EDITORIAL: Booze, groceries not a radical idea

Allowing alcohol sales in grocery stores, eliminating double standards, would further streamline B.C. liquor regulations

In its continuing drive to modernize liquor laws, the provincial government announced this week it’s exploring the idea that B.C.ers could buy their veggies, milk and booze all under one roof.

Although advocacy groups and the police might shout that this opens the door for easier access to booze for minors and that it might encourage more drinking by adults, previous easing of liquor laws hasn’t promoted the wholesale decay of society.

Naysayers cried doom decades ago when the province allowed the emergence of neighbourhood pubs, and then again when liquor retailing was pried from the government monopoly. In all cases, the heavy hand of regulation and oversight isn’t far off.

In the case of allowing grocery stores to sell alcohol, the idea that it is sweeping progressive change is mostly an illusion.

The government indicates it won’t increase the number of licences to sell beer and wine – it’s about shifting existing liquor retailers into grocery stores, which would use their own staff and registers to regulate sales, and presumably bear the brunt of fines if they sell to minors.

Outlets like Safeway and Wal-Mart have pharmacies, coffee chains and restaurants operating independently within their stores. Hosting a cold beer and wine store wouldn’t be a stretch. And for 221 rural grocery stores across B.C., selling booze and food staples under the same roof isn’t new.

If the government allows this reform to happen, grocery stores will have to decide if the draw of beer and wine is worth giving up display space. Most large grocers in Victoria aren’t far from liquor stores in the first place, and are often located in the same shopping complex.

It’s encouraging the government is hinting at other reforms that might bring consistency to liquor laws, but right now we’re still pretty far from rules that make sense.

For example, most festivals and events need to cage their patrons in “beer gardens” to prevent minors from accessing booze, but people attending professional hockey games and other stadium sporting events can drink beer in the stands without segregation. Parents can bring their kids to restaurants where mom and dad can have a burger and a beer, but the same family can’t go to a pub or a Royal Canadian Legion for the exact same meal and drink.

After living for generations under oddball liquor regulations, most B.C residents, event operators and businesses are ready for laws that are consistent, make sense and realistically balance the implications for public health.