Senate passes Lombardo bill outlawing powdered alcohol
STATE HOUSE – The Rhode Island Senate today unanimously approved legislation to prohibit the use and sale of powdered alcohol in the state.
Sponsored by Sen. Frank Lombardo III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston), the legislation, 2015-S 0175aa, will prohibit the use, purchase or sale of the product in the state (other than for bona fide research purposes). Violators would be subject to a fine of up to $1,000.
Powdered alcohol is molecularly encapsulated alcohol which, when mixed with water, produces an alcoholic beverage. A product called “Palcohol” – which had received initial approval from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau in 2014 only to have it rescinded – was this week officially approved by a federal regulator. Okayed were four varieties of Palcohol, which will be available in a pouch and expected to be on sale by this summer.
In the interim, a number of states have taken up legislation to regulate or ban the substance. Prior to 2014, two states – Alaska and Delaware – had laws in place regarding the substance. Since then, five other states – South Carolina, Vermont and Louisiana – have enacted bans and more than two dozen other states are working on legislation to prohibit the product before it hits store shelves.
“My primary concern about this product, when it becomes available, is about its safety and the potential for abuse,” said Senator Lombardo. “Also, because alcohol laws in general apply to liquids, powder-based beverages could technically be sold to minors and these powders would be exempt from alcohol tax and laws.”
Senator Lombardo said that despite the approval from the federal regulator, he believes Rhode Island needs to act now to prohibit a product that could be abused. Concerns have been raised in many quarters, he said, that the item could be obtained by minors, that it could be sneaked into public events or used to spike drinks, and that it could be snorted with unknown consequences.
The Lombardo legislation, which now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration, defines powdered alcohol as “alcohol prepared for sale or other distribution in a dry power or crystalline or encapsulated form for direct consumption of reconstitution.” In addition to the powdered form that is mixed with water, the substance may also appear in capsule form for oral ingestion or for use with a nebulizer (a delivery devise used to administer the substance in the form of a mist inhaled into the lungs).
“This is just too new a product to know for certain whether it is safe or whether it can and will be abused,” said Senator Lombardo. “I believe it is better to be safe than sorry and to take this step to protect Rhode Islanders before this product leads to serious problems.”
Co-sponsors of the Lombardo bill include Sen. Elizabeth A. Crowley (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket), Sen. Christopher S. Ottiano (R-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol), Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, Providence, North Providence) and Sen. William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick).
An similar House bill, 2015-H 5189, has been introduced by Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport) and is before the House Committee on Judiciary.
For more information, contact:
Randall T. Szyba, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903