Governor signs bill allowing full-strength beer phase-in |

Governor signs bill allowing full-strength beer phase-in

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper

DENVER — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill Friday to gradually allow grocery stores to sell full-strength beer, liquor and wine, making the biggest change to state liquor laws since the end of Prohibition.

The law sets up a 20-year period for grocers to slowly acquire liquor licenses, sometimes by paying for those held by neighboring liquor stores.

By 2037, Colorado would repeal its unusual limits on how many licenses a company or chain may hold to sell alcohol. It also would end a requirement that most grocers sell only “near-beer,” water-downed versions of common brews.

Colorado’s largest grocers say the change will take too long and vow to ask voters this fall for speedier changes.

Hickenlooper recently said he didn’t want to see any change to liquor laws to protect the jobs of small store owners. But he signed the measure after meeting with brewers, liquor stores and grocers.

Small liquor stores favored the bill. That’s because they fear that voters would approve a measure to immediately allow full-strength beer, wine and liquor in all grocery stores.

Colorado’s largest grocers — King Soopers, Safeway and Albertsons — told lawmakers they still plan to run multimillion-dollar ballot campaigns this fall to end the “near beer” requirements once and for all.

Five versions of a ballot measure to allow more groceries to sell full-strength beer have been proposed. Supporters have until August to turn in some 98,000 signatures to get one of them on ballots this fall.

Hickenlooper said Friday he would “loudly” oppose any effort by supermarkets to push for an immediate change because he thinks it would be unfair to small liquor stores who have worked to build their businesses.

“I care about little guys,” he said.

Colorado has been debating beer in grocery stores for more than a quarter-century. Voters in 1982 overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure to allow full-strength beer in grocery stores. Since then, beer law has become a perennial topic of debate in the state Capitol.

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