Does Selling Growlers Leave Customers Susceptible to Open Container Violation?

Multiple Beer Growlers

Photo by Matthew Bellemare, Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Growlers:  Branding them can make for great marketing.  Holding events around them can develop a loyal customer base.  For smaller breweries, they can be the only cost-effective way to allow your established customers to share your drink with others.  These re-fillable containers can be one of the most useful tools for breweries of all sizes.  But their prevalence forces the question, doesn’t sending customers to their vehicles with readily openable containers filled with beer open them up to open container violations?

To keep it short, technically, yes.  California Vehicle Code §23225 calls for a citation to be issued to anyone driving with “any bottle, can, or other receptacle containing any alcoholic beverage that has been opened, or a seal broken, or the contents of which have been partially removed, unless the container is kept in the trunk of the vehicle.”  The penalty for such an offense can reach $250, and a visible open container may indicate drinking and driving, which can be a bigger problem if the customer consumed any alcohol before taking their growler to their car.

In analyzing that law, it becomes clear that a growler would qualify as an open container.  It is a receptacle without a seal, from which alcohol is routinely removed, refilled, and removed again.  So, from a technical standpoint, if a growler is kept in the cab of a vehicle, the driver would be violating open container laws.

Practically, however, a customer taking home a growler will tend to avoid legal troubles.  From 2014 to 2017 in San Diego, 101 drivers were cited with open container violations.  Only about 30 of those drivers received a citation for open container violations without also receiving a DUI.  Records are not kept regarding the types of containers leading to the violations.  The numbers speak to the rarity of growler-based open container violations alone, and common sense indicates that most police officers would recognize a growlers purpose and follow the spirit of the law.  California has no known statewide policy regarding growlers and open container laws, however, so any officer could cite any customer on any given stop.

For your customers, there’s only one sure way for them to buy a growler of beer and be sure they won’t get cited for violating an open container law while driving home.  If they keep their growler in the trunk, then they are safe from open container rules.  Communicating this option may save them, and you, a lot of unnecessary time and expense.

About William Adams

Attorney at Norton, Moore, & Adams, LLP.
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