Liquor licenses for arts venues: BC wants your two cents

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If you happened to be browsing the LCLB website, you may have come across an Industry Consultation Document for Liquor Policy Review Recommendations 37 and 38. While this might mean nothing to the layperson, it is a sign of movement towards a potentially massive change in B.C.’s liquor licensing regime.

Recommendation 38 is of great concern to the Arts industry because it will finally expand the scope of liquor licensing to allow creative businesses—whose primary purpose is NOT the sale of alcohol— to obtain liquor licenses.

In the past, establishments like the Rio Theatre and EXP Bar have had difficulties getting a licence, since they allowed non-alcohol related activities to be practiced while consuming alcohol, like watching a movie and playing video games.

While we’ve seen little public coverage of this specific consultation, you can still have your say. The Industry Consultation Document notes a request for input from “industry stakeholders.” While it is not immediately clear who would fall into this category, it presumably includes feedback from the arts, cultural, and creative industries, not to mention a range of businesses that are currently barred from obtaining liquor primary licenses.

Two questions are posed regarding Recommendation 38 that apply to the arts and creative spaces. Some of the impacts are discussed below:

1. Will the removal of the primary purpose restriction for LP’s meet the needs of businesses presently not eligible for licensing?

Currently, the Liquor Primary licence requires establishments to have a primary purpose of serving alcohol. For example, an art gallery is not allowed to have an LP license. Removing the primary purpose restriction would allow an art gallery to serve liquor, and generate revenues in the process, while maintaining its primary purpose of displaying art.

Art galleries and creative establishments could support emerging and contemporary artists through the revenue generated from liquor sales. The clientele who frequent such establishments would be offered greater choice, and the increase in social interaction would lead to more freedom and creativity.

Establishments that are granted liquor primary licenses would not have to apply for Special Occasion Licences (SOLs), removing the cumbersome requirements which currently stifle creative spaces. Overall, this recommendation would create a more sustainable financial model for organizations that lack adequate funding and support, but are considered necessary for our cultural development.  

2. Do you see any significant risks in removing the LP primary purpose restriction?

All licence holders have to follow the policies set out by the LCLB. This includes strict fines for serving to minors and over-serving, not to mention a host of other requirements that ensure liquor is consumed responsibly.

Allowing creative establishments to obtain liquor licenses would greatly reduce risks. Today, many places in the City of Vancouver serve booze illegally, and are not under the control of the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch. Having creative spaces operate according to strict guidelines will ensure proper enforcement and safety, while maximizing the benefits to the community and its clientele.

If you’re linked to the arts and creative industry, and would like to express your opinions on these questions and others, you can follow the instructions in the consultation document. The deadline to submit feedback is Friday, May 13th, 2016. Input should be emailed to lclb.lclb@gov.bc.ca with a subject line LPR 37 and 38, and must specifically address the questions posed in the document.

The overhaul of Liquor Primaries is an important milestone for BC’s liquor laws. In recent years, the difficulty of obtaining a licence has put a heavy price on it, blocking innovation and competition. Through stakeholder input, we can continue to improve the cultural climate of British Columbia.

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About the author

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Elin Tayyar Elin Tayyar is the founder of New District, a wine technology platform serving BC wineries, and a BCBusiness 30 under 30 winner in 2016. He is the executive director of Campaign for Culture, a non-profit group that advocated for ‘Happy Hours’ and a comprehensive liquor policy review, which was completed in 2014. Elin is also the founder of Pilcrow, a design and communications studio based in Vancouver.

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