty Guidelines
  4. What are the grounds for suspension or revocation under California' Alcoholic Beverage Control law?