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The battle to sell real beer in Colorado

A contentious law passed in 2016 allows grocery stores in Colorado to sell full-strength beer at stores in more than one location beginning in 2019. It also allowed stores that currently only sell 3.2 beer to begin selling full-strength beer at the same time.

Previously, neither grocers nor liquor stores could obtain a license to open more than one location that sold full-strength beer. 

Despite the passage of the law, the debate has not ended. Early in March of 2018, Colorado lawmakers proposed legislation that would prevent stores from letting clerks under age 21 sell full-strength beer and having grocers deliver beer to customers, among a few other provisions.

Colorado's dizzying history of alcohol sales regulations

Beer with 3.2 percent alcohol content has been sold in Colorado since prohibition. At the time, lawmakers, beer advocates and a population fed up with sobriety backed "scientific evidence" of questionable validity that it was impossible to get drunk on low-alcohol beer.* Through this push and a complicated mix of the 18th Amendment, state law and the federal Volstad Act, Coloradoans could get 3.2 beer before the repeal of prohibition.

The result is that the sale of 3.2 beer has always been regulated differently than the sale of full-strength beer in Colorado. Selling 3.2 beer still requires a different license than full-strength beer - at least this year.

"Full-strength" beer usually contains anywhere from 4 to 6 percent alcohol by volume. Craft beers, including some brewed in Colorado, may have a higher percentage.

Licensing issues up in the air

It remains to be seen whether any of the new laws will pass. Grocers, liquor stores and brewers will have to keep an eye on any new legislation that passes. There are numerous conflicting interests at stake, and the proposed legislation promises to be as hotly contested as the 2016 measure that ultimately became law.

*"Low-alcohol" 3.2 beer can be intoxicating, if you drink enough quickly enough. That can also be bloating.

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Broomfield Office
390 Interlocken Crescent
Suite 350
Broomfield, CO 80021

Toll Free: 800-746-3560
Phone: 303-872-8919
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Denver, CO 80264

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