The Liquor Control and Licensing Branch

Ever wonder how the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch makes policy or decisions?

British Columbia’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch makes decisions every day that affect the viability of brewers and distillers, as well as the bars, restaurants, and retailers that sell and promote their products. Understanding how and why the Branch, and more specifically the Compliance and Enforcement program, make the decisions that they do is key to successfully navigating British Columbia’s regulatory maze.

The Liquor Control and Licensing Branch and its Compliance and Enforcement program find their respective mandates in the  Liquor Control and Licensing Act. The Act provides for the appointment of a “general manager” who administers the Act and “supervises” all licensed establishments and manufacturers of liquor within the province. The general manager, and his staff, administer the Act in a variety of familiar ways including:

  • Issuing, renewing, transferring or cancelling the various licences provided by the Act and the Regulation;
  •  “Supervising” the conduct and operation of licensed establishments; and
  • Performing the various other administrative tasks defined by the Minster and prescribed in the Act and Regulation.

The Branch has various policies and procedures in place to assist its staff in making consist and accountable decisions. Some of these policies are published. The Branch’s policies are based on a number of “operating assumptions”. Whether or not you agree with the Branch’s assumptions, being familiar with them will benefit your business the next time it interacts with the Branch or does business with the Liquor Distribution Branch. The assumptions that are the most influential on Branch policy and procedures are as follows:

  1. While moderate alcohol consumption may have some modest health benefits, long term excessive drinking has adverse health effects.
  2.  Alcohol is a drug that, if taken in sufficient quantities, will affect short term mental judgment and physical dexterity.
  3. Though generally seen as a pleasant compliment or accompaniment to social occasions, alcohol has addictive properties that can lead to socially unacceptable behaviour when abused.
  4. Minors should be protected from the negative effects of alcohol consumption.
  5. Neighbourhoods and communities are impacted by the sale and manufacture of liquor and their opinions are essential to licensing decisions.
  6.  Control of the number and location of liquor primary licensed establishments prevents a proliferation of licensed establishments that may lead to the sale of liquor to minors and intoxicated persons, overcrowding or other actions that may be harmful to the community.
  7. It is in the best interest of the liquor and hospitality industries to encourage responsible drinking behaviours that contribute to the wellbeing of their customers and the public.
  8. Licence holders are responsible for designing their operations and conducting their businesses in such a way as to realize the outcomes and principles articulated in liquor licensing statutes and regulations.

The Act and Regulation require that the general manager’s decisions be made in the “public interest”. The “public interest” is served by the Branch making decisions that safeguard both individuals and communities from the negative impacts of liquor.

The Branch considers the inappropriate sale and manufacture of liquor, as well as alcohol abuse and irresponsible drinking behaviour to be forms of what economists refer to as “market failure”. Two types of market failure are primarily associated with the liquor industry:

  • Destructive competition – a form of severe competition in which industry participants act improperly or even illegally to gain a competitive advantage; and
  • Spillover effects – negative impacts on individuals and communities beyond the industry and its clients, which occur as a result of industry activity

The Branch sees the following as examples of market failure:

  1. Over consumption as a result of low liquor prices;
  2.  Unsafe conditions or riotous behaviour caused by overcrowding;
  3. Neighbourhoods and communities negatively affected by noise and traffic from poorly operated establishments; and
  4. Violent or abusive behaviour by drunken patrons on the streets or at home.

The Branch’s mandate of protecting the public interest is furthered by a degree of market protection that results from its regulation of the industry. However, market protection is not the intention or focus of regulation. Despite the increased attention by government and media on reforming British Columbia’s liquor licensing regime, licensees must not lose sight of the fact that liquor regulation is in place to safeguard the public against harm from industry activity, not to protect or ensure the economic viability of the industry itself.

*Alcohol & Advocacy publishes articles for information purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal advice, and persons requiring such advice should consult legal counsel.

Dan Coles
Retired bartender. Young lawyer. From the East, living in the West. Interested in British Columbia's producers and purveyors of wine, beer and spirits.

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Liquor Law 101: The Administrative Regime - Alcohol and Advocacy - August 19, 2015

[…] readers with an “insiders” look at how the liquor laws in British Columbia are written, interpreted, and applied. At A&A we often write about the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch making […]

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