D.C. bars will receive lighter penalties for serving alcohol to minors as a result of a new law that went into effect last month.
Bars caught selling alcohol to patrons under 21 will now only face a warning for their first offense, instead of the previous punishment of a two-day liquor license suspension and a $1,000 fine. Councilman Jim Graham, D-Ward 1, proposed the measure in December and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the bill into law in mid-January.
“The policy gives leniency in the case of an honest, one-time mistake,” Graham said in an interview with The Hatchet. “Sometimes servers may not understand the importance of checking identification or may forget to check in a crowded bar or club scene.”
The law, which will be in effect for one year, grants warnings to establishments as long as they have had no violations in the last four years. Graham stressed, however, that there will still be penalties for bars that repeatedly serve to minors.
“There is still no tolerance for establishments that ignore the law,” he said. “The message is clear that they will be punished for breaking the law by serving minors.”
Alcoholic Beverage Contol Board Chairman Peter Feather wrote a letter to the Council asking them to kill the bill in December, saying, “This change would give the District of Columbia one of the lightest penalties for this type of offense,” according to The Washington Post.
Mital Gandhi, a member of the ABC board, said he understands concerns about normally reputable establishments getting a harsh reprimand for one-time mistakes under the old policy, but said he believes it is a fair policy.
“It isn’t necessarily about 20-year-olds looking 25, it is about the 15-year-olds that look 15,” Gandhi said in an interview. “It isn’t like someone is trying to trick them.”