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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 24, 20174min507

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.

Garcia explains:

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.


Peter MarcusMay 3, 20176min308

The continuing saga over expanding liquor sales in Colorado took more bizarre twists and turns Wednesday as lawmakers narrowly advanced legislation.

The House Finance Committee advanced a measure on a 7-6 vote that would build on last year’s historic overhaul of liquor laws that allowed for the gradual sale of full-strength alcohol in grocery stores over 20 years.

“House Bill 1370 is only meant to give some sense of parity or the ability to compete with Colorado’s grocery stores as they move into a new environment after January 1st, 2019 when the grocery stores and Walmart can sell full-strength beer,” said Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, a sponsor of the bill.

The bipartisan measure is also sponsored by Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster.

Some, however, say the new bill comes too soon, as many of the provisions from last year’s compromise are still being phased in.

The bill heard in committee on Wednesday, House Bill 1370, would allow liquor stores to gradually expand to up to nine locations over 10 years. It also would permit big-box stores like Walmart and Target to expand to 20 liquor licenses over a 20-year period. Supporters of the bill say it would level the playing field after last year’s compromise, which allowed grocery chains to get in the game.

Similar efforts failed in the legislature earlier this year, as the conversation devolved into a referendum on big-box chains and their impact on small retailers.

Where the conversation gets strange is the impact lobbyists have had on the discussion. The effort has caused bitter splits, with lobbyists for Applejack Wine and Spirits in Wheat Ridge and a handful of other retailers arguing that the deal last year put them at a disadvantage.

Smaller liquor stores, however, represented by the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, said Walmart was never intended to be part of the expansion last year, despite Walmart and its lobbyists saying they were absolutely supposed to be part of the deal.

“I want to apologize for the intense lobbying that has been directed towards all of you … I know what a hardship and what pressure you all have had,” Liston said.

The legislation that advanced Wednesday also would allow Natural Grocers to begin selling alcohol, something the grocer attempted earlier in the session but lost on.

Perhaps the strangest twist on Wednesday revolved around a text message that was mistakenly sent to a lobbyist in the discussions, in which Jeanne McEvoy, executive director of the Licensed Beverage Association, said, “I can’t send this bill out to my members. I’m afraid they will like it.” It raises flags, as CLBA is opposing the measure.

McEvoy said the text was meant to be “tongue-in-cheek,” and that she didn’t share the bill with all of her group’s 1,600 members because she didn’t have time to share it with such a large group and solicit feedback from everyone. The bill was introduced on Tuesday and heard in committee on Wednesday. McEvoy was grilled over the text during the hearing.

“It was a remark made in jest and it just went to the wrong person,” she said.

Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield, didn’t appear convinced, “It seemed to be more than a joke,” he said.

“I didn’t have time and that’s what it was, they would look at some things in here and say, ‘That’s really good,’ and not understand the consequences of what they think is good because they didn’t look at the whole thing,” McEvoy explained as to why she hadn’t shared it with all of her group’s members.

She added that an expansion of liquor licenses wouldn’t help smaller liquor stores, as many wouldn’t have the resources to open up additional stores.

“The concerns are nine liquor stores. Who can do that? Who has the resources to do that? We know who has the resources to do that,” McEvoy said, pointing to larger liquor stores in the state, such as Applejack Wine and Spirits.

But Mary Alice Mandarich, a lobbyist for Applejack, said the legislation this year is meant to complete negotiations that started last year.

“We’re following the instructions of the group that met last year. When 197 was negotiated it was also done late in the session and the issue of the retail liquor license and the number of licenses they would get was unresolved,” Mandarich said. “What they were told was to come back next year, run your own bill, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Peter MarcusPeter MarcusFebruary 14, 20176min310
Less than a year after lawmakers passed a grand compromise gradually allowing the sale of full-strength alcohol in grocery stores, a buzz has again hit the Capitol to expand efforts. The legislation last year represented the biggest change to state liquor laws since Prohibition. It marked progress after decades of failures trying to reform outdated […]

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Adam McCoyAdam McCoySeptember 21, 20166min393

Fusing two booming Colorado industries, Mason “Dude” Hembree plans to launch a line of cannabis-infused beers — yes, cannabis-infused beers. The brews, coined George Washington’s Secret Stash will launch early next year. Under his brewery Dad and Dudes Breweria, he’ll untap the beer, made with extract from cannabis sativa stalk and stem, at the Great American Beer Festival in October. “The excitement we received last year was proof the country is not only ready for cannabis reform, but for cannabis infused beer,” Hembree said.


Jennifer KernsJennifer KernsApril 18, 20166min366

An initiative is headed to the November ballot to modernize Colorado's liquor licensing/alcohol industry and to allow grocery stores and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer and wine. If passed, the measure would end Colorado's 83-year rule that allows only 3.2 percent alcohol to be sold at such stores. Proponents of the initiative say that Coloradans should have the ability to purchase beverages of their choice at their local markets but they are currently not permitted to do so.