Gov. of Colorado signs bill allowing full-strength beer phase-in

DENVER – Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill Friday to gradually allow grocery stores to sell full-strength beer, liquor and wine, making the biggest change to state liquor laws since the end of Prohibition.

The law sets up a 20-year period for grocers to slowly acquire liquor licenses, sometimes by paying for those held by neighboring liquor stores.

By 2037, Colorado would repeal its unusual limits on how many licenses a company or chain may hold to sell alcohol. It also would end a requirement that most grocers sell only “near-beer,” watered-down versions of common brews.

Colorado’s largest grocers say the change will take too long and vow to ask voters this fall for speedier changes.

Hickenlooper recently said he didn’t want to see any change to liquor laws to protect the jobs of small store owners. But he signed the measure after meeting with brewers, liquor stores and grocers. “I was persuaded by the majority of independent liquor store owners,” Hickenlooper told reporters Friday afternoon. The store owners feared that voters would approve a measure to immediately allow full-strength beer, wine and liquor in all grocery stores, he said.