Dust up over powdered alcohol in SC: Should it be banned? (Update)

ashain@thestate.comMay 14, 2014 

  • What’s Palcohol?

    •  Arizona-based Lipsmark LLC has created a powdered alcohol that can be mixed with water and other beverages called Palcohol

    •  Packets resemble a juice pouch with enough room to add liquid. Packets contain powder with the equivalent of a shot of liquor.

    •  Plans are to sell vodka and rum versions as well as four cocktails – cosmopolitan, mojito, lemon drop and “powderita,” which tastes like a margarita.

    •  Palcohol is aimed at outdoors enthusiasts and travelers who want to carry liquor with less weight than bottles.

    •  It is not for sale yet; federal regulators pulled approval for Palcohol last month.

    •  Four states, including South Carolina, are considering bans on powdered alcohol.

— Powdered alcohol is not legal yet, but S.C. legislators want to stop the mixing before it can start.

A state Senate panel will review a proposed prohibition on the use, sale and purchase of powdered alcohol at a hearing Thursday. South Carolina is the fourth state considering such a ban.

“Our default position needs to be that it is illegal in South Carolina until we can get our arms around it and figure out what this stuff really is,” said Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Larry Martin, a Pickens Republican who sponsored the bill.

Update:Powdered alcohol ban, Election Day booze sales passed by Senate panel

The powdered alcohol issue went public last month after federal regulators pulled approval for the Arizona-based maker of Palcohol to sell it. The company’s owner, Mark Phillips, did not respond to an interview request. But, in a YouTube video released last week, he said lawmakers across the country are misinformed about powdered alcohol.

In addition to being a convenient cocktail to carry for outdoors enthusiasts and travelers, the powder could be used as an emergency fuel, an antiseptic and an ingredient in windshield wiper fluid, he said.

“Why would anyone want to enact Prohibition-like measures to take away our rights to enjoy this wonderful product in a responsible and legal manner?” Phillips asks in the video. “I’ll tell you why because ... they’re caught up in the hysteria about the imaged and unfounded uses of Palcohol.”

Among S.C. lawmakers, the concerns include use by underage drinkers as well as people snorting the powder or sneaking it easily into football games. They also have concerns about taxing the new beverage.

Sponsors of the state bill banning powdered alcohol said they just don’t know enough about powdered alcohol to allow sales – especially if it wins federal approval while the Legislature out of session during the second half of the year.

“It’s a scary proposition,” said Sen. Paul Thurmond, a Charleston Republican who co-sponsored the ban. “You’ve got the potential for it to be concealed in a lot of different ways and for it to be manipulated.”

A Palcohol packet, which resembles a juice pouch, contains powder with the equivalent of a shot of liquor, Phillips said in his video. Drinkers can add water or other beverages to the bag, close it and shake the bag to mix their drink.

In his video, Phillips added a straw and lime to the pouch after mixing a drink to “make it a little more elegant.”

Palcohol plans to sell versions with vodka and rum as well as four cocktails – cosmopolitan, mojito, lemon drop and “powderita,” which tastes like a margarita.

Powdered alcohol joins a list of recent booze fads, including vaporized alcohol, that raise many questions for Steven Burritt, program and fund development manager for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in South Carolina.

“This deserves a close look,” he said.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, an arm of the U.S. Treasury Department that regulates alcohol, did not respond to a question about the status of Palcohol’s request for approval.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a national trade association that represents alcohol producers and marketers, declined comment about powdered alcohol since it is not legal. The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association of S.C. has not taken a position on the issue, but the trade group’s director, Joe Berry, said he wanted to know more about how it would be priced or taxed.

“I could see a lot of problems come from it,” he said.

Phillips said critics’ main arguments against Palcohol “are completely false.” His reasoning in the video includes that:

Snorting Palcohol powder burns and would take an hour

•  Sneaking minibottles into events is easier because they are smaller than Palcohol pouches

•  Spiking drinks is difficult because of the trouble concealing the pouch and dissolving the powder quickly

•  Selling Palcohol only at stores licensed to sell booze would thwart underage purchases

Under the S.C. bill, violating the powdered alcohol ban would be a misdemeanor. Among the unanswered questions is when the pouch would be classified as an open container of alcohol, which is illegal while driving, Thurmond said.

Thurmond and Martin said they don’t want to permanently ban powdered alcohol, just halt sales long enough for state regulators to make rules.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have it,” Thurmond said. “We need to anticipate on all the angles.”

The powdered-alcohol ban might be tough to swallow before the General Assembly session ends month.

If the ban passes the state Senate, two-thirds of the S.C. House would need to approve accepting the bill, since it would arrive in that body after the May 1 deadline for legislation to crossover from one legislative body to the other.

“I hope there will be a shared sentiment (in the House) about the need to put this on hold until we know how this will be rolled out,” Martin said.

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