Hickenlooper approves major change to alcohol sale laws

Colorado grocery stores will gradually begin to be able to sell full-strength beer and wine, thanks to a compromise bill Gov. John Hickenlooper signed today.

The bill, which Hickenlooper called “imperfect,” is intended to appease both those who want to increase consumer choice and those who fear for the fate of independent liquor stores.  While signing, Hickenlooper had a message for those pushing for a more drastic ballot measure: He will be very publicly campaigning against it if supporters decide to move forward.

Hickenlooper signed the compromise bill Friday, on the last day he could take action.

Prior to signing, he told reporters that he hoped the grocery stores that have opposed the measure — primarily the state’s largest grocery chains, King Soopers and Safeway — would accept the law. These stores opposed the bill because of its restrictions, including its 20-year roll-out. Walmart and Target, which also want to sell full-strength beer and wine, supported the compromise measure as it worked its way through the legislature in the session’s final days.

“I felt this was the best compromise we could come up with,” Hickenlooper said. He said he got more than 400 letters on the bill, as well as a petition with the signatures of 600 small liquor store owners, in support. Hickenlooper has struggled for weeks over whether or not to sign the bill, reportedly stating he didn’t want large chain grocery stores to benefit at the expense of small businesses.

Related: Rural liquor stores fear big box ballot measure

The bill Hickenlooper signed today allows for a gradual transition by grocery stores into selling full-strength beer and wine over a 20-year period. The bill also puts restrictions on just who can get liquor licenses.

Your Choice Colorado has two petitions out for signature right now. The measures all differ slightly, but the basic premise is that if adopted, grocery stores would be immediately able to sell full-strength beer and wine without restrictions.

The bill that was signed into law today has restrictions meant to protect liquor stores, especially those in rural areas. In communities of 10,000 or less, a grocery store cannot obtain a liquor license if a liquor store is within 3,000 feet — the restriction for larger communities will be half that — unless the grocery store wants to buy the liquor store’s license. Liquor store owners get to set the price for their licenses.

Liquor stores will also be allowed to sell non-liquor food products, as long as those sales do not exceed 20 percent of total revenue.

Georgie Aguirre-Sacasa, speaking on behalf of Your Choice Colorado said it was “deeply  disappointing that Governor Hickenlooper signed this flawed and unconstitutional legislation that only protects a handful of big liquor stores and liquor lobbyists to become law. First the legislature, and now the Governor, have denied Coloradan consumers what they want and deserve: real beer AND wine in grocery stores.”

Aguirre-Sacasa said the campaign would weigh its options, which it said was either to continue on with the ballot measure or taking legal action against the new law.

Updated 6 p.m. 6/10/16 to add Your Choice Colorado statement.

Photo credit: bigbirdz, Creative Commons, Flickr

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.


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