Both the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (BCLCLB) and the BC Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) and their regulations and policies have been the subject of ongoing review for years. First, there was a BC Liquor Policy Review conducted by Mr. John Yapp – MLA, that commenced shortly after Christy Clark was sworn in as Premier. The report, prepared at the conclusion of the review, contained 73 recommendations impacting both branches of government. The staff of both branches of government are still in the process of implementing these recommendations.
A New Government, A New BC Liquor Policy Review
Shortly after the NDP came into power in June of 2017, the Honourable David Eby, the Minister responsible for the BCLDB and BCLCLB made it clear that he wanted to pursue further changes in BC Liquor Policy involving both branches of Government. The minister appointed Mr. Mark Hicken to chair another policy review. Hicken is a Vancouver-based lawyer whose practice is focused on the wine industry. The review process involves meetings with all stakeholders and other individuals who are significantly involved in the Liquor Hospitality Industry in BC.
On April 30, 2018 Mr. Hicken filed the Business Technical Advisory Panel Report and Recommendations with government which is now reviewing the report. The report was released to the public in last month.
Because both Liquor Branches are responsible for the licensing and regulations, distribution and sale of retail cannabis in BC, it is expected that the consideration and implementation of the new BC Liquor Policy recommendations will be delayed until after the legalization of cannabis.
The BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch has been renamed “BC Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch” (LCRB), representing its new additional responsibility of licensing and monitoring the retail sale of non-medical cannabis in British Columbia.
Business Technical Advisory Panel Recommendation Highlights
While the report prepared by Mr. Hicken contains 24 recommendations (PDF), the key significant recommendations that we hope the government will implement are as follows:
- Allow private liquor retailers (wine and liquor stores) to sell products to Liquor Primary and Food Primary licensees and Special Events such as music festivals and events.
- Development of wholesale liquor pricing for licensees to provide bars and restaurants with a break in price when purchasing liquor from the BC Liquor Distribution Branch.
- Permit third party distributors to deliver non-stocked wholesale products.
- Eliminate the current management conflict in interest at the BCLDB between the Liquor Store Division and the Wholesale Center.
- Expand the ability for the Brewers Distributors Ltd to deliver products other than beer.
- Complete an independent review of the current Liquor Distribution Branch distribution center.
- Provide greater transparency on the part of the BCLDB on market sale and broader access.
- Eliminate the management conflict of interest within the BCLDB where a common CEO manages both BCLDB wholesale and Government Liquor Stores
- Centralize the regulation of liquor manufacturers under the BCLCLB.
We at Rising Tide Consultants had hoped that the advisory panel would have made other key recommendations, including the following:
- Establishing an industry group review existing BC of LCLB policies for Liquor Primary and Food Primary, and Licensed Retail Stores to reduce red tape and excessive regulation.
- Regulating and licensing of Rural Agency Stores (RAS) by the BCLCLB rather than BCLDB changing criteria for eligibility for RAS licensing so that very small rural communities are eligible (less than 200 permanent residents), and, the phasing out of RAS in urban areas served by government or private stores.
- Encouraging greater uniformity between municipality licensing policies, for example: hours, businesses eligibility, patron policies and local government approval processes.
- Allowing wineries to have off-site tasting rooms either on their own or in conjunction with other wineries.
- Allowing remote resorts and fishing resorts to sell off-sale products.
- Simplifying the eligibility criteria for minors in licensed establishments.
- Establishing a fast track application process so that a liquor license applicant can pay a higher fee for an expedited application.
Overall, the recommendations of the Business Technical Advisor Panel report are good, although we hope they aren’t delayed because of current cannabis licensing priorities. The liquor hospitality industry should not take a back seat to cannabis.