Drinking Age

LFDA Editor

The minimum drinking age in New Hampshire is 21. There is only one exception to this rule: an underage person cannot be prosecuted for drinking if they're caught while seeking medical help for someone suffering from an alcohol overdose. 

Breaking this law can lead to a fine of $300 for a first offense and $600 for a second offense. 

Federal influence on state drinking laws

Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, which imposed a 10 percent reduction in federal highway funds on any state that allowed minors under age 21 to purchase alcohol or possess it in public. However, the law did not ban consumption of alcohol by minors under the following circumstances: 

  • Drinking in private establishments (but not privately-owned businesses that are open to the public, such as a typical restaurant or bar)
  • Drinking for medical purposes
  • Drinking for religious purposes
  • Handling, dispensing or transporting alcohol as part of one's job 

All 50 states have a general minimum drinking age of 21, but some have taken advantage of these exceptions to allow minors to drink under certain conditions, such as:

  • On private property (where alcohol is not sold), with or without the consent of a parent or guardian
  • For educational purposes, such as training at culinary school
  • At bars or restaurants, with the approval of a parent or guardian

Recent attempts to change NH drinking law

New Hampshire has considered lowering the drinking age as recently as 2009, when a proposal to lower the legal age from 21 to 18 died in the House. 

More recently, an attempt to allow minors aged 18-20 to drink while in the presence of a responsible adult aged over 21 was shot down. 


"For" Position

By LFDA Editor

According to the Amethyst Initiative, a national coalition of college presidents in favor of lowering the drinking age:

  • A culture of dangerous, clandestine "binge-drinking" - often conducted off-campus - has developed.
  • Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students.
  • Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.

"Against" Position

By LFDA Editor

Arguments against lowering the drinking age include:

  • Brain development continues through the age of 21, and may be disrupted by alcohol consumption.
  • Some studies have found an association between higher drinking age and lower rates of traffic accidents.
  • If 18 year-olds are allowed to buy alcohol, they will become suppliers for even younger adolescents.
  • State laws often restrict other activities to adults over 21, including casino gambling, purchasing a handgun, adopting a child, and renting a car.


Died in Conference Committee

Allows minors to transport alcoholic beverages in a vehicle or boat when accompanied by a stepparent, grandparent, domestic partner, or sibling of legal age.

Signed by Governor

If a person seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing an alcohol overdose, this bill protects the person from prosecution for any charges related to underage drinking, if the evidence for the charge was obtained as a result of the person seeking medical assistance.

Killed in the House

Allows minors to transport alcoholic beverages in a vehicle or boat when accompanied by a legal age family member.

Killed in the House

Makes some changes to the laws against underage drinking and states, "It is the intention of the general court that minors between the age of 18 and 20 be permitted to consume only beer or wine while in the presence of responsible adults who are over 21 so that younger people will no longer be initiated to alcohol consumption in the absence of adult supervision."

Interim Study

Provides limited immunity for a person who seeks medical assistance for someone who is experiencing a drug or alcohol overdose or for themselves.

Killed in the House

Imposes a penalty assessment of $5 or 10%, whichever is greater, on all fines or penalties imposed by a court or the liquor commission for violations to the alcohol beverage laws. (The most common violation is for underage drinking, which carries a minimum fine of $300; the penalty assessment for that would then be $30). The penalty assessments would be divided equally among the Victims’ Assistance Fund, the Special Fund for Domestic Violence Programs, and the Alcohol Abuse Prevention and Treatment Fund.

Killed in the House

Decreases the fine for underage drinking from $300 to $100 on first offense and from $600 to $300 on a subsequent offense.

Tabled in the House

Exempts certain individuals under age 21 from the law against unlawful possession (not consumption) of alcohol: individuals possessing alcohol for medical or religious reasons, and individuals between 18 and 21 in a place where alcohol is not sold.

Killed in the House

Lowers the legal drinking age to 18.

Should NH lower the drinking age?


markh37's picture
Mark Huddleston
- Durham

Thu, 10/21/2010 - 11:55am

The University of New Hampshire recently launched a pilot program that encourages its students to seek medical attention for fellow students suffering an alcohol-related emergency. The concept of “medical amnesty” is part of a national effort being promoted by Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a nonprofit advocacy group that seeks to engage and mobilize students in the political process to address policies and laws pertaining to drugs (including alcohol) that it perceives to be harmful. At UNH the amnesty program can shield students from “punitive” school sanctions for illegal use of alcohol in exchange for a proactive call for medical assistance by the student affected or by a student acting on the affected student’s behalf.

Here’s how it will work. If a student has placed a call for medical assistance, both the student offering assistance and the student in need of medical attention have the option of applying for medical amnesty. A campus hearing officer, using information provided by the student(s) as well as emergency responders or medical staff, can make a determination that medical amnesty is appropriate. If so, the student affected is likely to receive “educational sanctions” which could include assessment and alcohol education; however, the student would not be subject to punitive sanctions such as a fine or probation. The policy does not address law enforcement actions, nor does it absolve students of responsibility for other violations of the university’s code of conduct beyond the misuse of alcohol. Additionally, the amnesty applies to sanctions within the university’s conduct system and not to academic opportunities and privileges like study abroad and scholarships.

This is not a subject without controversy. There are strong arguments both for and against medical amnesty, and we debated long and hard internally before agreeing to support a pilot program. We rightly resist policies that would in any way contribute to binge drinking. In fact, we stress the legal, academic, social and physical risks of alcohol and drug use even before our students attend their first class or spend their first night in a dorm. College students need to be responsible, and to learn that actions have consequences.

But one of the consequences of irresponsible behavior should never be a preventable death. Indeed, one of our greatest duties as educators is to do everything we can to protect the lives of the young people in our charge. University policies should not discourage students from seeking potentially life-saving medical attention, even when the circumstances that give rise to the need for the medical intervention stem from irresponsible behavior or otherwise contravene university policy.

Trevah's picture
T Melanson

Tue, 03/15/2016 - 2:05am

Didn't ask for an essay. I know your job requires standards but if you want your message to meet more people maybe it shouldn't be so complicated keep it simple.

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Issue Status

This year saw the state pass a law that will protect teens who have been drinking from  being prosecuted if they're caught while seeking medical help for another underage drinker suffering from an alcohol overdose. 


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