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If You Brown-Bag Booze, Can You Drink in Public?

An empty liquor bottle in the corner of a room in an abandoned building.
By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

That iconic thin brown bag around your store-bought liquor is not in any way a shield from criminal charges when you drink in public.

Not only does the illusion that you might be drinking something non-alcoholic from such a bag not exist, but you can be arrested for even opening the bottle in public.

Here's a little wake-up call for those under the spell of the brown bag drinking myth.

Why Do Liquor Stores Use Brown Bags?

Much of the mythos surrounding brown-bagged liquor points involves a law that prohibits liquor stores from selling alcohol without covering it in some way.

A spokesperson for North Carolina's Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission confirmed that at least in her home state, there are no laws requiring liquor stores to sell their alcohol with a brown bag, the Winston-Salem Journal reports.

The practice may have been used to give the buyer privacy for his alcohol purchase, but with cities like San Francisco now imposing a 10-cent charge on checkout bags, privacy may give way to thrift.

Brown Bags May Hide Open Container

So if liquor stores aren't required to give brown bags, then the reason for the flimsy brown wrapper must be for consumers, perhaps in an attempt to thwart open container laws.

While it is true that enforcement may vary, in most states it is illegal to drink from or possess an open container of booze:

  • On a public sidewalk,
  • In a parking lot,
  • On the front steps of your apartment building, or
  • In a parked car.

Whether you have the bag covering your 40 oz. of Mickey's or not will not protect you from being arrested in most states -- not even in Las Vegas, where drinking from a container that was sold as sealed or corked in public is illegal.

Public Intoxication Not Baggable

Regardless of whether holding an open pint of rotgut vodka in a brown paper bag protects you from open container laws, no brown bag will save you from public intoxication charges.

If you appear drunk in public in any of the nation's 50 states, the only thing a brown bag might provide is a place to hide your vomit.

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