Three proposed ballot initiatives to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores and third-party liquor delivery may not pass a statewide ballot, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday. .
The judges found that the proposals contained more than one topic in violation of the state constitution.
“In the case of these initiatives, we conclude that the subjects covered – (1) the sale of wine by retailers authorized to sell beer and (2) the delivery of alcohol to the doorstep by third-party delivery services – are too distinct to satisfy the single subject requirement,” Judge Melissa Hart wrote in the June 27 opinion.
The court’s decision does not affect two other measures approved for release, Initiatives No. 121 and No. 122, which would separately increase wine sales and liquor delivery if passed.
The three ballot initiatives at issue in the Supreme Court ruling sought to combine the 40-year-old effort to allow wine to be sold in grocery and convenience stores with the more modern goal of allowing delivery by companies like Grubhub or Uber Eats. Earlier this year, the three-member titles committee decided that the initiatives fell within the constitutional requirement of a single topic and adopted a title for each that would appear on voters’ ballots.
“Some may question the wisdom of Colorado’s march to liberalize its liquor laws. But resolving this issue rests with voters and their representatives,” Assistant Attorney General Emily Buckley wrote in defending the actions of the Title Board.
Christopher Fine of Larimer County objected to the council’s decision, arguing that there were actually two separate issues. The combination of the two would create an impermissible incentive for supporters of one subject to vote in favor of the overall initiative, even if they oppose the other subject.
“Some voters will favor a one-stop shop for baby food and Sauvignon Blanc,” attorney Mark G. Grueskin wrote. “But these voters can’t support delivering tequila and bourbon to every 21-year-old who answers the door.”
Grueskin cited the Title Board hearing itself, where members wrestled with those same concerns before finally green-lighting the measures in a 2-1 vote. He characterized the ballot initiatives as an attempt by supermarket owners to broaden the coalition of voters who could support wine sales in grocery stores. Coloradans previously rejected the concept in 1982 by a 65% to 35% margin.
The Supreme Court accepted Grueskin’s single subject argument, noting that the purpose of the constitutional provision is to prevent “log-rolling” – or the combining of two separate subjects to induce a coalition of voters to support the of them. Although the subjects of the liquor initiatives are related in the broadest sense, the court determined that the relationship between wine sales and liquor delivery was too attenuated to satisfy the constitution.
“The mere fact that the two topics involve the regulation of alcohol is not enough to make them necessarily and properly connected,” Hart wrote.
A nonpartisan tax analysis of the three initiatives found that the amount of new tax revenue would have been equal to the increased cost to the state under the proposals. Regarding the economic impact, the analysis suggested that consumers might shift their purchases from liquor stores to grocery stores or convenience stores. There would also be an increase in revenue from third-party delivery services and employment opportunities between retailers could change.