Takeout Alcoholic Drinks In Ohio: One For The Road?

Margaritas-to-go-300x213Now that I can buy three takeout margaritas with my enchiladas to-go, can I sip one on the way home? If not, can my passenger drink it? And if that’s not allowed, where am I supposed to put the drinks while I drive? I don’t want to get charged with ‘Open Container’, or any other Ohio alcohol-related offenses for that matter.

Earlier this year, Governor DeWine enacted a cocktails-to-go policy by executive order. That order permitted customers to purchase two alcoholic drinks with each takeout meal. The policy was implemented provide additional income to restaurants and bars struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The executive order was a temporary emergency rule.

A more permanent Ohio law authorizing takeout alcoholic drinks was passed a few weeks ago. Ohio Revised Code section 4303.185, effective October 12, 2020, states a qualified permit holder may sell alcoholic beverages by the individual drink for off-premises consumption. The cocktails-to-go are subject to a few rules. First, the drinks must be in containers which are closed and sealed. Second, a meal must be sold with the drinks. Third, there is a limit of three drinks per meal for each customer.

Rules Aren’t Made To Be Broken
The rules for cocktails-to-go are not limited to the restaurants selling the beverages. The customers purchasing the beverages also are subject to regulations. Ohio Revised Code section 4301.64 prohibits consuming alcohol in a motor vehicle. The law applies to everyone in a motor vehicle, so not even the passenger can sample the margarita on the way home. Violating this law can lead to a jail sentence up to 30 days, a fine up to $250, and five years of probation.

The ‘open container’ law found in Ohio Revised Code section 4301.62 states no person shall have in their possession an opened container of beer or intoxicating liquor. A violation is punishable by a fine of up to $150.

The rule has many interesting exceptions for orchestral performances, racing events, and passengers on ‘commercial quadricycles’. However, there is no exception for cocktails-to-go. The takeout drinks must be in their closed, sealed containers to avoid an Open Container charge.

Where should the drinks be placed during transportation? So long as they are closed and sealed, they do not need to be in any particular part of the vehicle, as a legal matter. As a practical matter, it may be wise to transport the beverages somewhere other than the cup holder, as that location may be too tempting.

Breaking The Rules Could End Badly
Suppose Karen gives into that temptation and indulges in a takeout drink while driving. If Karen is stopped by a law enforcement officer, the officer will see the open container of alcohol in the car and smell the odor of the alcoholic beverage on Karen’s breath. Not only will Karen be charged with violating both Ohio laws described above, she will almost certainly be subjected to a DUI investigation (called ‘OVI’ in Ohio). If she performs poorly on field sobriety tests, like many people do, she may end-up being charged with OVI. Karen will need the services of a skilled DUI/OVI lawyer.

The new law permitting cocktails-to-go is a good policy for assisting the restaurant industry. It’s also good for customers who want a convenient alcoholic drink with a takeout dinner. When taking advantage of the new policy, just be sure to follow Ohio’s rules for alcohol in vehicles.

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