State rep says 'Hold!' on powdered alcohol

(Linda Baumeister/Review)
(Linda Baumeister/Review)

Turning water to wine is said to be a miracle. The transformation of water to cocktail, however, has become child's play.

Powdered alcohol, defined by its name, was approved for sale at the federal level March 10. It's now up to state legislators to decide whether seller Palcohol gets to put its packets of proposedly pleasurable powdered depressants onto the racks of local liquor stores.

State Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, intends to follow states like Alaska, Delaware, Louisiana, South Carolina and Vermont in discussing banning the sale of Palcohol.

Although the Federal Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau gave Palcohol the thumbs-up, Atkins said he believes the chalky substance may be a safety concern, especially in regards to underage consumption.

Atkins would like to look into the product further. He plans to hold a committee hearing at the Minnesota House and possibly the Minnesota Senate within the next two weeks, far before state residents can grab this new intoxicant off shelves.

In an online video, according to Palcohol creator Mark Phillips, the company's version of alcohol will be sold, regulated and distributed in the same fashion of traditional bottled alcoholic beverages, with all the same laws and requirements intact.

Concern

Atkins said he has heard concerns from parents and school officials about powdered alcohol packets being used to promote underage drinking and to sneak alcohol into schools or school events.

"We're all aware it's being discussed at the Legislature," District 197 director of communications Carrie Hilger said. "We're always monitoring things like that, when it comes to any sort of substances -- kind of keeping our ear to the ground on that."

West St. Paul Police Chief Bud Shaver resonated. "It's a lot harder to stick a beer bottle in a jacket when you're trying to sneak into a high school football game," he said. "It's much easier [sneaking] a little packet that's got some powder in it."

According to Atkins, some have even suggested that Palcohol might be sprinkled onto food to take advantage of unwitting victims. Whether for malice or prank, he said, either way it could be dangerous.

The powdery medium is not on the streets yet, not even illegally, according to both Shaver and Phillips. That's because it has yet to be widely produced by the Arizona-based company, even for states that have embraced Palcohol. The company aims to release its product sometime this summer.  

Shaver harbors concerns for the community for when that time comes.

"We have a lot of people who have severe addictions," Shaver said. "They'll drink Scope mouthwash, or anything with alcohol in it. Can you imagine them eating this stuff? What kind of overdose would occur from that?"

How it works

Though Phillips could not be reached for this article, in an online video, he explains that powder equal to one shot of liquor will come in a 4 by 6-inch envelope, which he argues is about four times the size of the shot bottles available at any neighborhood liquor store.

The user adds water to the package, which also acts as a standing cup, forming a convenient mixed drink. Or the user can mix the ingredients -- H20 and powder -- in a glass for a more sophisticated way to unwind, says Phillips, who created Palcohol with camping and travel in mind.

As of now there are four approved flavors, including vodka, rum, cosmopolitan, and martini.

Though powdered alcohol is lightweight and easy to carry, Phillips claims in the video that it's not easy to sneak into things, making the argument that it takes more time and effort to dissolve than typical fluid grog would, so spiking beverages is less of a concern than media outlets and communities have recently voiced. Also, it would be detected easily by the taste if it were sprinkled on food. As for snorting, Phillips said, it would cause an intense burning, and achieve no more buzz than to drink an equal amount.  

That's all according to the seller however. Local officials see it differently.

The unknown

Banning it outright, the way some states are lining up to do, is not exactly what Atkins is advocating. Atkins said because it is a new product it's the responsibility of the state to investigate any safety concerns related to Palcohol.

"It just got approved from a labeling standpoint [federally]," Atkins said. "That doesn't address safety issues ... they leave that up to the states. Unless states do something about it, the product just goes on sale."

Atkins said certain states have outright banned Palcohol over concerns such as the possibities of underage drinking, snorting, or secretly dusting it onto food.

"I honestly don't know if those [attributes] are true or not," Atkins said. "I've got the legislation in so that we can have a hearing on it and find out more about it.

Atkins' opinion, he said, is "depending on the outcome of the hearing. I really think the facts should drive it."

But it's not only Atkins who is wary of the introduction of Palcohol. Other representatives share in his concern, such as State Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, agrees with Atkins.

"I don't support powdered alcohol," Hanson said. "I don't see even why that'd be available."

Future

Atkins, who admitted he had not yet seen Phillips' video tutorial of his fine-grained invention, said, "[Phillips] is a hiker, and he doesn't want to carry a bottle of booze into the woods. That's what has me doubly concerned. If that's the best he can come up with, that's just plain silly ... But maybe by the time we hold a hearing, he can come up with a better explanation."

Meanwhile, Palcohol has begun to move forward to production, not only with its edible solution, but also with its industrial-intended product, which Phillips claims to solve some simple world issues, one of which being an easier, lighter, cheaper, more environmentally friendly method of shipping healthcare antiseptics into developing nations or places experiencing natural disasters, war, and turmoil.

That, however, is not what local residents are worrying about and telling Atkins.

"[They] describe it to me as a Kool-Aid packet of booze. That's what has them concerned. That's what I look forward to hearing about."
 

Jesse Poole can be reached at 651-748-7815 and jpoole@lillienews.com.

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