Debate over full-strength beer at grocery stores is happening again at state Capitol

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DENVER -- In 2016, state lawmakers passed a sweeping reform bill aimed at addressing alcohol sales in Colorado.

Currently, full-strength beer is only allowed in a handful of grocery stores in the state.

Most full-strength beer sales take place at liquor stores and select grocery stores.

Most convenience stores and grocery stores can only sell 3.2 percent beer.

Because of the alcohol reform bill, beginning in 2019, most 3.2 beer sellers will be able to sell full-strength beer.

That news is not sitting well with some people, including Carolyn Joy, owner of Joy Wine and Spirits in Denver.

“What could happen to my business and to many small businesses would be devastating,” Joy said.

Lawmakers are not debating restricting 3.2 sellers from becoming full-strength beer sellers.

But they are debating possible new regulations for grocery stores and convenience stores to follow.

Some of the proposed changes include restricting the shelf space for selling alcohol at some convenience and grocery stores.

Other possible restrictions include limiting the number of alcohol sales to stores that have at least 20 percent of their total revenue in food.

Finally, there is also a discussion on age requirements. Liquor store owners say people 21 old or older might only sell beer at their establishments.

Under current guidelines, the new "beer stores” could allow those 18 years old or older to sell it.

“The government is treating one group of businesses one way and another group of businesses another,” said state Sen. Chris Holbert, a sponsor of the legislation who is trying to seek some common ground.

Convenience stories are not taking well to the news.

Grier Bailey, who represents convenience stores in Colorado, said many stores employ teenagers and most gas stations don’t sell enough food to meet the 20 percent threshold.

“There are a lot of Shell stations, a lot of Conoco stations that just don’t have the inside sales to meet that 20 percent threshold,” Bailey said.

Many amendments are expected to the legislation as it works its way through the legislature.

One area of discussion: Convenience stores near schools and whether they should be allowed to sell 3.2 beer.

A committee amendment removed the shelf space restriction. The State Senate State Affairs Committee will debate on whether to advance this bill later this week.

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