Coloradans Might Fix Their Arcane Booze Rules

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Colorado is known for many things: Beautiful mountain vistas, epic skiing, and, in recent years, a fairly freewheeling attitude toward weed. According to industry observers, the state consistently ranks as one of the top five cannabis-friendly states. But in stark contrast to this open attitude toward cannabis, Colorado is mired in the dark ages when it comes to booze. This November, Colorado voters will have the opportunity to change that through three pending ballot petitions.

Any Coloradan who steps foot inside a grocery store notices a peculiar reality: A humble bottle of wine is nowhere to be found. That’s not an accident, since grocery and convenience stores in the state are legally prohibited from selling wine.

Compounding this archaic rule is another outdated one that forbids most on-demand delivery services from dropping off alcohol at consumers’ homes. This means that parents who buy their household’s weekly groceries via a third-party on-demand delivery app—a common practice post-COVID—cannot add a six-pack of craft beer alongside their eggs and granola.

These restrictions are outliers in modern America, as 40 states currently allow wine to be sold in grocery stores and the 36 allow third-party delivery companies to deliver beer and wine. These states are as politically diverse as deep-blue California and deep-red Alabama.

Curiously, Colorado already allows grocery and convenience stores to deliver alcohol so long as they use on-staff employees to do so. However, given the way the modern system of grocery and beverage delivery works, many grocery stores partner with third-party delivery companies to oversee the delivery component of their businesses.

Requiring a grocery store to provide on-site store clerks as well as an entire fleet of delivery drivers often makes it financially and logistically impractical for stores to offer delivery. Even if a store could make these numbers work, Colorado stores must meet an additional requirement that at least 50 percent of each store’s alcohol sales are from in-person customers rather than from delivery—which arbitrarily hampers more delivery-centric grocery models.

Simply put, Colorado’s alcohol laws are needlessly restrictive and stunt the ability of ordinary citizens to purchase alcohol in ways that most other Americans take for granted. But reform may finally be on the horizon as Coloradans will have three alcohol-related ballot propositions to consider in the November elections.

If approved, Proposition 125 would allow wine in grocery stores, while Proposition 126 would allow the use of third-party delivery services for alcohol and make permanent the state’s popular pandemic-era extension of to-go cocktails from restaurants. A third ballot initiative, Proposition 124, would uncap the number of liquor licenses a single entity can own. Currently, a single owner can only operate three stores inside the entire state, another arbitrary restriction.

Taken together, these propositions offer Colorado the opportunity to catch up to the majority of America when it comes to alcohol sales. It would also be more on par with how Colorado treats cannabis—after all, third-party delivery of cannabis is allowed in the state.

Polling has consistently shown that an overwhelming majority of Americans are in favor of these reforms: Recent surveys in various states have found that over 70 percent of respondents support both wine in grocery stores and to-go/delivery alcohol.

Alcohol is one of the most unifying issues in today’s polarized political landscape. But despite this broad consensus, there still exists a small but vocal minority standing in the way. Incumbent liquor stores in Colorado oppose all three ballot propositions because they want to lock out competition from upstart competitors and new business models.

These stores argue that passing such propositions will allow larger grocery store chains to enter the alcohol marketplace at the expense of local mom-and-pop stores. But Colorado finally allowed grocery stores to sell full-strength beer in 2016, and while some liquor stores claimed they saw beer sales decrease, there is no evidence of any net loss in independent stores in the state as a result. Likewise, other states that allow wine to be sold in grocery stores and permit third-party delivery—again, a vast majority—have not reported significant numbers of independent store closures.

It seems that these incumbent stores merely want to ensure that alcohol delivery remains sidelined, wine stays out of grocery stores, and their businesses maintain a near-monopoly status quo on alcohol. Unfortunately, this determined protectionism prevents Coloradans from enjoying the basic conveniences and freedoms that consumers in most other states enjoy.

For a state known for its cannabis tolerance, it seems far past time for Colorado to liberate alcohol sales.

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