The City of Vancouver has made changes to its liquor policy — including allowing for a store-in-store model for grocery store liquor sales — but one addictions expert says the changes make alcohol-use too permissive and put vulnerable people at risk.
The city chose the store-in-store model — where grocers can create a separated liquor area with its own cashier — precisely because it was more restrictive than simply allowing liquor to be stocked on shelves.
"We heard a lot of concerns from a number of stakeholders," explained Kay Krishna, the city's general manager of development, buildings and licensing.
She says the city consulted with Vancouver Coastal Health, a number of health partners, and Vancouver police about having alcohol on grocery store shelves and how it may affect children, people with addiction challenges, or other vulnerable populations.
According to provincial guidelines, grocery stores are permitted to sell wine on the shelf, but B.C. wine only. The store-in-store model would include all types of liquor.
To be considered, the stores must be at least 10,000 square feet in size and at least one kilometre away from any other liquor retailer.
A city staff report, in fact, identified only two areas where a liquor store could currently be installed.
Potential to increase harm
Dr. Launette Rieb, an addictions expert and clinical associate professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia, says the store-in-store policy isn't restrictive enough.
"The things that drive the market and consumption have to do with availability, marketing and price. The city has only increased availability — as has the province — but hasn't put restrictions on price or marketing," she explained.
Putting alcohol in a grocery store — even in a restricted store-in-store model — increases availability and could increase harms.
"In B.C., we far outstrip in health care costs and policing, what we regain in tax dollars," she said.
"We spend ... on alcohol related causes including hospitalizations, loss of income, policing, property theft and things."
Among 232 overdose visits made to our 9 urban ERs last week, 40% involved alcohol, 34% illicit drugs, 5% medication & 21% were unknown. pic.twitter.com/vcbauJHniV— @VCHhealthcare
'Not a moderate culture'
Although many groups have called for beer and wine to be sold alongside food products for convenience and because it is part of the gastronomic experience, Rieb says alcohol is generally not consumed that way in B.C.
"There are many cultures that have had moderation in their consumption culture," she said.
"The pattern of alcohol consumption in British Columbia however, is binge drinking and also those who drink tend to consume fairly large amounts ... You're unleashing this liberalization in a culture that is not a moderate culture."
No grocery store in B.C. currently operates a store-in-store model to sell liquor. Only 14 grocery stores in the province sell B.C. wine off the shelf.
Listen to the interview with Launette Rieb from The Early Edition