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Grocery store liquor, beer sales coming to Colorado

Law allows full-strength alcohol sales in Colorado grocery stores
A bill signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday allows the gradual sale of beer, wine and liquor in grocery stores.


The governor said he struggled with the legislation, which was considered one of the most significant bills to make it through the Legislature this year, as it will bring the biggest change to state liquor laws since Prohibition.

He signed the bill on the last day for his decision, and it was the last piece of legislation he acted on from the legislative session that ended in May.

“In the end, we thought it was important to sign this bill just to send a pretty strong message that this is an appropriate compromise,” Hickenlooper said to a throng of media gathered in his office.

A question, hangs over the process. A handful of grocery stores are collecting signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot that would allow the sale of full-strength beer and wine in grocery stores. It would not include liquor, as the bill allows.

“It is deeply disappointing that Gov. Hickenlooper signed this flawed and unconstitutional legislation that only protects a handful of big liquor stores and liquor lobbyists,” said Georgie Aguirre-Sacasa, campaign manager for the initiative.

“Your Choice Colorado will continue to weigh our options to keep standing by the voters, giving them the ability to make their voices heard amidst this broken system – whether through a legal challenge to this sloppy bill or as planned, taking it to the ballot.”

Under the bill, full-strength alcohol sales would be phased in over 20 years, with grocery stores allowed to gradually purchase 20 licenses. After that, stores would be allowed to obtain unlimited licenses.

Actual sales, however, would not begin until 2019.

The legislation includes a buffer zone provision – a radius of 1,500 feet around existing liquor stores – and requires grocery stores to buy out liquor stores to obtain licenses within that zone.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, who orchestrated the compromise, said he hopes the grocery stores will pull their initiative. He says if they don’t, and the ballot question passes, some provisions of the bill would stand, including the buffer zone.

“This bill gave the small independently-owned liquor stores a chance to sit at the table and pick their poison,” Steadman said, pointing to the compromise. “This bill is the roadmap for how the liquor market in Colorado is going to evolve.”