By Kelsey Callahan
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Cocaine isn’t the only white powder on drug authorities’ radar these days. They’re also targeting Palcohol — powdered alcohol that can turn a glass of water into a mojito.
The General Assembly this week gave final approval to legislation that would outlaw the possession, sale, purchase or use of powdered or crystalline alcohol in Virginia. Legislators have unanimously approved two bills to that effect: HB 1908, sponsored by Del. Alfonzo H. Lopez, D-Arlington; and SB 1034, sponsored by Sen. Linda “Toddy” Puller, D-Mount Vernon.
Developed by an Arizona entrepreneur named Mark Phillips and owned by a company called Lipsmark LLC, Palcohol isn’t on the market yet. But Phillips hopes to start selling the product soon.
When mixed with water, Palcohol will create an instant cocktail, according to the company’s website and YouTube video. The powder comes in packets; each packet weighs about an ounce and is equivalent to one shot of alcohol.
Phillips plans to release six versions of Palcohol. It will come in vodka and rum, as well as four cocktails — cosmopolitan, mojito, “Powderita” (like a margarita) and lemon drop. “Just add water to these four flavors for an instant cocktail,” the company’s website says.
It said Palcohol was developed especially for hikers, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts who typically wouldn’t be able to enjoy an alcoholic beverage because bottles are heavy to carry. Powdered alcohol is a lightweight alternative, the site says.
Last April, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved Palcohol — but then reversed its decision, stating that the “label approvals were issued in error and have since been surrendered.”
Despite the setback, the Palcohol website says the company expects the product to be available this spring.
Virginia legislators aren’t waiting for it to hit the market. Lopez said he believes Palcohol is dangerous — and that’s why he filed HB 1908.
“This legislation is a common-sense public safety measure designed to safeguard Virginians, especially our young people, against the growing dangers of powdered and crystalline alcohol,” Lopez said.
“The potential for abuse of this product far outweighs any value it may have to the citizens of the commonwealth. We have an obligation to protect all Virginians from the health and safety risks associated with these kinds of dangerous novelty products.”
Attorney General Mark Herring helped draft the legislation. “It’s great to see Democrats and Republicans come together to help keep Virginians safe and healthy-particularly teenagers and other young people,” Herring said. “Banning the importation, sale and use of dangerous powdered alcohol will greatly reduce the risk of abuse.”
Both the House and Senate have passed HB 1908 and SB 1034. Under the legislation, it would be a Class 1 misdemeanor to possess, sell, buy or use powdered or crystalline alcoholic products in Virginia. The punishment can be as much as 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
The legislation now goes to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature.
Virginia officials said they feared young people could abuse products like Palcohol because it can easily be hidden and slipped into schools and other venues. They also said it could be sprinkled into someone’s drink without their knowledge or snorted through the nose and possibly cause brain damage.
The Palcohol website addresses many of those concerns, maintaining that in many ways, powdered alcohol is similar to or safer than liquid alcohol.
For example, Palcohol will come in 4-inch-by-6-inch packets, “almost five times bigger than a 50ml bottle of liquid alcohol,” the site says.
It says that people won’t snort Palcohol because it’s painful and impractical, and that spiking a drink with Palcohol is unlikely because the powder must be stirred for more than a minute to dissolve.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Virginia is one of 24 states considering bans on powdered or crystalline alcohol. Seven states currently prohibit such products.
The Palcohol website said the company was disappointed that none of the states asked Phillips to testify.
“Since no one has firsthand knowledge of powdered alcohol, you would think the responsible thing to do is find out about the product from the source,” the site says. “Instead, the legislators got caught up in the hyperbole and misinformation that is being thrown about by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.