Colorado’s General Assembly might as well have set out to revise the U.S. tax code — and then seek a lasting Mideast peace — and it still wouldn’t have been as complicated as trying to untie the Gordian Knot constricting retail liquor sales in the state.
Compromise legislation passed by the legislature over a year ago was supposed to usher in historic regime change. The 2016 session’s Senate Bill 197 was going to kick-start a number of wide-ranging changes to be phased in over time. Among those changes: Grocery stores stuck with selling low-alcohol 3.2 beer, a post-Probition legacy brew, were at last going to be able to transition to the full-strength stuff starting in 2019. Also, chains like King Soopers and Safeway that have been allowed one location selling full-strength beer as well as wine and liquor are going to be able to expand the number of such locations starting this year.
There are many other moving parts to the 2016 legislative deal, including changes that also sweeten the pot for the state’s many independent liquor stores that are still the go-to retail source for full-strength beer and craft beers as well as wine and liquor.
But here’s the thing: Particularly the evolution from 3.2 to regular beer will be on hold until a “working group” of beverage industry reps convened under the provisions of SB 197 figures out exactly what steps are needed to make the change happen. Once they resolve that, more legislation would be needed to implement the tweaks. But given the Byzantine intrigue, long-standing mistrust and entrenched rivalries in the industry, getting even that far is going to be no small task.
That was certainly the takeaway of Denverite’s Adrian Garcia following a task force meeting that went nowhere last week. Reports Garcia:
…(T)he group had little to say to each other during its first gathering since the 2017 legislative session. So little, in fact, that what was scheduled to be a three-and-a-half hour meeting on the 30th floor of the Tabor Center ended more than an hour early.
A “consensus bill” that aimed to bring easy fixes to the legislation passed in 2016 — allowing grocery stores to eventually transition from selling 3.2 to full-strength beer — ended up falling apart during the session, leaving each player to work in its own best interest. Now it’s unclear if the group can come back together this summer and agree on recommendations for how to phase out 3.2 beer.
To repeat, it’s all very complicated; you still have some homework to do. Garcia’s full story is a good place to start. Here’s the link gain.