The Good and Bad of Recent Colorado Alcohol Reforms


Colorado’s recent reform to allow grocery stores to sell beer stronger than 3.2 percent took effect on January 1st of this year. While this ushered in a much-need change, Derek Draplin for detailed another provision of the reform that’s more problematic (and interviewed R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle about is as well):

Other parts of the new law could spell trouble for smaller retailers, such as those in rural areas or mom-and-pop restaurants that currently sell carry-out cans of 3.2 percent alcohol beer in addition to serving beer.

SB 243 eliminated "on-off premise licenses," which allowed retailers to sell beer for consumption off-site, like a 6-pack of the 3.2 percent beer, and also sell and serve beer, like at a restaurant. The new law requires retailers to pick between the two types of licenses.

Small mom-and-pop retailers like The Last Stand in Weldona now face a tough choice if a legislative fix doesn’t come soon…

Jarrett Dieterle, director of commercial freedom policy for the R Street Institute, which runs the alcohol policy website, told Watchdog that flexible licensing schemes are important for localities and states to adopt.

“In general, states and localities should consider ways to increase the flexibility of alcohol licensing options,” Dieterle said. “Creating more flexibility and less rigidity in licensing schemes would allow different types of establishments to adopt models that work for them and their communities.”

Read the rest here. A bill to fix this problem and allow on/off-premise beer licenses in rural areas was just introduced in the Colorado legislature.

Recent Alcohol Law Changes in Colorado

Image via Wikipedia.

Image via Wikipedia.

In 2016, Colorado made headlines for reforming some of its outdated alcohol laws, including allowing grocery stores to sell full-strength beer (covered here). The booze debates have continued in Denver, with recent legislation passing that included some reforms as well as some restrictions. The Shelby Report has the update on what the bill included:

• Permits full-strength beer sales in all existing grocery and convenience stores, without distance restrictions to liquor stores or schools. It requires that new convenience and grocery stores wishing to sell those beverages be at least 500 feet from an existing liquor store;

• Allows clerks as young as 18 to sell full-strength beer, wine or spirits at grocery, convenience and liquor stores, down from the previously required age of 21 for such sales;

• Requires new grocery and convenience stores that wish to sell full-strength beer to derive at least 20 percent of their revenue from food sales. Existing grocery and convenience stores are grandfathered in to sell beer regardless of their income breakdown;

• Allows full-strength beer sellers to deliver beer to customers, provided they sell at least 50 percent of their alcohol from a brick-and-mortar location and use company employees in company vehicles to make the deliveries. This provision was added by legislators with the intension of trying to stop Amazon from taking over the local liquor-delivery market;

• Bans any full-strength-beer sellers from selling beer at below-cost prices;

• Allows Walmart—which had been left out of the original bill in 2016 permitting—expanded grocery store alcohol sales, to get the same extra 19 licenses over the next 19 years as was provided for other chain food stores; and

• Allows local governments and the Colorado Division of Wildlife to decide what kind of alcohol consumption will be allowed in public parks, since state law previously had limited such consumption to low-strength beer.

Read more here.


Colorado panel rejects limits on full-strength beer at grocers, convenience stores


Last year, Colorado passed legislation that loosened the state's retailing restrictions on full-strength beer, as well as enacting other reforms (previously covered here on To hammer out the exact details of implementing this legislation, the state created an advisory panel, which makes recommendations to the state legislature. According to the Denver Business Journal, the panel recently weighed in against a proposal that would have limited the types and amounts of stronger beer that groceries and convenience stores could sell under the new law:

"A working group of interested parties Friday overwhelmingly rejected a controversial proposal to have the Colorado Legislature limit the amount and strength of beer that grocers and convenience stores can begin selling in 2019.

Instead, the panel recommended that the Legislature allow all current licenses for selling low-strength beer to convert seamlessly into licenses for full-strength beer at that time.

With that, a committee that has been meeting since August 2016 dispatched what is likely to be its final report on how the state should implement Senate Bill 197, a law passed last year that makes the most substantial changes to alcohol sales in Colorado since the end of Prohibition in 1933.

And it is now up to the Legislature to decide how, if at all, to implement the changes the group has backed..."

Read the full story about implementing Colorado's reforms here.

Colorado Alcohol Retailers Prepare for Grocery Stores Being Allowed to Sell Beer

Colorado recently pushed through reforms that will allow grocery and convenience stores to sell beer over 3.2 percent starting in 2019 (and wine and spirits by 2037). The Coloradoan reports on reactions to and preparation for the coming change: 

"As Bullfrog Wine & Spirits general manager Josh Beard glances out of his office window, he notices three gas station convenience stores and one of Colorado’s largest grocery stores.

All four establishments in Beard’s periphery from the North Fort Collins liquor store will soon become Bullfrog’s competitors as Colorado’s alcohol laws are overhauled with the most significant changes since Prohibition.

The low-alcohol beer currently stocked at grocery and convenience stores across Colorado is scheduled to become extinct in 2019, when retailers currently capped at selling 3.2 percent alcohol beers will be allowed to sell full-strength beer and malt beverages like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice.

That means the state's approximately 1,600 liquor stores are expecting to see double the competition within two years..."

Read the rest here.

When the State Gives Lemons

The magazine Beverage Master has a nice rundown of liquor regulations and restrictions in various states around the country:

"With the passing of the 21st amendment, the prohibition of alcohol in the United States was officially repealed. Each state was given the power to regulate and control the distribution of alcohol within their borders. Today, every state handles the sales of alcohol a little differently, including setting limitations on what craft distilleries can do in their gift shops and tasting rooms. Some states are more “craft friendly” than others by allowing sampling, cocktail and bottle sales, direct distribution, paid tours, and other profitable options. However, every state imposes some restrictions. When the state imposes restrictions, how can distillers work within the laws to increase their bottom line?.."

Read the state-by-state summaries here:

Tempers flare over latest effort to expand liquor sales in Colorado

Colorado lawmakers debated a late-session effort to allow big-box stores like Walmart and Target to sell liquor in multiple stores in the same manner as grocery stores in the state. But the measure was ultimately killed in committee, as Brian Eason reports for The Denver Post:

"After a raucous debut, last call came early for a bill expanding alcohol sales in Colorado.

With no discussion Friday morning, the House Appropriations Committee rejected the controversial measure 5-8, declining to send it on to the full House floor for a vote.

House Bill 1370 would have allowed liquor stores to expand to up to nine locations under 10 years. Walmart also would have been allowed to expand alcohol sales to up to 20 locations over 20 years, putting them on a level playing field with grocery stores under a broad overhaul passed last year..."

Read more here:

The Colorado Stateman also has coverage of these legislative happenings: has previously covered the Colorado debate around expanding liquor retail outlets here, here, and here.

Bill to allow liquor stores to multiply their locations dies in Colorado Legislature

Recent liquor retail reform efforts appear to have ground to a halt in Colorado, as reported by the Denver Business Journal:

"Members of the Colorado Senate on Thursday told liquor stores they’ll have to be happy with the cap that exists in law.

The move comes after they first barred Walmart and Target from expanding the number of alcohol-sales licenses they can get.

Without comment as to why, the Senate Appropriations Committee killed Senate Bill 199, sponsored by Republican Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton and Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, by a margin of 4-3.

The bill would have let locally owned liquor stores, which can get no more than four more licenses to open new locations over the next 20 years, to achieve parity with grocery stores and get as many as 19 new licenses by the year 2037..."

Read more at: had previously covered these legislative reform efforts here and here.

Colorado liquor stores may have opportunity to add more locations

Ed Sealover reports for the Denver Business Journal:

"After the Colorado Senate last week killed a measure that would have extended full alcohol sales licenses to Walmart and Target, one of its committee gave its first nod of approval Tuesday to a bill that would allow locally owned liquor stores the same ability to grow their number of locations as a 2016 law gave to major grocery stores.

"Senate Bill 199 — a bipartisan effort from Republican Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton and Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood — would allow liquor stores that now can operate just one location to get licenses for as many as 19 more over the next 20 years...."

Read more at:

Colorado lawmakers defeat bill to allow liquor sales in Walmart and Target

John Frank of The Denver Post writes:

"Colorado lawmakers defeated a measure to allow liquor sales in Walmart and Target in an extraordinary vote Monday that suggested alcohol remains a potent political question.
"The bill to allow big-box stores to expand beyond beer and wine sales emerged as one of the most contentious of the legislative session and split lawmakers on the question of whether it would hurt local liquor stores.
"State Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, cast the final — and decisive — vote against the measure, 17-18 — an unusual tally that drew gasps from onlookers..."

Read more at:

Nasty politics may kill drinks reform in Colorado

R Street's Kevin Kosar on recent events in Colorado:

Colorado loves its drinks. It is the home of Stranahan’s whiskey and great microbrews too numerous to list. The Rocky Mountain State also is the home of the Great American Beer Festival, which began in 1982 and draws tens of thousands of visitors each autumn.

So you might think that an initiative to improve consumers’ retail access to drinks would be a no-brainer for the state’s leaders – give the people what they want and they’ll vote you back into office.

Think again....