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Retail Sales: Bans on Off-Premises Sunday Sales

Laws banning Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption as of January 1, 1998 and repeals from that date forward.

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Expander Policy Description

(Period Covered: 1/1/1998 through 1/1/2012)

This policy topic covers laws banning Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption as of January 1, 1998 and repeals from that date forward.  

Note: The secondary literature and the laws and regulations related to this policy topic use a variety of terms that are sometimes used in different ways by different jurisdictions.  To see definitions for these terms as they are used in APIS, see the Definitions heading below.

Most States place limits on the days and times when alcohol may be sold, and these restrictions vary widely across jurisdictions.  Many States have strictly limited the sale of alcohol on Sundays.  This policy topic identifies States that banned Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption as of January 1, 1998, and tracks repeals of these bans from that date forward.  No State bans Sunday sales for on-premises consumption.  Thus, this policy analysis is limited to off-premises sales only.  Many States prohibit virtually all Sunday sales, but provide minor exceptions that have little effect on total sales volume.  These States are included in the "ban" category.

Bans on Sunday sales first appeared prior to the Revolutionary War as part of the colonies' blue laws (so called because they were published on blue paper in some colonies); pre-Revolutionary blue laws prohibited breaking the Sabbath by working, shopping, or consuming alcohol on Sundays. Enforcement of these laws declined after the American Revolution but regained momentum during the temperance movement leading up to Prohibition.  Bans on Sunday sales reappeared in many States after the repeal of Prohibition, in some cases because the preexisting bans from the temperance era had never been repealed.  States with Sunday bans have been reconsidering these restrictions in recent years with a particular focus on their impact on tax revenues and economic activity.[1].

Although some States have total bans on all Sunday off-premises alcohol sales, other States have minor exceptions that do not affect their classification as ban States.  For example, States that allow tastings at wineries on Sundays, or that allow for sales on a particular Sunday holiday or during a special event (e.g., New Year's Eve, a festival, or Super Bowl Sunday) but otherwise prohibit Sunday sales are included in the APIS analysis as "ban" States.  APIS does not address these minor exceptions in its analysis.  States are classified as not having a ban if they allow significant Sunday sales, even if they impose some restrictions, e.g., beer can be sold but not distilled spirits.  A description of the classification criteria employed by APIS is provided in the Definitions section.  Because of the variability of Sunday sales restrictions in States that do not have bans, comparisons between States with and without bans should be made with care.

Only States that had Sunday sales bans in place as of January 1, 1998 are included in the APIS analysis.  Research conducted for this policy topic confirms that there have been no new Sunday sales bans enacted in any State since that date.  APIS tracks the repeal of these statutes from the January 1, 1998 baseline forward, providing the basis for determining the impact of these repeals. 

A State may have lifted its ban in stages, e.g., first allowing Sunday sales of a specific type of alcoholic beverages or in limited locations and then expanding the exceptions or repealing Sunday-specific restrictions entirely.  Once a State allows Sunday sales beyond very minimal exceptions (see above for general discussion and Variables section for specifics), APIS considers that State to no longer have a ban.   Any changes that remove additional restrictions are summarized in notes to the comparison tables for this policy. 

APIS explicitly recognizes two types of exceptions to bans on Sunday sales.  One exception is for statutes that permit local governments to enact Sunday sales ordinances that are less restrictive than the State ban. These "local option" laws are included when they are explicit and included in a jurisdiction's Sunday sales ban legislation.  Courts may confer similar authority to local governments through interpretations of more general statutory or constitutional provisions that are not specific to Sunday sales.  The APIS analysis includes only those provisions based on specific Sunday sales statutes.

Note that "local option" can also refer to State laws and court opinions in States without a Sunday sales ban.  In these cases, local governments are permitted to impose restrictions on Sunday sales beyond any restrictions found in State law.  APIS does not track these forms of local variations in State law pertaining to Sunday sales. 

The second type of exception is for States that ban Sunday sales for all alcoholic beverages EXCEPT beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent or less alcohol content by weight (3.2 beer).

[1] Miller, S., "In battle for Sunday, the 'blue laws' are falling," Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 2003.  Available at: http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1205/p01s02-usju.html.

Expander Definitions for Bans on Off-Premises Sunday Sales

Beverage Type
Major classifications of alcoholic beverages based on ingredients or methods of production - e.g., Beer, Wine, Distilled Spirits.
Hours of Sale
The hours (usually specified as opening and closing times) during which alcoholic beverages or a specific beverage type may be sold.
Local Option
Local government authority to institute policies that are more or less restrictive than those established by the State.  Local option may be established explicitly by statute or inferred through court interpretation of laws relating to local authority generally.  In the case of Sunday sales bans, APIS documents local options that are explicitly authorized by statute and authorize less restrictive local policies, i.e., States where localities are authorized by statute to permit Sunday Sales as an exception to a State-wide ban.
Off-Premises Sales
Retail sale of sealed containers of alcoholic beverages for consumption elsewhere than the premises where the sale takes place.  
On-Premises Sales
Retail sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises where the sale takes place (e.g., bars, restaurants).
Note:  No States totally prohibit on-premises Sunday sales.  
Sunday Sales
Sales occurring in the hours between the Saturday closing time of a retail alcohol outlet and the Monday opening time.
Note:  If retail outlets are allowed to stay open on Saturday past midnight, sales during the early morning hours of Sunday are not counted as Sunday sales.  
Sunday Sales Ban
State laws that prohibit most or all off-premises sales of alcoholic beverages on Sundays.  However, States that permit any of the following limited exceptions are still considered to ban Sunday sales:
  • Sales of low-alcohol (up to 3.2 percent) or non-intoxicating beer
  • Issuance of special permits allowing alcohol sales for a specific Sunday date or Sunday event
  • Sales on Sundays if the next day (Monday) is a holiday (e.g., Christmas Day or New Year's Day)
  • Sales limited to specific Sundays (e.g., Super Bowl Sunday, Sundays immediately before or after Christmas Day and New Year's Day)
  • Sales by licensees who observe Saturday as the Sabbath by closing their places of business
  • Sales limited to breweries, wineries, or distilleries


Expander Explanatory Notes and Limitations for Bans on Off-Premises Sunday Sales

Explanatory Notes and Limitations Specifically Applicable to Bans on Off-Premises Sunday Sales

  1. Only States with a ban in place as of January 1, 1998, are included in the APIS analysis.
  2. States classified as having a ban prohibit the Sunday sale for off-premises consumption of all forms of alcoholic beverages except beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent or less alcohol content by weight (e.g., a State with a ban on Sunday sales of only distilled sprits is not classified by APIS as having a Sunday sales ban). States are classified as having a ban on Sunday sales even if they have one or more limited exceptions (see Variables for Bans on Off-Premises Sunday Sales: Ban Repealed for a list of these exceptions; see also Exceptions: 3.2 Beer Sales Allowed).
  3. States that are coded as repealing their Sunday sales ban may have enacted only partial repeals. Row Notes describe the extent to which the ban has been repealed.
  4. State law may permit local jurisdictions to impose requirements that differ from those mandated by State law. Alternatively, State law may prohibit local legislation on this topic, thereby preempting local powers. For Sunday Sales, State law may also permit local jurisdictions to make exceptions to the State ban on Sunday sales. APIS has researched these exceptions in State laws that specifically address Sunday sales. States might also permit localities to enact exceptions to the State Sunday sales ban through a general statute or constitutional provision that does not specifically mention Sunday sales laws. APIS has not researched this possibility.

Explanatory Notes and Limitations Applicable to All APIS Policy Topics 

  1. State law may permit local jurisdictions to impose requirements in addition to those mandated by State law. Alternatively, State law may prohibit local legislation on this topic, thereby preempting local powers. APIS does not document policies established by local governments. 
  2. In addition to statutes and regulations, judicial decisions (case law) also may affect alcohol-related policies. APIS does not review case law except to determine whether judicial decisions have invalidated statutes or regulations that would otherwise affect the data presented in the comparison tables. 
  3. APIS reviews published administrative regulations. However, administrative decisions or directives that are not included in a State's published regulatory codes may have an impact on implementation. This possibility has not been addressed by the APIS research. 
  4. Statutes and regulations cited in tables on this policy topic may have been amended or repealed after the specific date or time period specified by the site user's search criteria. 
  5. A comprehensive understanding of the data presented in the comparison tables for this policy topic requires examination of the applicable Row Notes and Jurisdiction Notes, which can be accessed from the body of the table via links in the Jurisdiction column. 

Expander Federal Law for Bans on Off-Premises Sunday Sales

(Policies in effect on:  1/1/2012) 

The 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides each State with the primary authority to regulate the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages within its borders.  Courts have provided varying interpretations of the extent of this authority, particularly its interaction with the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution. For more information about the 21st Amendment and the Interstate Commerce Clause, see the About Alcohol Policy section of the APIS Web Site.

Our research identified no relevant Federal statutes or regulations pertaining to bans on off-premises Sunday sales.


Expander Selected References for Bans on Off-Premises Sunday Sales

  1. Heaton, P. Sunday liquor laws and crime. Journal of Public Economics 96(1-2):42-52, 2012.
  2. Lovenheim, M.F., and Steefel, D.P. Do blue laws save lives? The effect of Sunday alcohol sales bans on fatal vehicle accidents. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 30(4):798-820, 2011.
  3. Maloney, M.T., and Rudbeck, J.C. The outcome from legalizing Sunday packaged alcohol sales on traffic accidents in New Mexico. Accident Analysis and Prevention 41(5):1094-1098, 2009.
  4. McMillan, G.P., Hanson, T.E., and Lapham, S.C. Geographic variability in alcohol-related crashes in response to legalized Sunday packaged alcohol sales in New Mexico. Accident Analysis & Prevention 39(2):252-7, 2007.
  5. McMillan, G.P., and Lapham, S. Effectiveness of bans and laws in reducing traffic deaths - Legalized Sunday packaged alcohol sales and alcohol-related traffic crashes and crash fatalities in New Mexico. American Journal of Public Health 96(11):1944-1948, 2006.
  6. Middleton, J.C., Hahn, R.A., Kuzara, J.L., Elder, R., Brewer, R., Chattopadhyay, S., Fielding, J., Naimi, T.S., Toomey, T., and Lawrence, B., Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Effectiveness of policies maintaining or restricting days of alcohol sales on excessive alcohol consumption and related harms. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 39(6):575-89, 2010.
  7. Stehr, M.F. The effect of Sunday sales of alcohol on highway crash fatalities. The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy 10:1-20, 2010.
  8. Stehr, M. The effect of Sunday sales bans and excise taxes on drinking and cross-border shopping for alcoholic beverages. National Tax Journal 60(1):85-105, 2007.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism National Institutes of Health Department of Health and Human Services USA.gov - Government Made Easy