I’m old enough to remember when turning 18 was a big milestone for Colorado residents. Not only could you vote but you could legally purchase and drink 3.2 beers from a grocery store. In 1987, the state changed that law to abide by federal standards to bump the legal age for all liquor to 21.
But while the craft brew beer industry has exploded statewide in the last 20 years, lawmakers have been stubborn about keeping an antiquated law that bans full strength beer and wine sales in grocery stores. Colorado voters in November have a chance to change that with a ballot measure called Your Choice Colorado.
As Denver’s mayor from 1991-2003, I fully embraced the need for entrepreneurs to grow and prosper. Where once were abandon warehouses in Lower Downtown Denver and the Globeville-Swansea-Elyria neighborhoods – known as the RiNo district – now are many bars and restaurants featuring awarding-winning craft beers. Yet, if I go to my neighborhood grocery store, none of those beers are available.
It doesn’t make sense to me, from a practical perspective, why Colorado’s craft beer can be sold in grocery stores in 42 other states, but not here where it’s made. Getting rid of our Prohibition-era ban on selling full-strength beer and wine would be good for Colorado consumers, good for Colorado’s craft beer industry, and good for the local economy.
Craft brewers across the state would have access to new shelf space and new customers, generating an estimated $125 million in revenue for the brewing industry, and likely creating new jobs at grocery stores – another positive impact on the state’s economy.
Of course with increased competition come the naysayers that want to keep the status quo. We heard some of the same debate before the state allowed liquor stores to open on Sundays. But we only have to look at the 42 other states that allow grocery stores to sell craft beer and wine to see that the additional competition has not negatively impacted the industry.
Colorado is the only one of the top-five craft beer producing states that doesn’t allow sales in grocery stores. In contrast, Washington and Oregon allow the grocery stores sales and the breweries and liquor stores continue to thrive there.
And two of Denver’s suburbs – Glendale and Englewood – have passed laws that allow several grocery stores to sell full-strength beer and wine in a single store. In Glendale, for example, there are scores of liquor stores within a two-mile radius of two of those grocery stores, and they are still open and doing well.
We old-timers can reminisce about the first time we purchased 3.2 beers at a grocery store and when liquor stores were closed on Sundays. But that is all in the past. Let’s embrace our craft beer brewing industry and allow grocery shoppers the choice.