BC Liquor Stores

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BC Liquor Stores
Crown corporation
Industry Retail
Founded June 21, 1921; 97 years ago (1921-06-21)[1]:43
Headquarters Vancouver, Canada
Number of locations
Key people
R. Blain Lawson – Chief Executive Officer
Products Liquor sales and distribution
Revenue $3.33 billion CAD (2016–17)[3]
$1.08 billion CAD (2016–17)[3]
Number of employees
4,000 (2017)[3]
Website www.bcliquorstores.com

BC Liquor Stores are a chain of crown corporation retail outlets operated by the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch to distribute alcoholic beverages in the province of British Columbia, Canada.[2] They are accountable to the Attorney General of British Columbia.[4] BC Liquor Stores currently operate 196 locations across the province.[2] The chain was established in June 1921, following the result of a plebiscite in favour of liquor availability through government liquor stores.[1]:43 Prior to the plebiscite, alcohol had been illegal through the Prohibition Act, introduced on May 23, 1916, with exceptions to sacramental, medicinal or industrial purposes.[1]:21–22


A photo of a man behind the counter at a liquor store with shelves stocked with liquor behind him.
The interior of the Cloverdale liquor store in Surrey, British Columbia in 1925
A Port Coquitlam location featuring the "Coldzone" branding
Boxes of beer from Sleeman Breweries stacked inside of a BC Liquor Store
The interior of a BC Liquor Store, featuring an assortment of beer from Sleeman Breweries.

Prohibition era[edit]

The Prohibition Act was introduced by Conservative Premier William Bowser in May 1916. Its implementation into law was subject to a binding referendum question which took place on September 14, 1916. To the question "Are you in favour of bringing the B.C. Prohibition Act into force?"; 36,490 polled in favour and 27,217 opposed.[1]:22 To accommodate the votes of overseas soldiers, voting continued until December 1916.[1]:22 A royal commission was appointed to analyse the soldiers' votes against double-voting; over half of the soldiers' ballots were disallowed by the commission and prohibition took effect on October 1, 1917 under Harlan Carey Brewster's Liberal government.[1]:22

On October 20, 1920, a plebiscite was held to end prohibition in favour of government control and moderation. The plebiscite passed in favour of ending prohibition 92,095 to 55,448.[1]:31 As of 1920, British Columbia had been the only province in Canada who had voted in favour of government-controlled liquor sales.[1]:32

Government Liquor Act[edit]

On February 23, 1921 the Attorney General of British Columbia had introduced the Government Liquor Act. The act was passed in March of that year, and the first government-run liquor stores were opened on June 15, 1921 – the same day the Prohibition Act was repealed. Within the first week of the Government Liquor Act becoming law, 17 stores had been opened; by March 1922 at least one store had been opened in 32 of the 39 provincial electoral districts.[1]:43 The ability to purchase liquor was limited to those who purchased an annual liquor permit for five dollars and who were above 21 years of age.[5]:9

British Columbians were not able to buy liquor by the glass between 1921 and 1924. A 1925 amendment of the Government Liquor Act allowed for the establishment of beer parlours.[5]:10

Indian List[edit]

In 1887, the British Columbia passed an act titled the Habitual Drunkards Act which restricted the ability of certain individuals to conduct business: any sale or contract involving them was considered void. The individuals encompassed by the act could not legally purchase liquor. Indigenous people were automatically placed on the list, preventing them from being able to purchase alcoholic beverages. This list was referred to as the "Indian List".[5]:10–11

Some non-indigenous individuals were also added to the list based on misbehaviour after excessive drinking. In 1963, the Liquor Control Board Chairman, Colonel Donald McGugan reported that 4,500–5,000 British Columbians were on the list. Though the members of the list would change, the total number of persons remained approximately the same. The Habitual Drunkards Act was eventually repealed in 1968.[5]:11


Since 1988, the Government of British Columbia has allowed private retail liquor stores.[6]:1828 There was a moratorium in place between 1988 and 2002 which limited the number of new private retail licences that were issued. After the moratorium was lifted, it was observed that between 2002 and 2008 there was a 33% increase in private liquor stores and a 10% decrease in government stores.[7]:642

Marijuana distribution[edit]

On April 13, 2017, the Canadian government announced their plans to legalize marijuana for recreational use nationwide.[8] The federal government left it up to the individual provinces to regulate the distribution network.[9] The Liquor Control Board of Ontario, the province of Ontario's equivalent, has announced plans to open up 150 additional marijuana-only LCBO stores, 40 of those opening on July 1, 2018.[10]

The previous BC Liberal government had opposed the idea of selling marijuana in liquor stores.[11] A change in government resulted following the 2017 provincial elections, and the Premier of the New Democratic government, John Horgan, has stated he is strongly in favour of using both liquor stores and pharmacies to dispense cannabis.[11] A public consultation process for marijuana legislation in British Columbia was launched on September 25, 2017, and is ongoing.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Campbell, Robert (1991). Demon rum or easy money : government control of liquor in British Columbia from Prohibition to privatization. Ottawa, Ontario: Carleton University Press. ISBN 9780773573727. OCLC 882258837. 
  2. ^ a b c "About Us". BC Liquor Stores. Retrieved September 22, 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c "2016/2017 Annual Service Plan Report" (PDF). Retrieved September 22, 2017. 
  4. ^ Eby, David. "Mandate Letter" (PDF). British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch. Retrieved September 25, 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c d Mayhew, Barry (2008). "Are You On The "Indian List"?". British Columbia History. 41 (2): 9–12. Retrieved October 2, 2017. 
  6. ^ Stockwell, Tim; Zhao, Jinhui; Macdonald, Scott; Pakula, Basia; Gruenewald, Paul; Holder, Harold (November 2009). "Changes in per capita alcohol sales during the partial privatization of British Columbia's retail alcohol monopoly 2003–2008: a multi-level local area analysis". Addiction. 104 (11): 1827–1836. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2009.02658.x. 
  7. ^ MacDonald, Scott; Treno, Andrew; Stockwell, Tim; Martin, Gina; Zhao, Jinhui; Ponicki, Bill; Greer, Alissa (December 2012). "A Comparison of Private and Government-Controlled Liquor Stores in British Columbia". Contemporary Drug Problems. 39 (4): 641–661. doi:10.1177/009145091203900403. 
  8. ^ MacCharles, Tonda (April 13, 2017). "Provinces say they may need more time as liberals move to legalize marijuana". Toronto Star. Retrieved September 25, 2017. 
  9. ^ "Provincial justice ministers want answers on marijuana legalization". CBC News. The Canadian Press. September 14, 2017. Retrieved September 26, 2017. 
  10. ^ Benzie, Robert (September 8, 2017). "LCBO to run 150 marijuana stores". Toronto Star. Retrieved September 25, 2017. 
  11. ^ a b Shaw, Rob (September 14, 2017). "B.C. undecided on rules for legal marijuana, even as justice ministers discuss ideas". The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved September 26, 2017. 
  12. ^ "B.C. government invites public to share views on marijuana rules". The National Post. The Canadian Press. September 25, 2017. Retrieved September 26, 2017.