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Should out-of-state driver’s licenses be an acceptable form of ID for purchasing alcohol in Massachusetts?

Kathi Maino Turner


Kathi Maino Turner

Owner, Turner’s Seafood Grill in Melrose and Turner’s Seafood at Lyceum Hall in Salem

When people think of Salem, they think of the thousands of people that travel here every October. While this is true, Salem has lots to offer no matter what time of year from our amazing waterfront and museums to our historical charm and the festive Christmas walks.

These great events attract people from all over New England and the world, who — after spending a great deal in the city — come into our restaurant for a nice New England seafood meal and a beverage. The unfortunate thing is that if these customers happen to come from New Hampshire or Maine, our employees cannot take their ID as a valid form of identification.


Since Massachusetts law only accepts in-state licenses or liquor identification cards, passports, passport cards, and military identification cards as valid proof of age, the safest course of action is to refuse service to any customer presenting an out-of-state identification.

This archaic law creates countless problems for operators like us who have many out-of-state guests. It is an unnecessary burden because checking the validity of out-of-state licenses is easy with the annually updated I.D. Checking Guide that come complete with instructions and color photos of each state license.

To my knowledge, Massachusetts is the only state in the country that refuses to recognize out-of-state licenses as a valid form of identification. We fashion ourselves as a destination state, especially with tourism as our third largest industry, so why would we make it harder for our out-of-state customers to enjoy our restaurants? This current law is effectively a deterrent for those prospective customers to patronize our establishments.

The Massachusetts Restaurant Association has advocated in the past and continues to advocate for stricter penalties for those attempting to use fake identification to illegally purchase alcohol. But we need to stop penalizing our law abiding out-of-state guests by doing away with this archaic law that hurts our local businesses.


Massachusetts positions itself as a world class destination. Certainly, we can rely on that passport from Canada or Brazil, but under the current law, those who are licensed in Maine or New Hampshire are out of luck. It is time we changed that.

Heidi Heilman


Heidi Heilman

President, Massachusetts Prevention Alliance

Excessive alcohol consumption and underage drinking, including in cities and towns in the north of Boston region, costs Massachusetts over $5.6 billion in 2010. In 2013, underage drinking cost the state $1.2 billion, or an average of $1,834 per underage drinker, according to a report by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

Homicide, suicide, aggravated assault, and traffic crashes attributable to underage use in Massachusetts represent the bulk of these costs but among teen mothers, fetal alcohol syndrome cost $20 million.

One of the most effective ways to lessen these costs is to prevent people from starting abusive drinking patterns. Underage drinking greatly increases the risk of developing a problem. Many alcohol policies work to deter underage drinking and current law that does not classify out-of-state driver’s licenses as a reasonably reliable form of identification is one of them. Thorough understanding of this law should make clear why it is worth preserving at this time.


The statute is intended to protect retailers from unknowingly serve a minor by listing six types of identifications that can be relied on reasonably. An out-of-state license is not on that list. A retailer may choose to accept an out-of-state license, but should it be fake or invalid, the retailer risks being held liable for serving a minor.

Fake IDs from out-of-state are common. Understandably, it is hard for retailers to keep up with fake license formats from all 50 states. The technology for producing fake IDs consistently remains a step ahead of the technology to detect them.

In modernizing alcohol laws, we must be cautious not to strip away measures protecting public health and welfare. The three best policy practices that reduce underage drinking and excessive alcohol use are: increased price (including alcohol taxes); limits to alcohol outlet density; and restrictions on alcohol marketing. But the responsible sale of alcohol is also important. Businesses must be held accountable as much as possible since they are selling a product that can be harmful to health, is linked with serious disease, and comes with many associated risks that can yield tragic, costly results.

Communities rely on businesses to mitigate the hazards involved, which means knowing with some certainty whether a patron is underage or not.

LAST WEEK’S ARGUMENT:  Should Salem update its rules for city tours?

No: 90.15% (357 votes)

Yes: 9.85% (39 votes)

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.