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Lay down the laws

B.C. government announces sweeping changes to complicated and outdated liquor laws

Some bars are open until midnight, and some are open until 2 a.m. Some bars offer live entertainment, while others do not. Some bars have big screen televisions, games or dancing, while others are out of luck.

Some bars and restaurants require you to buy food if you want to purchase an alcoholic beverage, unless of course you agree to sit in a specified area with no more than 20 seats.

Some little bars and restaurants are jam-packed, while others have to stop letting people inside even though they’re half-empty. Some bars have more than one license, which means different rules might apply to a patio than to inside the same establishment.

You can buy liquor at government stores either six or seven days a week, depending on your proximity to tourist areas. You can go to one of the 290 independently-owned cold beer and wine stores in the province on Sundays, and later on in the evening than government stores if you’re willing to pay a little more, but you can’t purchase spirits there.

As they currently stand, B.C.’s liquor laws are confusing, outdated, overly strict, and often contradictory – a real bureaucratic nightmare for customers and license holders alike.

For the town Whistler, which plays host to an international clientele that is accustomed to far more lenient liquor regulations, these laws are a constant source of embarrassment; backwards thinking in an otherwise modern and world class destination.

Some progress has been made in recent years following the 1999 Surich Report, an independent review of the provinces’ liquor laws that included a long list of recommendations to bring the province up to speed with the reality of the day and the needs of consumers and retailers.

Provincial liquor stores can open on Sunday providing they’re located in a tourist area and don’t conflict with independent liquor retailers. Restaurants can serve liquor to people who don’t order food if they sit in a visually separated area. Liquor retailers can now accept credit cards and stay open a little later in the evenings.

It was a start, but a slow one that more than likely added more bureaucracy to the equation.

Rather than address each recommendation in the Surich report in a piecemeal fashion, on March 15 the Liberal government announced its intention to reform the liquor laws from the ground up, streamlining the bureaucracy while improving access for customers and competitiveness for independent retailers.

For temperance-minded people, the government was careful to spin the reform as a safety issue.

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