A proposal to ban an alcoholic beverage product that hasn’t even been brought to market yet looks to be riding a wave of alarm in the House like that which resulted in its Senate passage earlier this year.
House Bill 404 would declare that the sale of powdered alcohol is a Class A misdemeanor in Tennessee, subjecting violators to penalties of up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
The upper chamber’s companion legislation, Senate Bill 374, passed on a 31-1 vote March 16. Only Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, voted against it.
HB404 cleared the lower chamber’s Criminal Justice Committee on a voice vote April. 1.
The rationale for the ban is that it is needed to protect the children — hence the urgency to act before a crisis of youthful abuse, explained sponsor Sheila Butt, a Republican from Columbia.
Butt was asked during the committee hearing if there is any difference between powdered alcohol and liquid booze. She responded that, other than the physical form of the substance, there doesn’t appear to be — and therefore the state’s sauce cops are left stymied.
“I can’t say there is a huge difference between the two except that one is powdered and one is beverage, and so the (state’s) Alcoholic Beverage Commission has no jurisdiction to regulate this in any way in the state of Tennessee,” said Butt.
She said that “anyone as young as 12 years old, 10 years old, can order this and use it at this point, because there is no regulation.”
Butt also warned that unlike with liquid alcohol — it being “very hard to conceal a bottle” — powdered alcohol “could be hidden in (a child’s) room in the powder case, or whatever. So, this is something we need to get a grasp on, before we allow it in the state of Tennessee.”
Like in the Senate, members of both parties are beating the drum for a ban.
“I think this is very timely. It has been in the news and I think a lot of our teenagers are abusing it and taking advantage of it. So, excellent bill,” said Memphis Democrat Raumesh Akbari.
Republican Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough did ask Butt to explain why her prohibition impulse won out over a regulatory approach. “So we have an option of either criminalizing it or making it regulated, and you chose to criminalize it?” said van Huss.
For the time being, responded Butt.
“Now I daresay, legislation will come back through to address this. But this is relatively new right now — there was nothing in place in the statute in Tennessee to deal with this whatsoever,” Butt added. “So, I am sure that if people desire that, it will come back through in another form. But right now we are saying that for the next year, beginning in May, that young people can’t order this over the Internet and cannot use it in the state of Tennessee, until we find some way to regulate that.”
Committee Chairman William Lamberth of Cottontown, a former prosecutor, said he’d been oblivious to the existence of powdered alcohol before the emergence of Tennessee lawmaker’s efforts to ban it.
“I have always been impressed with the knowledge-base of this committee,” said Lamberth.
Powdered alcohol hasn’t in fact been produced for sale in the United States. The makers of “Palcohol” only recently won federal approval for their product labeling. The company’s website indicates Summer 2015 as the genesis of its mass marketing push.
Like Butt, Murfreesboro Republican Bill Ketron, sponsor of the Senate’s Palcohol prohibition bill, seemed to leave the door open for re-legalizing powdered alcohol at some later point. Nevertheless, he believes it important “to ban it first, and then we can sit down and take a look at it.”
The Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association is behind the bill as well. Thad Cox, the association’s president, told TNReport in March that he had similar concerns as lawmakers about Volunteer State youth abusing the product.
According to Palcohol inventor Mark Phillips of Arizona, his product was designed to offer hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts an easily transportable means to enjoy a drink on backpacking trips.
Alex Harris can be contacted at Alex@TNReport.com.