Buying Beer With Bitcoin is Legal in California, Official Says

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has indicated bitcoin can be used in liquor sales.

AccessTimeIconMay 2, 2014 at 6:56 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 10:43 a.m. UTC
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The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) has given the green-light for bars and other alcohol-serving establishments to accept bitcoin as a form of payment.

Wired first reported that the state’s alcohol regulator did not believe such purchases violated any state laws.

The news notably follows the announcement from the Ohio Department of Public Safety, which effectively banned the use of bitcoin for alcohol sales in that state earlier this week in a move that was roundly criticized in the digital currency community.

The ABC's information officer John Carr told CoinDesk that the decision to accept bitcoin - whether for alcohol or otherwise - is perfectly legal under California law.

Carr said:

"Bitcoin can be accepted if a bar, restaurant or liquor store or place that sells alcoholic beverages, wishes to accept it. That’s their business decision."

State laws lead to differing decisions

Ohio released its announcement following requests for clarity from merchants participating in Bitcoin Boulevard US, a project that will find a number of Cleveland, Ohio, merchants accepting bitcoin as part of a wider promotion.

The state noted that its Liquor Control Law requires the ‘payment of money’ to be part of any alcohol purchase, and that because the law does not use the word ‘currency’, bitcoin sales are not allowed.

The ABC, by contrast, framed the choice of accepting bitcoin as a form of payment as a decision left to the businesses themselves.

Carr explained:

"If it’s a recognized form of currency by the business and they’re willing to accept that as a consideration for a point-of-sale, that’s a decision they can make."

California's growing bitcoin economy

However, the state government is still developing its regulatory views regarding bitcoin, and it remains to be seen how regulators and legislators will treat digital currencies in the future.

The California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) released a document earlier this month which warned investors and consumers about the potential dangers of digital currency.

Further, there is an effort in the California State Assembly to expand the definition of “lawful money” in the state to include digital currencies like bitcoin. It has been spearheaded by California Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, who sat down for an interview with CoinDesk in March.

California is home to a number of bitcoin companies and startups, including Coinbase and Kraken, among others.

Mug of beer via Shutterstock

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