In tune with bipartisan consternation across the nation, the Tennessee Senate rushed to pass legislation Thursday to halt the sale of a product called “Palcohol” before it’s even made it to the production stage.
In a noteworthy instance of common agreement with New York’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer — who, to no avail, has called upon the Food and Drug Administration multiple times to block sales of the powder, and has introduced a measure to ban it federally — Tennessee’s Republican supermajority-controlled Senate voted near-unanimously for Senate Bill 374.
The anti-Palcohol proposal, sponsored by Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, the Senate GOP Caucus chairman and champion of the wine-in-groceries movement, would make the sale of any crystalline or powdered spirits a Class A misdemeanor as of May 1. The bill would also allow the revocation or suspension of any alcohol license held by the seller, in addition to any criminal penalties assessed.
Earlier this week, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved labeling for Palcohol. According to the Palcohol website, mass-marketing is planned for start-up by summer.
Mark Phillips, the Arizona man who invented Palcohol, argued in a recent video statement that the push for prohibition is misguided, resulting from unfounded fears and misconceptions about a product he developed as a convenient, easily transportable way to enjoy a drink after a day of backpacking or other outdoor activities.
Phillips told CNN on Friday that he’s really not surprised — and to a degree understands — some of the reaction to his product, although he hopes rational discourse will win out over hysteria.
“A lot of people are concerned about alcohol. I am concerned about the misuse and abuse of liquid alcohol, everyone is,” he said. “So , I am not going to sit here and say that my product will not be misused or abused, because it might be. But you don’t ban a product for that.”
“You don’t see any bans being introduced to ban liquid alcohol, because we know prohibition doesn’t work — it failed miserably,” Phillips added. As was demonstrated by America’s experience with outlawing liquid alcohol, banning powedered alcohol will result in the state “losing all control over its distribution,” which will in fact make it easier kids to get hold of, he said.
Nevertheless, already several other states have banned Palcohol, or like Tennessee are considering bans.
The Volunteer State measure passed the 33-member Tennessee Senate with 31 affirmative votes. Germantown Republican Brian Kelsey cast the only vote against the measure. Hohenwald Republican Joey Hensley did not cast a vote. Kelsey declined to comment to TNReport on why he voted no.
Ketron argued on the Senate floor Palcohol could become available anywhere to consumers of any age.
“There’s no way to tax it. There’s no way to control it, and we want to stop it before it gets here,” Ketron said.
Claiming palcohol has a high potential for abuse and could lead to more underage drinking, Ketron said young kids looking to experiment may snort it or disguise it in bottled water to drink in class.
Ketron told TNReport Friday that while the state perhaps should consider allowing Palcohol sales in the future, the abrupt approval by the federal government is forcing the Tennessee Legislature to spring into action with a declaration of illegality.
“I want to ban it first, and then we can sit down and take a look at it,” he said.
Keith Bell, executive director of Tennessee’s alcohol enforcement agency, confirmed that there’s no statutory authority to control non-liquid booze, and the prohibition was needed “because of the dangers as mentioned by Sen. Ketron.”
Bell said while he doesn’t have any research data on powdered alcohol’s dangers relative to liquid alcohol, he’s sure such studies exist.
Bell provided TNReport with a February 2015 National Association of Alcohol Beverage Commissions research paper on powdered alcohol — which can be found in full below — that indicates although the specter of crystalline alcohol has arisen in the past, previously no powdered alcohol products had been approved for sale in the U.S.
Phillips, the powdered-alcohol inventor, argues on his company’s website that legislators have no business playing “nanny” for constituents who are “big boys and girls” who should be able to decide “if we want to use alcohol.” According to Phillips, Palcohol is only intended to be sold to adults, and only wherever liquid alcohol is sold.
Similar to federal alcohol prohibition nearly 100 years ago, the website argues, banning powdered alcohol would likely create a black market where underage drinkers have easier access and the state expends “precious resources” enforcing, as well as missing out on potential tax revenue.
According to Phillips, the 4-inch by 6-inch pouch holds too much powder to make snorting worthwhile given the amount of alcohol it’s equivalent to — just one shot of liquor.
Additionally, Phillips points out that due to the amount of powder and how long it takes to dissolve, individuals looking to get drunk would find shots of liquid alcohol an easier option. Similarly, anyone looking to spike someone’s drink or looking to scam the entertainment and service industries would find it easier to use easily-concealable single-shot bottles of liquor.
The booze-sellers guild in Tennessee nonetheless fully supports outlawing powdered alcohol.
Thad Cox, president of the Wine and Spirits Retailers Association, said the association is “a hundred percent” in agreement with the ban. Cox said while he’s never seen the product, “it could get extremely dangerous where people could really, seriously impair themselves and endanger people, too.”
TWSRA exists “to protect the interests of the independent package store owners of Tennessee,” and represents more than 500 retailers across the state.
Cox questioned whether university students could be trusted not to brew up hitherto unknown methods of alcohol abuse with Palcohol.
“You know how college kids are,” said Cox. “They want to experiment, they want to challenge each other (to see how many Palcohol packets they can imbibe at once).”
“And then they get behind the wheel,” he said.
The House bill is sponsored by Columbia Republican Sheila Butt. It’s scheduled to be heard Wednesday in the House State Government Subcommittee.