NEWS

Iowa Legislature considers ban on powdered alcohol sales

Product not yet approved for U.S. sales, but lawmakers 'trying to get out ahead of this'

Liquor selections in a Cedar Rapids bar. (Gazette file photo)
Liquor selections in a Cedar Rapids bar. (Gazette file photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Say that after a long day of bicycling the Cedar Valley Trail or hiking the foot paths of Palisades-Kepler State Park, you want to toast the sunset with a mojito.

Pull a package of Kool-Aid-like powdered alcohol out of your backpack. Add water. Shake. Enjoy.

Not likely. Not in Iowa.

Powdered alcohol has not been approved for sale in the United States, and the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Divisions is urging lawmakers to ban its sale in the event federal regulators grant permission.

“We’re trying to get out ahead of this,” division administrator Stephen Larson said, citing a variety of health and safety concerns. Among them are the possible abuse and misuse of powdered alcohol.

So he wants law enforcement and health officials to have an opportunity to weigh in.

“We don’t know the health impacts,” he said. “We don’t know if powdered alcohol is a responsible product and socially responsible way to sell and consume alcohol.”

Larson simply could block its sale. It’s up to the division and its commission to decide which alcoholic beverages will be sold in Iowa. So far, beverage distributors and retailers haven’t expressed interest in handling powdered alcohol.

However, because powdered alcohol is “a different type of product,” Larson is asking the Legislature to ban its sale. The Alcoholic Beverages Commission unanimously backed up his decision in January.

A subcommittee sent Senate File 123, which bans the sale of powdered alcohol, on to the full Senate Commerce Committee. No one spoke in opposition to the bill. Most groups following the proposed legislation are registered as “undecided.”

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However, Mark Phillips, the creator of Palcohol, said people creating “hysteria” about powdered alcohol are “either ignorant or being untruthful to promote their agenda.”

His products simply are a powdered version of rum, vodka and four cocktails with the same alcohol content as the traditional version, he said.

In a video on the Palcohol website, he called claims about the dangers of snorting powdered alcohol and the ease with which minors can buy it, sneak it into theaters and other venues and use it to spike drinks “completely false.”

His defense: Snorting would be painful because of the alcohol content; small liquor bottles would be easier to sneak into a venue than a package of Palcohol, which would require mixing; spiking a drink with liquid liquor would be much easier and quicker than with powdered alcohol that would require mixing; and minors would have no more access to Palcohol than traditional alcohol because both would be available only at licensed stores to people 21 and older with valid IDs.

Phillips suggested states have a fiduciary responsibility to their citizens because of the tax revenues possible from powdered alcohol sales.

The benefits of powdered alcohol include the tax revenue possible from its sale, lowering the fuel consumption and related emissions from shipping liquor in heavier glass bottles and its use as an emergency source of fuel and as an antiseptic in emergencies.

“Why would anyone want to ban powdered alcohol with all of the benefits to society?” Phillips said. It should be legalized, taxed and regulated just like traditional alcohol. “Act now before ignorance determines out future.”

He hasn’t convinced Larson.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” he said, warning that powdered alcohol could be a “nefarious agent.”

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In deciding which products to list, Larson said he and the division weigh “whether the product can be consumed in a responsible manner without creating issues.”

“Powdered alcohol,” he has concluded, “create various scenarios that concern us.”

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