California Law on Bottles of Alcohol in a Bag

Written by clayton yuetter
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California Law on Bottles of Alcohol in a Bag
In California, restaurant patrons can take unfinished wine home in paper bags. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

California enforces a strict "no open container" law that prevents any can of beer or bottle of alcohol being unsealed in public or in a vehicle. The controversy is, however, that preventing restaurant patrons from taking their unfinished wine home encourages them to drink it all at the table, perhaps even when they don't feel comfortable doing so. California developed the "doggy bag rule" in response.

The Doggy Bag Law

Restaurant patrons are allowed to take home a partially finished bottle of wine under section 23396.5 of the Business and Professions Code, Division 9, more commonly known as the doggy bag law. In order to be in compliance with the law, the establishment must be an "on-sale licensee" with the proper documentation to prove it. This prevents bars from taking advantage of the law and selling additional alcohol. The bottle of opened wine must be re-corked and placed in the bag before leaving the restaurant.

Additional Law

Before the doggy bag law, a "no open container" policy in both public and vehicles had already been strictly reinforced in California. In order to allow the two laws to coexist, an additional rule, Section 23225 of the California Vehicle code, was created to allow patrons to have the bagged wine in their vehicle, as long as it is locked in the boot or glove compartment. This allows the passengers to prove to the authorities that they were not consuming it while in the automobile.

Other Bag Law

Those buying bottles of alcohol from liquor stores in California will have noticed that their purchase is always placed in a brown paper bag. This is also California law. Licensed sellers of alcohol are obligated to put whiskey and wine bottles in a bag to conceal them, as well as six packs. Beer that is already packaged in boxes, however, does not have to be placed in bags.

When Bags Don't Work

Many people try to avoid the consequences of the "no open container" law in public by concealing what they are drinking in paper bags. There is a common misconception that this allows them to drink legally on the streets. Nonetheless, under no circumstances under California law can alcohol be consumed in public outside of licensed establishments. Although this may lessen the chances of the offender being caught, it doesn't allow one to get around the "no open container law."

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