Time for British Columbia to modernize its liquor laws

John Yap suggests that beer, wine and spirits should be made available in grocery stores but in a separate section of the retail outlet.

Selling liquor in grocery stores is totally logical and long overdue.

Last week, Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Reform Policy John Yap recommended that British Columbians be allowed to buy beer, wine and spirits in grocery stores following a review of the province’s liquor laws.

According to his report, over 75 per cent of residents who blogged, posted or tweeted their opinions on the province’s liquor policy review policy were in favour of opening up retail outlets.

It’s about time.

Yap said in a news conference last week that, given the overwhelming response from the public, selling alcohol in grocery stores was the number one recommendation in his report given to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton. His suggestion was that beer, wine and spirits should be made available in grocery stores but in a separate section of the retail outlet.

From a consumer point of view, one-stop-shopping is time efficient and convenient. Grabbing a six pack and a bottle of wine at the same time as picking up groceries is a no-brainer in today’s retail world.

The existing purchasing controls are out of step with consumer’s expectations. It’s time to dump the nanny state mentality. We’ve been attached to this adolescent umbilical cord linked to controlled sales way too long.

Some private beer and wine stores see the recommendation as threatening their share of the marketplace or making beer and wine more accessible to minors. But if alcohol is sold in a separate section of a grocery store with proper ID required at the checkout, minors will have no greater ease of access than trying to buy alcohol through current outlets.

“We’re light years behind Europe, the U.K. and the U.S. when it comes to the sale of alcohol in stores,” said bartender Ken Lewis in Ucluelet. “I don’t see any problem with sales in grocery stores, especially if it’s in a designated area. A separate area inside a grocery store would be off limits for minors so the argument that beer and wine would be more accessible makes no sense.”

Nor is that argument about some noble cause to protect minors. It’s about protecting the bottom line.

According to the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. at the University of Victoria, alcohol consumption in Canada has increased slightly after declining a little since 2009/2010. Alcohol consumption in B.C., which for several years has been higher than the Canadian average, decreased slightly in 2012/2013. B.C. residents consumed 8.48 litres of absolute alcohol per person per year in 2012/2013. For the record, one litre of absolute alcohol equals 58 standard drinks.

The provincial government will look at models from different provinces including the store-within-a-store concept in Nova Scotia and Ontario and the Quebec model of selling domestic and imported beer as well as local wines. Yap also recommended that the moratorium on the 731 private liquor stores be kept in place.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the country, accounting for 8.1 per cent of all household spending on food and beverage. Every dollar that Canadians spend on beer generates $1.12 to the Canadian economy. In 2012 Canadians bought the equivalent of 235 bottles of beer per person at both private stores and agencies, the beer economy supports 163,200 jobs across the country (1 in every 100 Canadian jobs) and the industry suds up $5.8 billion in annual tax revenues across the board.

“Beer has been a part of Canadian life for hundreds of years,” said Pedro Antunes, director, National and Provincial Forecast, CBC. “The beer economy is a significant employer. No matter where people buy beer, they support jobs across the country.”

Bottoms up, I say.

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