Feb 27, 2017

A Bid in the Legislature to Regulate Powdered Alcohol

Reporting Texas

AUSTIN—Three bills in the state Legislature aim to regulate powdered alcohol instead of banning it. In the previous legislative session, a proposed ban died in the House.

Manufacturers create powdered alcohol using chemical capsules to absorb alcohol, giving the appearance of a powder. Adding water dissolves the capsules, making the alcohol drinkable. The process was patented in the mid-1970s.

Arizona-based Lipsmark LLC received federal permission to sell its Palcohol powdered products in March 2015, but individual states were left to regulate its sales. Since then, 31 have banned it, and several others have moved to regulate it.

Powdered alcohol isn’t for sale yet in Texas. Chris Porter, a spokesman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, said in a telephone interview that no manufacturers have contacted the commission about selling it here.

Democratic Reps. Carol Alvarado from Houston and Ryan Guillen from Rio Grande City, and Sen. Kel Seliger, an Amarillo Republican, have introduced identical bills giving the Alcoholic Beverage Commission authority over powdered alcohol. Under the bills, the same rules that apply to normal alcoholic drinks would cover the powdered version, including prohibiting its sale to underage people.

In the 2015 Legislature, an outright ban on powdered alcohol proposed by Rep. Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican, died in the House. A Lipsmark spokesman told the Houston Chronicle last year that the company favored regulating the substance rather than banning it.

Alvarado said she decided to sponsor this session’s bill after being approached by the Texas Parent Teacher Association.

“They brought the bill to me recognizing that this product is very new, and it’s not regulated, and we thought it would be in the best interests of the safety of our children to introduce a bill to prohibit the sale and consumption of this product,” Alvarado said in a telephone interview.

Guillen said in a statement that current laws don’t adequately define alcoholic beverages because they were previously only available in liquid form.

“With the advent of powdered alcohol, we have a new form of the same basic substance, and the law needs to recognize the same restrictions for minors that we have for regular alcohol,” Guillen said.

State PTA Executive Director Kyle Ward said banning the sale of powdered alcohol to minors is one of the association’s legislative priorities.

“It really is a Kool-Aid-type substance that can be slipped into someone’s drink without them knowing it,” Ward said in a telephone interview. “Our focus is on students, so that’s why we support this legislation.”

Atalie Nitibhon, director for research and advocacy for Texans Standing Tall, an interest group that supported the last session’s proposed ban, said the group is following this session’s bills.

“It’s a product that makes alcohol more accessible to underage youth, and that’s kind of the opposite of what we’re trying to do,” she said in a telephone interview.

The two House measures, HB 133 by Alvarado and HB 47 by Guillen, are in the Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee. Guillen and Geren are committee members. SB 896, by Seliger, is in the Business and Commerce Committee. So far, the bills haven’t drawn any legislative opposition.

Alvarado said powdered alcohol deserves more attention than it has received.

“It’s easy to hide, it’s easy for use to conceal, and perhaps to take to school and just mix it with water,” Alvarado said. “It’s something that needs to be done, and it’s a product that we haven’t focused on because there’s little publicity, there’s little information about this out in the public.”