Cayman Islands liquor license holders who do not currently own or operate a liquor-related business will now get up to five years to retain those licenses, during which time they can apply for a business license.
Long-discussed amendments to the Liquor Licensing Law that require all liquor license holders to obtain a trade and business license or to return their liquor licenses to government were approved Wednesday by Legislative Assembly members. However, the previous “grace period” prior to the return of those non-operational liquor licenses in the amendment bill had been set until Sept. 30, 2016.
Last-minute changes approved Wednesday pushed that date back to Sept. 30, 2020. That means the 60 or so non-operational liquor licenses currently held in the Cayman Islands will not have to be turned in to government for up to another five years if the licenses are not used in connection with an operational business.
Commerce Minister Wayne Panton, who has often decried the situation in Cayman where unused liquor licenses are sold or rented out on an unregulated “black market,” said the five-year “grace period” was set so as not to disadvantage local liquor license holders who may need some time to set up their own businesses, if it is their intention to do so.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said he was contacted in recent days by local liquor license holders who were worried that the legal changes might devalue their investments in their liquor licenses.
“The concern … expressed by at least three individuals is that the law will continue to impose a moratorium,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “If they lose their license and the moratorium is re-imposed, they will be at a disadvantage.”
East End MLA Arden McLean wondered why government would impose a moratorium on liquor licenses under the new regime the amendment law will create.
“If you don’t have the moratorium and they don’t get their business in order, they can always go back when they apply for their business license,” Mr. McLean said.
Rather than continuing a moratorium on liquor licenses that is then lifted at various times for specific periods, the new law removes the requirement to lift the moratorium in order to grant new licenses. Any liquor license moratorium that is put in place must be approved by Cabinet and will be fixed for a specific period. After any such period the moratorium would be automatically lifted.
In addition, under the revamped legislation, if someone sells liquor without having a valid trade and business license, they can be fined up to $10,000 upon conviction.
Mr. Panton said the legislation should assist any legitimate Caymanian business ventures that heretofore have been prevented from opening a liquor licensed business because they could not get a license or could not afford to buy one on the black market.
The amendments will change the makeup of the Liquor Licensing Board of Grand Cayman, and to a lesser extent, the board of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
If the legislation is approved, the Grand Cayman board will have 10 members instead of five. Seven of the 10 members, including the chairman and deputy chairman, will come from the private sector. The remaining members will be representatives from the Department of Commerce and Investment, the Department of Planning and the Director of Environmental Health.
Requirements that the chair of the liquor board be either a magistrate or a justice of the peace have been removed from the law.
The Cayman Brac–Little Cayman board will go from five to eight members, adding three government representatives.
Board meetings will remain open to the public, but the amendment bill also makes it possible for board members to attend via teleconference.
Another significant change in the amendment bill ends the requirement for liquor licensed premises to stay open for the entirety of their licensed operating hours.
Now, if a local bar or liquor store is having a “slow night” and wants to close early, it must stay open until the closing time prescribed by its license.
The revised legislation allows the premises to be open “at any time during the permitted hours.”