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Proposition 124: Will retail liquor stores be able to open more locations?

Total Wine & More in Denver. The national chain wants to expand in Colorado. (Jesse Paul/The Colorado Sun)
The measure would let liquor retailers open an unlimited number of stores in Colorado starting in 2037

There are only three Total Wine & More stores in Colorado, when in other states, like Florida and California, there are dozens.

That’s because Colorado’s liquor laws allow retailers have only three locations in the state. Starting in 2027, that number jumps to four stores under existing statutes.

Proposition 124 would rewrite Colorado’s liquor laws to eventually let retailers open an unlimited number of liquor stores in the state.

Here’s what you need to know about Proposition 124.

What it would do

Proposition 124 would immediately increase the number of stores in Colorado that liquor retailers are allowed to operate to eight from three.

Starting in 2027, the number would increase to 13 stores. In 2032, the number would increase again to 20 stores.

Starting in 2037, liquor retailers would be allowed to operate an unlimited number of stores in Colorado.

Arguments for

The proponents of Proposition 124 see the measure as solving a free-market issue.

Colorado grocery stores are currently only allowed to sell beer at all of their locations. (Until 2019, it had to be limited to 3.2% alcohol by volume.) Grocers can sell wine and spirits at a limited number of stores.

Starting in 2037, however, grocers will be able to sell wine and spirits, too, at all of their locations under a law passed in 2018.

“Our state liquor laws are outdated and need modernized,” said Dominic DelPapa, a spokesman for Coloradans for Liquor Fairness, an issue committee pushing for the passage of Proposition 124. “Supporting this ballot measure is about correcting a gross imbalance in current law.”

Arguments against

Small liquor retailers argue that Proposition 124 will push them out of business by letting national chains, like Total Wine & More, expand across the state.

Colorado’s current law is written to protect smaller operators against facing that kind of competition.

The Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, a trade group representing smaller, independent liquor stores across the state, is opposed to Proposition 124. The organization’s leader, Chris Fine, said the measure would put his members out of business since bigger competitors like Total Wine, which has a store in Denver, Lakewood and Centennial, has greater buying power and therefore can sell its products for cheaper.

Fine went so far as to call the measure “catastrophic” for independent liquor retailers in Colorado.

One big thing you should know

Proposition 124 is one of three alcohol-related measures on the November ballot, all of which are opposed by the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association.

Proposition 125 would allow retailers who have a license to sell beer, such as grocery and convenience stores, to also sell wine starting on March 1. Proposition 126, which would let third-party services deliver alcohol, whereas right now stores and restaurants have to deliver alcohol to customers themselves. It would also let restaurants to sell to-go alcohol in perpetuity, whereas right now they can only do so until July 2025.

Each of the policy changes may seem individually small, but if all three measures pass they would represent a sea change in Colorado’s alcohol policy.

The players and the money

We’ve mentioned Total Wine & More a lot in this explainer because they are the main group pushing for the passage of Proposition 124.

Colorado Fine Wines & Spirits LLC, a subsidiary of Total Wine, has given $5.3 million to Coloradans for Liquor Fairness. Democratic U.S. Rep. David Trone, of Maryland, and his brother, Robert, who own Total Wine, each have given about $1 million to Coloradans for Liquor Fairness.

The committee has spent about $4 million on advertising so far.

Keeping Colorado Local, the issue committee formed by the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association to fight propositions 124, 125 and 126, has raised about $500,000 this year.

Read more at The Colorado Sun

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.