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.
Current law only allows the state’s grocery and convenience stores to sell “near beer,” a watery, bland, Prohibition Era product with an alcohol content of less than 3.2 percent. Colorado is one of only five states that still mandate near beer. Brewers would not produce this dreck were it not for archaic state laws that create a captive market.
The near-beer policy is exceedingly consumer-unfriendly. Want to enjoy a bottle of Echo Brewing Co.’s Nocturnal Black IPA? You must go to a liquor store. Want to purchase any of the craft spirits produced by Colorado’s 50 distillers? You must go to a liquor store. Care to pair the cut of beef you bought at the grocery store with a Malbec? You must go to a liquor store. (One wonders how much gasoline is burned and pollution released on these government-mandated, drinks-only schleps.)
The group Your Choice Colorado is collecting signatures to revise the state’s retrograde drinks retailing to permit grocery stores to sell all beers and wine. Some advocates also are proposing that groceries also be permitted to sell liquor, which is the best possible policy, since alcohol is alcohol.
But as Joey Bunch of the Colorado Post explains, the reformers’ efforts are being savaged by critics. Liquor store owners, who monopolize sales of real beer and wine, are especially vexed. They complain that competition will put them out of business. (That’s how capitalism works, but never mind.) Some local brewers also oppose change—they fear their beers won’t get shelf space in groceries, which will instead carry mega-brews like Coors. (If I ran a brewery, I would welcome the opportunity to expand my sales and get my brews on the shelves of groceries. Go figure.) Keep Colorado Local, a group that sprang up to oppose de-monopolization, is sleazily playing the kid-card. Families will be less safe from the evils of alcohol, they argue, if anyone other than liquor store owners can sell beer and wine, which is utter nonsense.
In a sane world, the Legislature would promptly pass legislation creating a single retail drinks license that would enable a holder to sell beers, spirits and wines. But, such fair and consumer-friendly policy scares entrenched interests.
The Colorado Legislature will adjourn May 11, and may do nothing on this topic, because its members cannot figure out how to satisfy all the competing interests. Even if it did get a good reform bill passed, Gov. John Hickenlooper, might veto it. “I’m not sure we need to change our regulatory framework to help big business at the expense of little business,” he declared.
So it goes in Colorado, where helping millions of citizens is low on the to-do list for elected officials.