Growlers are great. Who doesn’t love fresh beer hot off the tap to enjoy in the comfort of your own home? But how do you take your growler home? If you drive it home, are you violating California’s open container laws? If you take the ultra-convenient train out to the Stone Brewing Company Store in Pasadena can you bring your full growler back on the train without fear of persecution?
Beer of Tomorrow takes a look at the laws the apply, and our conclusions might surprise you!
Ed. note: This guest post was written by California Attorney Jason Eliaser, and reading this post does not constitute the provision of legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by reading or responding to this post. This post is simply Jason’s generalized opinion, and is not advice. If you are in need of legal advice, of course you should contact a local attorney, rather than relying on any generalized opining on the internet. (And no, that isn’t legal advice, either.)
Grabbing a growler to-go is a favorite way of enjoying some fresh beer. Unfortunately, California’s creaky open container laws don’t contemplate the growler scenario, and don’t provide one hundred percent clarity. The Vehicle Code prohibits anybody to keep any “receptacle” containing alcohol in your car “that has been opened, or a seal broken, or the contents of which have been partially removed…” But a growler doesn’t have a “seal,” and the nature of the flip-top lid on most growlers make determining whether it’s “been opened” a matter of interpretation.
There haven’t been any court rulings that I could find that could help us interpret the code, so I asked an expert, a retired police officer (and my mom), how she would interpret the law. She said that if the growler was full, and the lid closed, a cop would be unlikely to cite a person for transporting it. But could they? Sure. Especially if it was an “add-on” offense. (For example if they caught you driving drunk, they might well slap on an extra “open container” violation for the growler.
You should be fine driving around with your full, closed growler, but I’m a pretty risk-adverse guy, so to avoid taking any chances with the ladies and gentlemen in blue, I put my growlers in the trunk. In California, drivers can put “open containers” of any kind in their trunks. If I was driving a station wagon or hatchback, I’d keep it in an area not normally occupied by passengers, such as the cargo space behind the back seat (not in the back seat or in the glove box).
How about taking your closed growler on the train, or walking it home, or even walking over to your car with it? The L.A. Municipal Code prohibits having an open container in or around an off-site alcoholic beverage retailer (such as bottle shops or liquor stores which permit you to buy alcohol, but not consume it there). Many other cities in California have similar laws.
L.A. is distinct in that it also has a code prohibiting open containers on public streets, parks, railroad depots, or any public place. This code again uses the same vague language prohibiting transporting alcohol in a receptacle “which has been opened, or a seal broken, or the contents of which have been partially removed…” However, in 1995, the California Appellate Court ruled that this code was unconstitutional. Nevertheless, that code remains on the books.
In light of the 1995 ruling, walking and traveling by bus or train with a growler (or any container of alcohol, open or not), is legal, so long as one stays away from off-site retailers. To be perfectly clear, consuming alcohol in public is very much against the law, but simply possessing or transporting a growler is fine. While it doesn’t change the legal situation, I would keep my growler in a handy-dandy reusable grocery bag in order to avoid any unwanted attention from L.A.’s finest.
So get out there and enjoy those growlers!
Have you had a run-in with the law while transporting beer? We want to hear your story in the comments.
Jason is a San Diego-based attorney and beer geek. You can find out more about him at his website: www.eliaser.com.