Powdered Alcohol Causing Legislative Stir

Mar 30, 2015

While they could win a prize for the world’s driest martini, manufacturers of “palcohol,” --  powdered alcohol -- aren’t scoring a lot of points with their pre-marketing campaign. A Senate panel voted Monday to ban powdered alcohol sales in Florida before it hits the shelves.

Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, wants to ban sales of powdered alcohol in Florida
Credit Florida Senate

With more than two decades of lawmaking under her belt, Senator Gwen Margolis thinks she knows a bad idea when she hears it. And she says powdered alcohol is definitely it.

“So we need the legislation because we should get in on the ground floor of telling the folks that manufacture it that it’s really not acceptable in the state of Florida.”

The Miami Democrat hopes her bill banning powdered alcohol, known as “palcohol,” passes before the product is rolled out this summer. Five other states have already banned it and Margolis says she doesn’t want to wait for horror stories.

“Things like date rape. A woman can just be sitting there and a little powder is in her soda and it would be alcohol. So there’s lots to be concerned about here.”

And it doesn’t take a lot of life experience to imagine the abuse potential of powdered alcohol, warns Susan Pitman, a substance abuse prevention and treatment coordinator who claims to have conducted a youth survey.

“Oh, it’ll be easy to take to school, or football games. We can sprinkle it on our food. These are the immediate comments that happen among 27 of your youth.”

Pitman was addressing a recent House committee debating a companion measure.

Bald and smiling earnestly, his shirt sleeves rolled up, Palcohol inventor Mark Phillips appears in a video posted on his company website. Beside him sits a mixed drink and a one-ounce package of Palcohol.

“These are equal amounts of alcohol. Palcohol is not some super concentrated version of alcohol. It’s simply one shot of alcohol in powdered form.”

Palcohol just doesn’t work for slipping someone a Mickey, Phillilps says. Why try to dissolve an entire once of powder in a drink when pouring another ounce of alcohol accomplishes the same thing, he says. And the same argument goes for snorting the stuff.

“You can see there’s absolutely no reason even for an irresponsible person to snort powdered alcohol when they can just do a shot in two seconds and accomplish the same thing.”

Phillips took a significant step closer to market two weeks ago. That’s when Palcohol got the green light from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Detractors say the approval has more to do with truth in labeling than product safety.

But there’s a potentially fatal flaw in Phillips’ argument, insists Dr. Barry Hummel, a pediatrician from Southwest Florida who specializes in substance abuse prevention.  He says a binge drinker can consume much more powder than liquid alcohol in one sitting.

“Take a powdered alcohol product and deliver it in larger quantities, and there’s no volume control, there’s no mechanism to know when you’ve had too much.”

Both bills are close to reaching floor votes.