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Decriminalizing Public Consumption of Alcohol

As of Monday March 7th, all brown-bag drinkers of Manhattan, New York, will have reason to rejoice: the city is decriminalizing public consumption of alcohol. On March 1st, New York District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a joint initiative decriminalizing a variety of low-level offenses, including public urination, riding between cars on the subway, and drinking in public. The initiative states "the Manhattan District Attorney's Office will no longer prosecute most violations or infractions, and the NYPD will no longer arrest individuals who commit these offenses" unless the offense threatens public safety.

It's still illegal to drink in public under this new policy - however; offenders will likely get slapped with a summons and fine, or just a warning. The initiative marks a notable change in an overall consensus of most major U.S. cities that turn a critical eye towards drinking in public. Public drinking laws vary from state to state, city to city, and sometimes even block to block. A study by the Huffington Post could find only 20 cities (of any size) that allow drinking in public, and many restrict it to specific "Entertainment Districts," like Bourbon Street in New Orleans and the Las Vegas Strip.

In California, regulations on public consumption of alcohol differ between cities. California Penal Code Section 647(f) makes it a misdemeanor to be drunk in public (public intoxication) if an individual was willfully under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol in a public place and was either unable to exercise care for his or her own safety or others' safety or because the individual prevented the free use of a public way (like a street or sidewalk). A "public place" has been broadly interpreted, and can mean a parked car, a hotel hallway, or a nightclub. Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 41.27(c) makes it illegal to consume alcohol in any public place whose premises are not licensed for consumption.

The best way to prevent a public consumption of alcohol or public intoxication offense is to drink responsibly. Pace yourself when drinking, drink water in between alcoholic drinks, and plan how you are safely getting home before go ing out. Hiding a bottle inside a brown paper bag will not protect you from a public consumption of alcohol violation. As always, cooperate and be respectful with law enforcement. And, if you do receive a violation or infraction, contact a local attorney who has experience with public intoxication and public consumption of alcohol offenses.

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