Outdoor festivities and entertainment are an important part of Michigan’s hospitality industry and economy, contributing to the industry’s annual sales of nearly $40 billion. Alcohol sales are an integral part of this industry and are heavily regulated by the state in order to ensure the health and safety of both patrons and the general public. With the rise in popularity of outdoor dining and drinking establishments, previous open container laws have been revisited and amended to give additional room for this vital industry to continue to grow and thrive in the state.
Michigan Open Container Laws
Michigan’s open container laws prohibit the transportation and possession of open alcoholic beverages. This includes open or uncapped containers as well as containers with a broken seal. With that said, there are certain exceptions where the consumption and transportation of open alcohol is legal.
As of July 21st, 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed House Bill 5781. This bill allows local city governments to grant permits for the open consumption of alcohol. These permits have been granted in several areas across Michigan.
For example, the city of Royal Oak approved and opened a social district in the downtown area. This area includes Main Street as well as side streets connecting about 40 bars and restaurants, some of which are actively licensed to serve open containers within the district. This district was requested by the Royal Oak Downtown Development Authority and approved by the city.
Some of the early adopters of social districts in Michigan include notable areas such as Royal Oak, Northville, Mount Clements, Saugatuck, Petoskey, Dundee, Wyandotte. As the popularity of these districts grows, many others will soon follow suit due to the economic and social benefits provided. MLive has conveniently provided a listing of localities participating in these districts in order to assist those frequenting restaurants and entertainment establishments.
Understanding The Laws
Michigan’s laws surrounding the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages are complex and often difficult for the average person to understand. Regarding open containers, there are now two different laws that are applicable depending on the situation. In general, the transport and possession of open containers in a public place is still strictly prohibited by Michigan law, however as mentioned above there is now an exception for social districts as approved by local governments.
An open container is defined as a container that has had its original seal broken or removed. This can even include a container that has not had any alcohol consumed, and is still completely full. In addition to the obvious risk of a DUI arrest from excessive alcohol consumption, this also means that once a container has been opened it cannot be transported or possessed in a vehicle or a public place that is not a social district as allowed by Act No. 124 Public Acts of 2020. This is important to note because a conviction for an open container in a vehicle carries with it a fine of $500 and up to 93 days in jail.
Social districts as created by this new change to Michigan’s open container laws are intended to give local governments the choice of whether or not to allow the open consumption of alcohol outside of a licensee’s property. In certain areas such as downtown and entertainment districts, this is a welcome option as adjoining restaurants and entertainment facilities that share the same common areas, allowing their patrons more freedom of movement and a better opportunity for enjoyment.
It should be noted that these social districts only allow for the consumption of alcoholic beverages purchased from one of the participating businesses, and does not allow the consumption of outside beverages – meaning no “bring your own beer”. Additionally, the containers sold for outdoor consumption in the social district are required to be marked with the name of the participating licensee and cannot exceed 16oz in size.