Local lawmakers want powdered alcohol outlawed

Local lawmakers want powdered alcohol outlawed
Published: Mar. 16, 2015 at 10:34 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 20, 2015 at 10:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A controversial brand of alcohol could be headed to Hawai'i this summer, if state legislators don't outlaw it.

It's called Palcohol -- a powdered form of alcohol meant to be mixed into water.

"It's simply one shot of alcohol in powdered form," describes Palcohol creator, Mark Phillips, in a demonstration video posted on YouTube.

The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau gave its approval to the product a few days ago, but lawmakers in each state get to determine whether they want it sold in their community -- and several states have already banned the drug over concerns about how it could be used.

"Youth could mix it anywhere, anytime -- and it would be allowing them to have access to that alcohol at any time," said Michelle Park, the program manager of the Coalition for a Drug Free Hawai'i.

Palcohol isn't for sale anywhere yet and the manufacturer, Lipsmark LLC, says it won't likely be available for a few months, but House Bill 348 would have banned powdered alcohol before it even gets released.

"Once you ring the bell and allow it in, then there will be a much more difficult time of regulating it later," said state Representative Della Au Belatti, the chair of the House Committee on Health and co-author of the bill.

The prohibition has support from the Department of Public Safety, which testified in part that "powdered alcohol like many other substances could be added to food, candy, and other food products to make these products intoxicating."

The Maui and Honolulu police departments also backed the ban. "The smuggling of alcohol into venues, drinking in public and underage drinking are already concerns to the HPD. Powdered alcohol would make detection and enforcement that much more challenging," submitted Lisa Mann, the acting major of the Waikiki district.

A top worry among critics is that Palcohol would lead to more underage drinking since it's easier to conceal than a liquid product -- and could potentially be more dangerous.

"It has the equivalent of one shot of alcohol with it. If youth choose to use alcohol to mix with it or anything other than water with it -- there's a great likelihood that they could have alcohol poisoning," described Park.

Another issue that has been raised is the potential for the product to be snorted.

Phillips says that's ridiculous.

"It would take about one hour for someone to snort this much powder. Why would anyone choose to spend an hour of pain and misery snorting all of this powder to get one drink in their system?" countered Phillips.

Local liquor commission officials say they also have concerns about the product, but they're waiting on legal guidance before they take action.

"Whether powedered alcohol in its non-liquid form conforms to our definition of liquor and intoxicating liquor is yet to be determined," explained Don Pacarro, a liquor control administrator with the City and County of Honolulu's Liquor Commission.

While the Food and Drug Administration did not approve Palcohol, they also can't take products off shelves unless there's a problem.

In a statement, FDA officials confirmed, "At this time the FDA does not have a legal basis to block market entry of this product."

In an interview with CBS News, Palcohol's creator says fears about his product are unfounded.

"Why do we want big government telling us what we can drink and what we can't drink? We don't need a nanny government telling us what we can do," said Phillips.

But local lawmakers say there are too many potential risks.

"It's critical that we want to prohibit it or at least limit its sale and use until we understand better the health effects of it," explained Rep. Belatti.

House Bill 348 did not initially make it through this session, but given the latest federal developments, state lawmakers are now hoping to keep a powdered alcohol ban alive by tacking it on to legislation that is still being considered.

A bill that would prohibit the product nationwide has just been introduced as well.

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