Vail Daily column: Understanding Colorado liquor licensing
November 6, 2012
You thought it was easy.
You trundle down to your local establishment, plop down your hard-earned, flash your ID, and you’re out with your Pabst or Molson.
Or else, you’re in the mood for companionship and belly up to your favorite watering hole where you throw your leg over your special seat and plug your belt buckle to the polished bar. “Teeny,” you drawl. “Sandpaper dry.”
But what’s behind the curtain? How does the purveyor of your preferred beverage, well… purvey?
As you might suspect, besides the distilleries, brewers, vintners and distributors, it comes down to the law.
Welcome to Mr. Robbins’ neighborhood.
Not surprisingly, the liquor laws are contained in something called the Liquor Code. Oh, if only politics were half as sensible!
To deal, sell, pour, or distribute beer, wine or spirits, you must hold a license. But again, it’s not quite so simple.
There are a host of different licenses which may or must be had. Licenses for 3.2 beer, for malted beverages (read this “regular” beer), wines, and spirituous beverages. A license for the one does not necessarily contemplate another. There are holders of fermented malt beverage licenses who, if they sold hard liquor, would find themselves answering some hard questions. And vice versa; a vinous and spirituous beverages license does not give one (wait for it … ) “license” to peddle Bud, Coors, or Corona.
So as a purveyor-in-waiting, you apply for a license. But as the late Billy Mays might once have intoned, “But wait! There’s more!”
What kind of establishment you want to operate matters, too. There are hotel and tavern licenses, sports and entertainment venue licenses, club licenses, retail liquor store licenses, special event licenses, and liquor-licensed drug store licenses.
So what does it take to actually secure a license?
First, you have to be of good moral character. Yikes, you just might be out in the first round! You, of course, have to pay a fee. You must be of legal age. A license may not be held by a peace officer, employee or inspector of the state licensing authority. A licensee must be fingerprinted and file personal history information. A criminal history is verboten.
Whew! Now what?
Speaking generally at least, you have to demonstrate that your proposed establishment would be a good fit for the neighborhood. First, the proposed location must be zoned to permit the sale of alcohol. Next, you must demonstrate to the licensing authority that the reasonable requirements of the neighborhood and the desires of the adult inhabitants are not fully met by the existing establishments. The way this is generally achieved is by petitions, remonstrances (that is, opposition or “grievances”), testimony, letters of support or opposition, and demographic evidence. Those protesting or supporting the application must be businesspersons in the neighborhood and/or adult residents who on occasion at least partake of alcoholic beverages. Teetotalers are generally excluded. A “neighborhood” for purposes of a liquor license application is generally whatever the local licensing authority determines it to be so long as it is fairly and uniformly applied.
What’s more, you will have to prepare an Alcohol Management Plan (or “AMP”), which details your intentions, how you will comply with all applicable alcohol-related laws and regulations, and the security measures you will institute to ensure that alcohol will not be served or sold to minors or intoxicated persons.
Once your duckies and paperwork are all in a row, you go before the liquor board. But, hey, who are these guys anyway?
Well, it depends where you are. In some counties (generally more populous ones) they are boards that serve this and only this purpose. In less populous counties there are various options including, as in Eagle County, where the Board of County Commissioners switches hats and sits as the liquor licensing authority.
At the hearing the for and “aginst” petitions are presented, the applicant presents his spiel, testimony is taken, questions are asked, presenters may be crossed examined, the licensing authority mulls, cogitates and considers and, if all goes well, you are the proud new owner of a license.
But careful now. The license may not be transferred except under defined conditions. The location of your establishment may not be changed without approval. And you may not own or have an interest in another like establishment except under strictly limited circumstances.
There are other rules to follow, too. As but one example, strict rules apply for how “tastings” may be conducted in retail liquor stores and liquor-licensed drugstores. More, a retail liquor store (but not a liquor-licensed drugstore) is circumscribed in what it may sell other than alcoholic beverages. In short, it may only sell foods and nonfood items directly related to the consumption of alcoholic beverages (olives, lemons, and such other items).
Considering the social costs of alcohol abuse, it is not surprising that there is a gauntlet which must be run to earn the privilege to deal in adult beverages. And, in the last analysis, that benefits us all.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECOTV 18 as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his e-mail addresses, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.