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B.C.'s Looniest Liquor Laws

Raise a glass to our lush province's most outlandish legal hangovers

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Albas' Bill C-311 has passed through two readings, and will undergo committee scrutiny sometime in the new year.

He hopes the amendment will help B.C.'s small-scale wineries reach bigger markets.

If all goes according to plan, consumers will even be allowed to -- gasp -- purchase B.C. wine online within Canada. Craft breweries, of course, would still be inhibited by the outdated rule. (That might take another half century to fix).

4. Cheese only, party planners!

They can choose your cheeses, but under current laws, catering companies are unable to stock or distribute the wine to match. Party planners across the province are calling for change.

"Right now caterers are not eligible for licence," says Ayers. "The government is considering that request along with other requests."

The law caused a stir earlier this month, when a California-based company planned a retreat at one of Whistler's Olympic legacy venues. (Pique, Dec. 8, 2011)

With a week of Olympic-themed activities planned, the uninitiated ex-pats got a taste of B.C.'s liquor laws. It was dry. Very dry.

It had to be. If the group wanted a special occasion liquor licence, the foreign company would have had to apply in advance, transport the booze and take on responsibility for the liquor service. It's a job usually reserved for event planners.

Organizer Joanne Burns Millar, president of the catering business Pacific Destination Services, (said) the incident was embarrassing. "It's crippling our business. It is absolutely crippling our ability to deliver to international corporate conference and incentive groups."

But until the provincial government comes up with a new class of liquor licences for caterers, B.C.'s cheese stands alone.

5. No happy hour!

They're allowed in Washington and Alberta, but you won't find a half-priced afternoon drink in B.C.

British Columbia is one of the most expensive places to buy alcohol. There's a set 123-per-cent markup on every bottle of wine and a 170-per-cent markup on every bottle of spirits sold in the province. No bars or restaurants are offered wholesale discounts.

Government price-fixing affects restaurant bottle sales, pushing competitive advantage south of the border. As one Vancouver Magazine guide points out, to get the best restaurant price on a B.C. wine, you have to travel to Berkeley, California.

Taking a look at the labyrinth of legalese known as the Liquor Control and Licensing Act, it's no wonder many local businesses hire consultants to navigate provincial restrictions. And unfortunately for Vancouver's cultural entrepreneurs, change is neither fast nor easy.

"We've almost gone out of business just getting this to happen," says Lea. "If they don't hurry up and do something, there's not going to be a business to give a liquor licence to."