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Beer, Wine on Ballot?

The brouhaha over selling full-strength brews in Colorado grocery stores is back.
Blake Harrison, a candidate for State House District 7, has submitted a ballot initiative to Legislative Council staff that would allow Colorado grocers to sell full-strength beer and wine. If the initiative survives the legislative process, gets enough signatures and is approved by voters, Coloradans could be picking up their “beers and brats” at the same place by January 2011.
“I’m running for state Legislature and everybody I have talked to supports this idea,” said Harrison, a Democrat.
The Colorado Licensed Beverage Association (CLBA), a group that represents retail liquor stores, blasted the initiative as a poorly thought out political move. In a survey they conducted in August, CLBA found that only 38 percent of people support allowing Colorado liquor stores to sell full-strength beer and wine. Additionally, the trade group believes the initiative would force small “mom and pop” liquor stores out of business.
“It’s a shame Mr. Harrison is putting Colorado jobs at risk with a campaign ploy that less than half the state actually supports,” said Ben Davis, CLBA spokesman. “I think the last thing we need is a legislator that is going to be a cavalier about Colorado jobs to get elected.”
Harrison acknowledged that there is “no doubt liquor stores would feel the effect of this.” But he added that being concerned about the negative effects on liquor stores isn’t “any way to run government,” and that he is interested in looking out for the consumer.
“I think what’s lacking in this process is that consumers don’t have anyone sticking up for their interests,” he said. “The bottom line is that people want to get beer and brats at the same place.”
Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, and Rep. Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, D-Pueblo, last year tried to pass a bill that would have allowed grocery stores to sell full-strength beer. The bill was ultimately killed.
Mary Lou Chapman of the Rocky Mountain Food Industry Association, a lobbying group for grocery stores, believes that grocery stores should be able to sell full-strength beer because Colorado liquor stores are now allowed to open on Sundays. Before Sunday sales went into effect last July, Sundays were the only day that grocery stores sold a significant amount of beer, she said.
“They’ve created an untenable situation really for grocery stores and convenience stores because they created a special class of store that can only sell a product that most people don’t want,” she said.
But opposition to the idea is enormous. Colorado microbrewers, for one, believe that allowing grocery stores to carry full-strength beer would result in a lot less choice for consumers. Chain grocery and convenience stores would likely only carry the large batch beers from well-known microbreweries, which would hurt smaller microbreweries and their beer, according to Brian Dunn, president of the Denver-based Great Divide Brewing Company.
“The beer culture in Colorado is great because of the diversity of brands,” he said. “I think the availability of a wide variety of beers will be diminished (if grocery stores sell full strength-beer).”
Meanwhile, Harrison argues that consumers would benefit from an increase in competition. He believes that the increased revenue that chains like King Soopers, Safeway, and Whole Foods — all of which are based outside of Colorado — would receive from selling full-strength beer could result in the chains lowering their prices across the board.
“I think any time you lower the restrictions, you’re going to increase competition and decrease prices for consumers,” he said.
Harrison’s initiative is up for legislative counsel review on Dec. 1.

Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters

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