Convenience, competition, and concerns about regulatory missteps were all wrapped up in the three initiatives that involved liquor laws on the November ballot.
Amendments 124, 125 and 126 all involved expansion of liquor access in Colorado. All addressed issues that the Colorado Legislature had declined to advance in recent sessions.
Voters, in returns as of 10 p.m., were mostly opposed to adding unlimited numbers of liquor licenses and more evenly divided on the other two ballot measures.
Background: Beginning in 2019, grocery stores in Colorado could begin to sell full-strength beer. The law continued to restrict sale of wine and spirits to licensed liquor stores and in restaurants and bars by the drink.
The pandemic brought out emergency options for restaurants; those engaging in takeout could distribute alcoholic beverages, but that option expires in 2025.
With massive support from the grocery industry, the three proposals sought to change the landscape of liquor retailing and distribution.
Amendment 124 would permit holders of retail liquor licenses to have unlimited ability, after 2037, to secure additional licenses. Under a change in law in 2017, liquor stores could secure up to three licenses. As of 10 p.m., 62.3% of voters were opposed.
Amendment 125 would allow grocery stores to sell wine, along with the sale of beer that was permitted in 2019. Voters were split by 10 p.m. with 50.18% opposed and 49.82% favoring. Those numbers were largely unchanged most of the night as votes were counted.
Amendment 126 would make permanent the pandemic-era ability to sell takeout of alcoholic beverages and allow third party services to handle the delivery. More than half, 52.92% of voters, opposed this measure with 47.08% favoring as of 10 p.m., virtually the same percentages as were recorded after the first round of ballots were counted.
Reactions to the measures ahead of the election were also mixed, with both the Colorado Restaurant Association and Hispanic Restaurant Association supporting 126. Some restaurants demurred. Lauren Storeby, co-owner of the Online Restaurant Academy in Fort Collins, said delivery of alcohol wasn’t in the business plan for many small operators prior to the pandemic and many chose to use the practice only because they were forced to do so to maintain operations during shutdowns.
While proponents of the measures said in pre-election advertisements that all liquor stores and independent purveyors of alcohol would benefit, but some operators were not convinced.
“We’re opposed to all three [ballot measures]. All are negative for independent local liquor stores,” said Bruce Dierking, who runs Hazel’s Beverage World in Boulder.
Dierking said small operators close to grocery stores would experience the biggest negative impact.
“It’s not hard to buy alcohol in this state. It’s really about corporate greed,” he said about the grocery corporate money behind the ballot measures.