Washington lawmakers consider powdered alcohol ban

OLYMPIA — A bill making its way through the state Legislature could make Washington one of a growing number of states to ban a new powdered alcohol product before it reaches liquor-store shelves.

Arizona-based Lipsmark LLC won federal approval March 10 to begin selling Palcohol, described on its website as an 80-calorie pouch of powder. Just add water and get vodka, rum or three instant cocktails: cosmopolitan, powderita — “tastes just like a margarita,” the site says — and lemon drop, each containing the alcohol content of a standard mixed drink.

Powdered alcohol, it claims, could lighten the loads of hikers and airlines, as well as other consumers and sellers for whom the bulk and weight of booze are burdensome, such as refreshment-sellers who operate on islands.

Several Washington legislators, however, say Palcohol is a dangerously sneaky mechanism for getting drunk and have proposed legislation to ban it before it arrives.

“This is not a crafted bourbon, or a scotch, or a tequila or something that’s special,” said Rep. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, at a public hearing this week. “Powdered alcohol is simply for the purpose of intoxication, period. You’re not crafting the finer liquors.”

The House Committee on Commerce and Gaming unanimously endorsed amendments to turn SB 5292, a regulatory measure that passed the Senate unopposed, into a ban on powdered alcohol for all purposes except research.

“All in all, it’s an incredibly dangerous substance,” said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, the bill’s original author.

Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, chairman of the House committee that endorsed the bill, said allowing powdered alcohol into store shelves could lead to people trying to “snort it like cocaine” or spiking the drinks of unsuspecting people. Even its use by hikers and people at public events such as ballgames or concerts could create problems, he said.

“The very thing that the proponents are saying it’s good for is the very places we don’t want to see extra alcohol that we’ve not monitored,” Hurst said.

If the bill becomes law, Washington would join at least six other states that have prohibited powdered alcohol, including the announcement this week by Maryland officials that alcohol distributors there have agreed to a voluntary ban on the substance. More than two dozen other states have introduced bills this year to ban powdered alcohol, which was first patented in 1972 by General Foods but has not seen widespread retail sales in the U.S.

Lipsmark officials declined a request to comment on the pending bill and did not attend its public hearing Tuesday. Palcohol inventor Mark Phillips emailed Holy before the Thursday vote.

“Remember, no one has ever tried Palcohol,” Phillips wrote, “so all the criticisms are just speculation.”

Phillips wrote spiking drinks, experimental snorting and sneaking his product into venues were concerns more theoretical than practical. The retail product’s bulk and rate of solubility would make such abuses unfeasible, he said.

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