BC Liquor Law Reform: What will 2016 bring?

Despite grumbling from various quarters, including Alcohol & Advocacy, 2015 was a historic year for liquor law in British Columbia.

A “new” Liquor Control and Licensing Act received royal assent in May, and several new and meaningful policies were implemented by the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch that ushered in real change to the way alcohol is marketed, sold and stored in British Columbia. Moreover, there is now a substantial public awareness and dialogue, largely informed by traditional print media, concerning the way liquor laws affect British Columbians. While far from perfect, the Yap Report made it clear that the BC government is listening to consumers and stakeholders in the liquor industry, and is committed to incremental change. The reforms to BC’s liquor laws over the past two years have enfranchised consumers, creating a growing demand for better and more accessible products at competitive prices.

As 2015 comes to a close, it is worth considering what the industry has to look forward to in 2016. To date only about half of the 73 Yap Report recommendations (each of which received “full support” from the government) have been implemented. In short, there is still a lot of change in store for confused consumers, and fatigued manufacturers and retailers. In the shifting legal landscape that is BC liquor law, change is truly the only constant. Many of the outstanding recommendations require the coming into force of the new Act, which will require the drafting of new Regulations, and corresponding changes to Liquor Control and Licensing Branch policy.

Of the outstanding Yap Report recommendations, below are Alcohol & Advocacy’s
“top ten”. For better or for worse we look forward to seeing how these recommendations and consultations unravel in 2016:

(as numbered in Yap Report)

[6] While labelling liquor bottles and packages is the responsibility of the federal government, B.C. should work with the other provinces and territories to encourage warning labels on liquor products.

[12] Due to the varying size and focus of licensed establishments, consideration should be given to how different types of penalties (e.g., a suspension versus a monetary penalty) may impact a licensee and staff. See Penalty Schedule Consultation Paper.

[13] LCLB should work with police agencies to explore implementing “last drink” programs across B.C. on a more concerted basis. If an impaired person’s last drink was in a licensed establishment, LCLB can investigate and possibly levy penalties for over serving clients

[14] LCLB should have the authority to regulate the home delivery of alcohol and should consider that home delivery service providers require SIR certification.

[15] Applicants and licensees seeking a review of LCLB decisions should have access to a new and separate decision-making body outside the licensing branch. The Ministry of Justice should review current processes and determine how best to provide independent decision-making for those seeking appeal.

[26] Government should discuss establishing a quality assurance program for B.C. craft beer and artisan-distilled spirits (similar to the VQA wine program).

[38] Food- or liquor-primary licences should be available to other types of businesses, allowing a range of new establishments (e.g., spas, cooking schools, and galleries) to offer liquor to their clientèle as an additional service.

[50] Permit hobby brewers and vintners to apply for an SOL to host competition events, allowing home-made beers and wines to be sampled by both judges and the public.

[58] LDB warehousing and distribution systems should be modernized and streamlined. The wholesale ordering processes should be improved with the goal of better and more efficient service to clients

[68] Allow private and public retail liquor stores to sell growlers (refillable bottles) and operate refilling stations.

Happy New Year from Alcohol & Advocacy.

*Alcohol & Advocacy publishes articles for information purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal advice, and persons requiring such advice should consult legal counsel.

Dan Coles
Retired bartender. Young lawyer. From the East, living in the West. Interested in British Columbia's producers and purveyors of wine, beer and spirits.