Following a recent policy review commissioned by the province, B.C. is prepared to implement 15 of 73 recommended changes to its antiquated liquor laws with the introduction of Bill 15, 2014 – Liquor Control and Licensing Amendment Act.  The remainder of the recommendations have also been endorsed by the province but will be phased in over an unspecified period of time.

Changes are being proposed across the board, from private liquor sales and restaurant/bar licenses to manufacturing and distribution.  The focus of the review, which involved a lengthy public consultation process, was to increase convenience to consumers and reduce the regulatory burden for manufacturers while maintaining a balance with public health and safety.

Some of the imminent changes affecting manufacturers include allowing the sale of their products at off-site retail locations such as farmers markets, festivals and competitions, introducing “low risk” tasting venues on site without the need to obtain an additional endorsement on an existing license and allowing the sale of third party liquor products not produced on site.

A significant and welcome change for restaurant and bars includes lifting the ban on happy hour drink specials and lessening restrictions on storage and transportation of liquor, beer and wine.  Other changes that are yet to be proposed in the legislation include allowing children into bars and removing or reducing restrictions associated with food primary licenses currently requiring bar and restaurant owners to have physical barriers within their establishments for areas serving alcohol-only or requiring customers to purchase food if alcohol was being served.

On the enforcement and compliance side, more discretion will be provided in issuing penalties allowing the regulators to consider the size and focus of the establishment and the impact of the penalty on the licensee and its staff.  For example a monetary fine may be more appropriate considering all the circumstances than a license suspension.

Finally, the change that has attracted the most public attention and support is allowing the sale of alcohol in grocery stores.  Currently, liquor, beer and wine can only be sold in government run liquor stores or one of the 670 licensed private liquor stores throughout the province.  The new legislation will allow a store-within-a-store model for the sale of alcohol within grocery stores.  However, the province recently renewed a 2002 moratorium on new licenses that will remain in place until the year 2022.  Accordingly, this new model has also attracted some criticism, as grocery stores will have to convince existing private liquor stores to move in.

All in all, the proposed changes present a welcome and refreshing overhaul to the province’s current antiquated liquor licensing and control regime.

A complete list of the 73 proposed changes can be seen in the B.C. Liquor Policy Review Final Report.