Open Container Laws

Drinking in public

In the United States, open container laws regulate or prohibit the existence of open containers of alcohol in certain areas. Typically these laws concern public places, such as parks and vehicles. The purpose of these laws is to restrict public intoxication, especially the dangerous act of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Open container laws are state laws, rather than federal laws; thus they vary from state to state.

The vast majority of U.S. states and localities prohibit possessing and/or consuming an open container of alcohol in public places, such as on the street. However, the definition of ‘public place’ is not always clear. California is unique in that it does have a state law on the books, but similar to states that have no law, the state law only applies to areas that the ‘city, county, or city and county have enacted an ordinance’ in. Open container restrictions are not always rigorously enforced, and open containers may in fact be legally permitted in nominally private events which are open to the public. This is especially true in downtown districts and during holidays and sporting events and tailgate parties.

There are a few public places in the United States where open containers are always permitted in the street: The city of Butte, Montana, has no open container ordinance; drinking openly in the street is allowed throughout the city. In the Power & Light District of Kansas City, Missouri, a special Missouri state law preempts Kansas City’s ordinary local law against open containers and allows the possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages on the street in open plastic containers.

On the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada, the law allows the possession and consumption on the street of any alcoholic beverage in an open container throughout the year, although the container must be plastic for certain special events such as the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve. The entertainment district along Beale Street in Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, is specially exempt from both Tennessee’s statewide open container ban and Memphis’s local open container ban, thereby permitting the open consumption of alcoholic beverages on the street. The city of New Orleans, Louisiana allows the possession and consumption on the street of any alcoholic beverage in an open plastic container (not in glass bottles or containers). Throughout the rest of Louisiana, however, open containers are still prohibited, despite the fact that drive-thru frozen daiquiri stands are legal.

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