HALIFAX – Premier Stephen McNeil says the Nova Scotia government is reviewing bizarre liquor laws that date back to the Prohibition era.
Nova Scotia has 105 dry communities, most of them rural and unaware of their status.
It is the only province that restricts where liquor can be sold or produced through provincial legislation, and dry areas can only become wet through plebiscite.
Voters in two small districts inside the municipality of West Hants voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to allow the sale and production of liquor, ending their dry status.
McNeil said Thursday the province is currently reviewing all its liquor laws, and noted it recently changed a controversial markup fee applied to the breweries by the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation.
Beginning April 1, the 50 cent per litre Retail Sales Markup Allocation on craft beer will be changed to five per cent of wholesale costs of sales made directly by brewers.
Since taverns were first legalized in Nova Scotia in 1948, 280 plebiscites have been held by the province’s alcohol and gaming division.
Over the past 20 years, every vote has endorsed leaving Prohibition behind.
This week’s West Hants plebiscite was held because a local resident has plans to establish a winery, where he intends to sell the final product.
The province does not have a list of communities that are considered dry. An old map in a government office in Halifax is supposed to show which ones are still locked in Prohibition, but the names are so faded that the document is of little use.
When an application is made for a rural liquor licence, research is often required to determine if the area is still dry because the electoral boundaries have been redrawn many times over the years.
In 2015, the province mused about declaring the entire province a wet zone.
“The system of restricting the permissible locations of licences and stores in Nova Scotia is outdated and offside with how the issue is handled in other provinces,” a government spokeswoman said at the time.
“The plebiscite process is costly and time-consuming and an impediment to the growth of business.”
Other provinces have long relied on municipal zoning or bylaws to impose restrictions.