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TX: Will powdered alcohol be sold in Texas next year?

TX: Will powdered alcohol be sold in Texas next year?



By Anna M. Tinsley

November 22, 2015

Powdered versions of mojitos, margaritas and strawberry daiquiris could reach Texas liquor store shelves as soon as next year.


Because Texas lawmakers failed to act even as dozens of other states banned the new powdered refreshment — which produces alcoholic mixed drinks when water is added — Galveston businessman Ralph McMorris may be within months of gaining approval to sell his 21st-century product.


An example of Lt. Blender’s Cocktails in a Bag, which now is sold where consumers add water and alcohol. The company is working on a “spiked” version where people would just add water.


“It will be so convenient,” said McMorris, CEO and founder of Lt. Blender’s Cocktails in a Bag, which produces powdered cocktails that require water and alcohol to be added. “I think it will really appeal to active, outdoor kind of people.


“You take your cocktail with you to where your campground is, take the water out of a stream and put it in the bag,” he said. “Everyone is excited about it.”


Well, not everyone.


This year, Texas lawmakers had a proposal before them to jump on the nationwide bandwagon and ban powdered alcohol before it could ever debut here.


But state Rep. Charlie Geren, who initially asked lawmakers to consider the ban, pulled the bill down after talking to McMorris.


“I’m still concerned it may be a problem and that people might abuse it,” said Geren, R-Fort Worth. “But I can’t control everything everybody does and I don’t want to.


“I said I would pull the bill down so we can look at it for two years,” he said. “If there’s a problem after that, I’ll bring the bill back.”


Focus nationwide has been on a product called Palcohol, individual-size serving packets that when mixed with water, create cosmopolitans, lemon drops, mojitos, Powderitas, vodka and rum.


Fears spiked about potential abuse of the product and about how consumers might eat it, snort it, even mix alcohol, not water, into the powdery substance to make extra-strong drinks.


Palcohol received approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, but the company hasn’t appeared to move forward with gaining approval to sell it in states such as Texas that haven’t banned the product.


McMorris’ company — which is creating pitcher-size serving packets of its powdered “spiked” drinks — is moving full-steam ahead.


“Initially, it will just be [sold in] Texas, only in Texas,” McMorris said. “Once we get it out there, and we are selling it in places it’s approved, they’ll realize it’s no more dangerous — actually much less dangerous — that what’s being sold.


“If there are any problems, the Legislature will look at it in two years and readdress it.”


Texas sales?


McMorris’ company has been in making cocktail mixers for more than 15 years.


In 2003, it came up with the bag process, putting a dry nonalcoholic mix in a bag. Consumers add alcohol and water to the bag — even freeze it if they want — to “get bartender-quality all natural cocktails,” said McMorris, who also serves on the Galveston City Council.


In recent years, the company has been studying its process, trying to find a way to add powdered alcohol into the mix so that consumers would only have to add water.


“People want it easier and easier,” McMorris said.


He said his company is now in the process of getting federal and state licenses to produce his powdered alcohol product. And final approval could come within the next three months or so, he said.


The company initially plans to offer three flavors: mojito, margarita and strawberry daiquiri. Bags with powdered alcohol in them would be labeled “spiked.”


“We will start with those three and go from there, adding more flavors as we go along,” McMorris said..


If the licensing process stays on course, this could be the first powdered alcohol product to reach the shelves in Texas.


Nicole Holt, executive director of Texans Standing Tall, a statewide coalition working to make alcohol, tobacco and other drugs irrelevant for Texas youth.


Any company that wants to introduce a new alcoholic product in Texas, which would include powdered alcohol, must ask the state for label approval, said Chris Porter, a spokesman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.


No request regarding a powdered alcohol product has been received so far, he said.


But once a request is filed with the state, after a product has already received the OK from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, it could take just 12 to 15 days to gain permission to sell the product in Texas, Porter said.


Risk for youths


Some Texans are concerned about the product.


They say powdered alcohol could be sprinkled on food or mixed with liquid alcohol to make a very strong drink. Packages are small and can be taken anywhere, perhaps more easily than bottled liquor.


“We have a great level of concern around what powdered alcohol would do in the marketplace with young people,” said Nicole Holt, executive director of Texans Standing Tall, a statewide coalition working to make alcohol, tobacco and other drugs irrelevant for Texas youths.


Especially, she said, since alcohol is the substance most young people use and abuse.


“It’s what they experiment with; it’s what they get in trouble with,” she said. “There are negative consequences.”


Holt said she doesn’t want the same thing to happen with powdered alcohol that happened with Four Loko, an alcoholic energy drink that many feared was dangerous for younger drinkers.


That’s why Texans Standing Tall is working to educate Texans about potential problems with the product. And as soon as it is available in Texas, she said, the group plans to notify Texans “so they can keep their eye out for the product.”


“At the end of the day, it’s difficult,” Holt said. “It’s a product no one quite knows what to do with.”


McMorris said he can’t speak to the single-serving packets Palcohol has been developing.


But he believes that the pitcher-size powdered alcohol mixes he’s developing shouldn’t raise the same concerns.


“The percentage of alcohol in it, when reconstituted, is probably around 10 percent,” McMorris said. “It’s not a powerful end result.”


And Texas youths won’t have any easier time getting to it, since it would be sold in liquor stores.


“It’s actually less dangerous” than products already on the market, he said.


Continuing bans


New Jersey became the latest state to weigh in on powdered alcohol, banning the product just days ago.


“This product, with its powdery form, trivializes the effects of alcohol, which can be especially dangerous for young people who often binge drink,” New Jersey Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, D-Middlesex, said in a statement. “From alcohol-poisonings on college campuses to alcohol-fueled accidents, youth and alcohol are often a bad mix. We don’t need a product that makes it even easier for them to drink irresponsibly.”


Alaska, Delaware, Louisiana, South Carolina and Vermont are among the states that have outlawed the use of powdered alcohol. And dozens of states are considering similar proposals, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.


Michigan banned the product last month.


“Powdered alcohol could be easily abused, even without a person’s knowledge, and it doesn’t belong in our great state,” said Michigan state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, who filed the bill there.


Geren has said he learned of the issue during a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission briefing last year, when a report encouraged a ban on powdered alcohol. This year, he said he wanted to get out in front of the issue before it became a problem in Texas.


His proposal was on a local and consent calendar for consideration when state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, threatened to pull it from the calendar.


Geren pulled his bill down and planned to resubmit it for consideration on a different calendar so that lawmakers could debate its merits.


Then he talked to McMorris.


McMorris said he was nervous about talking to Geren and had never seen the Legislature in action before heading to the Texas Capitol this year.


After getting lost in the underground Capitol tunnels, McMorris made his way to Geren’s office and talked about his powdered alcohol product.


“He was very concerned,” McMorris said, adding that the two talked about half an hour before Geren said he would pull his bill down.


“I was floored,” he said. “He said we will look at it in two years and you get out there and do the best you can.”


Geren said he changed his mind after talking to McMorris.


“I said we could give it a try and if there’s a problem we will ban it.”