Newly approved powdered alcohol banned in Virginia

By Sarah Drury
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The federal government this week approved a powder that can turn a glass of water into an alcoholic drink, but it’s unlikely that Virginians will be enjoying instant margaritas anytime soon: The Virginia General Assembly has passed legislation to outlaw the product in the commonwealth.

House Bill 1908 and Senate Bill 1034, which passed unanimously in both chambers, would ban the importation, sale and use of powdered or crystalline alcohol. The bills were a response to the development of Palcohol, which was cleared for sale Tuesday by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

The legislation has been sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe to be signed into law. Virginia officials fear Palcohol will be abused by young people because it can be easily transported, hidden and consumed.

“We moved to keep this potentially dangerous product out of Virginia because we knew that federal approval was pending and it would be difficult to address the problem after the fact,” said state Attorney General Mark Herring.

“I’m glad the General Assembly agreed it was the right move to protect Virginians, especially young people, because the risk of abuse and misuse is just so high with this product.”

Herring helped write the legislation, working with Del. Alfonzo H. Lopez, D-Arlington.

“While I am disappointed that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau would approve this dangerous substance with such a high potential for abuse, I am proud that we were able to take action this session to protect our young people and ban powdered alcohol in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Lopez said Wednesday.

Under HB 1908 and SB 1034, 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.

Virginia isn’t the only state with concerns.

Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina and Vermont have also banned the distribution of powdered alcohol, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The group said 47 bills have been introduced in 28 states this year dealing with powdered alcohol.

Lipsmark LLC, the company that owns Palcohol, hopes to start selling it this summer. On its website, the company hailed the decision by the federal alcohol tax agency to approve the labels for Palcohol. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration conducted a scientific review of the product and said it had no legal basis to prohibit it.

Lipsmark criticized states like Virginia that have moved to ban powdered alcohol. “Since the product isn’t even on the market yet, there is not one shred of evidence that it will be used or abused any differently than liquid alcohol,” the company said.

Palcohol will be sold in one-ounce packets, each equivalent to one shot of alcohol. It will come in vodka and rum, as well as cocktail varieties – cosmopolitan, margarita and lemon drop.

In a video on the Palcohol website, the product’s creator, Mark Phillips, responded to some of the concerns about powdered alcohol. For example, he said that because of the packaging, Palcohol would not be easier than liquid alcohol to sneak into establishments where alcohol is prohibited.

Phillips also said it would not be it easier to spike drinks with Palcohol because the powder takes more than a minute to dissolve.

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Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.