Washington Park beer ban decision expected soon -- but why do we even have 3.2 beer?

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April is here, and Denver's parks are abuzz -- but not because of daffodils, robins and honeybees. Rather, it's our First World right to get buzzed -- whether it's with booze or with pot -- in these public places that has people springing into action. And while the 4/20 Rally in Civic Center has its own set of issues, a major booze battle could reach its peak today or tomorrow in Washington Park, where City Councilman Chris Nevitt wants to ban beer for six months after complaints from neighbors about boozy behavior reached the point of overflow.

While those neighbors have mobilized in force, a strong anti-ban contingent has also turned out, with more than 10,000 people signing a petition in opposition to the proposed interdiction; a city decision is expected this week. If the ban is enacted, it would likely begin around Memorial Day, just before the summer season.

"We contend that there has been gross negligence of investigation, as well as an exaggeration, on the accusations that alcohol is the root cause and driver of the following behaviors: unruly citizens, lewd behavior, public intoxication, public indecency, public defecation, parking violations, etc.," the pro-beer folks declare in their beer-stained petition. "Under current regulations and laws, these behaviors can and should be ticketed. The lack of current enforcement due to an underestimation of the popularity and use of public parks does not warrant additional regulation."

But sadly, we're not even talking about real beer here, since the only liquor that is allowed in any and all Denver parks -- and then only in cans and kegs -- is beer that weighs in at less than 4.0 percent alcohol by volume, or 3.2 percent alcohol by the weight. (The only exception: harder stuff can be sold if an event gets a special permit.)

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7-Eleven pushed a petition to sell beer stronger than 3.2 back in 2008. The effort failed.
And 3.2 beer is that weak, mostly mass-market stuff you can find in the refrigerated aisle at any supermarket. The rules preclude almost every beer made by this state's 232 craft breweries.

Why the distinction? Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Minnesota are the only states left that still have outdated laws concerning 3.2 percent beer -- a legacy of the end of Prohibition that dates back to 1933.

While the amendment that eventually repealed Prohibition was sent to the states for ratification, which took months, Congress redefined the term "intoxicating liquors" to mean any beverage with an alcohol content higher than 3.2 percent by weight.

In order to get at least some form of liquor quicker, Colorado and eighteen other states quickly passed bills allowing their breweries to begin delivering "nonintoxicating" beer on the day the new law went into effect: April 7, 1933. Half a million bottles of Colorado-produced beer were consumed in this state that day (roughly the same amount that is consumed by a single Wash Park kickball team on an average summer Saturday).

But what seemed like a good thing at the time has turned into a regulatory and political nightmare in the decades since Prohibition. During those years, Colorado's grocery stores and convenience stores were allowed to sell 3.2 beer -- and 3.2 beer only. But they could sell it to people eighteen and up (until 1987, when Colorado's drinking age was changed in order to hold on to federal highway funds), and sell it seven days a week -- a big advantage until 2008, when liquor stores were allowed to open on Sunday.

Periodically, convenience and grocery stores have tried to expand the range of alcohol they can sell -- and liquor stores and craft brewers have fought back, hard. The battles have been particularly intense over the last half-decade.

And although the subject didn't come up in the 2014 legislative session, we haven't heard the last of 3.2 beer -- despite what many residents of Washington Park would like to think.

More from our Environment archive: "Stapleton officials can't figure out if they can accept parks lover's cash offer."

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18 comments
opinionated
opinionated

Wouldn't it make sense if Marijuana advocates pointed out the benefits of legalized alcohol rather than the harmful effects of the drug?  Alcohol was illegal at one time as well and the craft sector has worked hard to show the positive impacts it can have on our community.  Job creation, tax revenue, community support, etc.  I think there is a place for both Marijuana and Beer and I think that many people who are opposed to one are typically opposed to the other.  Of course there are exceptions but I think both industries would benefit if they both just focused on the positive and preached moderation. 

Cognitive_Dissident
Cognitive_Dissident

If pot's too dangerous to allow in public, any beer most certainly is.

Kate Honas
Kate Honas

Because some days drinking is more about quantity than quality.

Matt Chu
Matt Chu

3.2 is for tourists that buy at the grocery store.

DougHubka
DougHubka

I grew up here in Colorado when it was legal for 18 YO' s to buy 3.2 beer.  To say that 3.2 beer is non-intoxicating is a little off base, especially when you drink enough of it . Back in the day, we would buy Coors 3.2 in the quart bottles. Fond memories of growing up in Colorado .


John Schilling
John Schilling

What gets me is that it IS banned. Enforce the law. Make another law, too.

Laura Bruns
Laura Bruns

In general, the more restrictions you put on people, the bigger the explosion at the end. Will be interesting to see the final outcome of these efforts. I imagine the results will be far from the expected. Short term efforts don't really work in the big picture. I think, ultimately, the joke will be on them. *sits back and starts eating popcorn

Steve Potts
Steve Potts

Politics and MADD type organizations.

Suzanne Houston Nash
Suzanne Houston Nash

Probably because at one time it was legal to drink 3.2 beer at 18 in Colorado. Plus supermarkets can sell 3.2, but not the harder stuff. Crazy.

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

I like 3.2 beer because I like the taste of beer but my system cannot tolerate much alcohol.

Monkey
Monkey

Vape pens/cartridges  are like 3.2 weed, and people love them.

I can't ever get high from them, but the people who use them say that's why they like it, because they don't get "too" high.

I know it's not the same as 3.2 beer, but apparently, some people like to use a similar product without having a similar effect, so maybe some people actually prefer the 3.2 beer, like the low grade oils.

jeremy343
jeremy343

@fishingblues In other words, you're a lightweight.  Leave the real beer to the big boys on the block. 

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