What You Need To Know About The Permissive Modernization Of BCs Liquor Laws

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While BC’s antiquated liquor laws have been a perennial source of frustration for just about as long as anyone can remember, since the fall of 2013 the rules that govern how alcohol is made, sold and consumed in our province have really been at the fore of public discourse. Back in September of that year, Parliamentary Secretary John Yap began a six week consultation process that culminated in the release of his BC Liquor Policy Final Report on January 31, 2014. Since its release, we’ve seen a number of key announcements made, and some pretty big changes implemented. Things like liquor sales in grocery stores and at farmers markets, happy hour pricing, and full site licensing at music festivals.

We’ve also had the introduction of a cocktail program at Rogers Arena, and the launch of the BC Ale Trail, an awesome province-wide craft beer marketing program. While both the Report and the Province’s implementation of its 73 recommendations have had their fair share of critics, it’s hard to deny that over the last few years BC has made some big strides in bringing our archaic liquor laws out of their temperance-era foundation and into the 21st century.

On January 23, 2017 a new Liquor Control and Licensing Act will come into force, bringing changes to everything from how liquor licenses are applied for to where liquor can be consumed. As I wrote back in 2014, the real test of the process that started in 2013 lies in how the Report’s recommendations get implemented and how they become manifest in key legislation, policy manuals, and license applications and procedures. Here are a few highlights:

– Barrel-aged cocktails will finally become legal in BC (yes, you read that right: it’s currently illegal for bars to infuse and age liquor and dispense it from anything other than its original container);

– Upon receiving special permission from the LCLB, bars will be allowed to serve liquor between 4a.m. and 9 a.m. for things like Olympic hockey and the Rugby World Cup;

– Guests will be allowed to take unfinished drinks from a hotel bar up to their room, and hotels will be allowed to give their guest a free drink when they check in;

– Except for businesses that cater to minors or operate in motor vehicles, all businesses will be allowed to apply for a liquor primary license (meaning booze at book stores, barber shops, art galleries, skate shops, record stores – the possibilities are seemingly endless);

– Bars with off-sales endorsements will be permitted to start delivering liquor;

– The rules surrounding contract brewing will be clarified, allowing breweries with a valid manufacturer license to brew for another brewery or liquor trademark owner (this is currently a pretty common practice, but is only expressly permitted for wineries);

– All breweries, wineries and distilleries will be able to offer guided tours of their facilities and will no longer have to apply for a special ‘tour area endorsement’ on their license to do so;

– Picnic areas at manufacturing sites will no longer effectively be limited to rural areas – urban breweries, distilleries and wineries will now be permitted to apply for picnic areas;

– The rules surrounding Special Event Licenses will be updated, allowing businesses to apply for a rebranded ‘Special Occasion License’ to raise funds for charity;

– In certain circumstances, bars, restaurants, and manufacturers will be permitted to choose between a monetary penalty and a license suspension when they violate the terms of their license; and

– An expanded review and reconsideration process will be put in place for licensees wanting to challenge LCLB enforcement decisions.

So all in all, nothing too revolutionary or dramatic – just a fair amount of rationalization and modernization. And while my local barber shop won’t be rushing out to get a liquor license (‘we don’t serve drunks here’ I was told during my last trim), giving businesses the ability to serve liquor is, like allowing sales in farmers markets or allowing wine sales in grocery stores, a welcome move towards the kind of ‘grown up’ liquor laws that so many of us have been asking for.

Photo via BC Govt.

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