BC Liquor Law


Throughout 2020 British Columbia’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch issued a series of temporary relaxations of existing rules and regulations in response to COVID 19.

Certain of these time-limited measures were immediately felt by consumers such as expanded service areas and the provision for bars and restaurants to sell packaged liquor products (e.g. beer and wine) with the sale of a meal.

Other temporary licensing changes authorized this past year were more technical in nature and related to the manufacture of hand sanitizer or the granting of authority for manufacturers (think Okanagan based wineries) to direct deliver their liquor products to retail customers from their registered offsite storage locations (think warehouses located in lower mainland) rather than strictly from inventory maintained at their onsite store.

The provincial government has even gone as far as approving a temporary pricing model for hospitality licensees to purchase liquor at the BC Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) wholesale price until March 31, 2021.

These and other policy changes have had a profound impact on how liquor is manufactured, sold and consumed in British Columbia – but for now they are just temporary.

What will 2021 hold? Alcohol & Advocacy is closely monitoring the following:

Private Member’s Bill C-260 – An amendment to allow Canadians to ship wine, spirits and beer coast t- coast

On December 8, 2020 Bill C-260, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act, received its first reading in the House of Commons.

It’s proponent, Mr. Dan Albas, Conservative MP for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola (B.C.), had this to say:

 Mr. Speaker, I am certainly pleased to rise today to table my private member’s bill, Bill C-260, entitled an act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act. The title of the bill may sound simple, and that is intentional. That is because it is simple. The bill intends to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act to allow Canadians to order and enjoy their favourite wine, spirit or craft beer from any province or territory from sea to sea to sea, without restriction, delivered to their doorstep by the fine employees of Canada Post.

    As it currently stands, many Canadians cannot find their preferred wine, spirit or craft beer on the shelf of their local stores, and Canadian producers are unable to ship their product because of these archaic and outdated interprovincial restrictions that continue to vex this country. This not only stands in the way of the enjoyment of these products by all Canadians, but also hurts these small and medium-sized businesses by limiting who they can sell and ship to.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that Canadians feel more comfortable and safe shopping online or over the phone. This simple amendment would not only increase the happiness of Canadians and allow them to shop safely, but also help the small businesses that are seeing a sharp decrease in their local foot traffic because of the pandemic.

    I am confident that all members in this place will join me in supporting this bill to enact a simple amendment and open the taps to all Canadians.

Just how much support the bill receives, and how “simple” the amendment proves to be, have yet to be seen. Stay tuned.

Training and licensing for delivery drivers

In British Columbia the Liquor Control and Licensing Act and Regulation permit a delivery service to purchase liquor on behalf of a customer and deliver the liquor to the customer, subject to certain restrictions.

Currently delivery services (businesses primarily engaged in the transportation of people or goods) can provide liquor as one of the items it will transport and no special licence or authorization is required. In other jurisdictions, such as Ontario a licence is required to deliver alcohol.

In response to the COVID driven demand for increased reliance on food and alcohol delivery services, Alcohol & Advocacy expects to see in 2021 the introduction of licensing or otherwise more formal oversight for delivery services including mandatory Serving It Right certification for drivers.

This requirement already exists for food primary and liquor primary licensees, and the third-party delivery services retained by them, delivering packaged liquor with the purchase of a meal in accordance with the temporary authorization currently in place until March 31, 2021.

Licensee to licensee sales

In an October, 2020 interview with Able BC, the Attorney General of British Columbia Mr. David Eby QC confirmed he wanted to “engage” on the issue of licensee to licensee sales.

Currently bars and restaurants in BC can only purchase liquor from BC government liquor stores. Put simply, if the wine or spirits your establishment wants for its wine list or cocktail program aren’t stocked in government liquor stores (and many wines, liquers and aperitifs are not), you cant purchase them from a private liquor or wine store for use in your establishment. Your only option is to make a special order through the Liquor Distribution Branch which requires the commitment to purchase an entire case. For the vast majority of licensees that is not a practical alternative: for high end or limited availability wines and whiskies the cost may be prohibitive, for liqueurs and aperitifs that are used sparingly in cocktails keeping 12 bottles on hand is absurd.

In the Able BC interview Minister Eby recognized this dilemma, and confirmed that the government’s recent decision to provide true wholesale pricing for hospitality makes a future decision to permit licensee-to-licensee sales easier for the government as they have already backed-off from the “retail mark-up” income stream it previously enjoyed from the hospitality sector.

Temporary authorization for the sale of pre-mixed cocktails for off-site consumption by food primary and liquor primary licensees

Under the current temporary authorization for the sale and delivery of packaged liquor for off-site consumption with the purchase of a meal, bars and restaurants can only sell un-opened packaged liquor. Un-opened meaning packaged in the container the manufacturer sold the product in. Licensees must not sell any liquor for off-site consumption packaged on site by staff – this means no pre-mixed cocktails.

Legitimate policy reasons support the current prohibition against off-sales for pre-mixed cocktails. Unlike packaged products which must confirm with labelling requirements, pre-mixed cocktails are unlikely to be delivered to consumers with an alcohol by volume measurement, ingredient/allergen list, or a fixed serving size. These are not insurmountable hurdles.

Alcohol & Advocacy expects that industry can work with the Branch to agree on practical labelling requirements and serving size guidelines that will ensure public health and safety, while facilitating the return to work of furloughed bartenders and improving consumer’s take-away meal experiences.

In the meantime we shall wait and see what 2021 brings…

*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.