Editorial: Powdered alcohol needs regulation – Greenville News

Powdered alcohol should be subject to the same regulation and taxes as alcoholic beverages. Current state rules do not subject potential product to taxes, regulation.

There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about a potential new product that might be on the cusp of approval from the federal government and its potential availability in South Carolina and elsewhere.

A powdered alcohol product fleetingly gained approval from the federal government earlier this year. That approval was rescinded after some concerns about marketing and packaging, but it is possible the federal government will approve the product for sale later this year. At the prodding of Sen. Larry Martin, who is concerned powdered alcohol would not be regulated under existing state laws, the state Senate this week favored a one-year ban on powdered alcohol. The proposal is on the way to the House.

This is a reasonable approach that would give lawmakers time next year to adapt the state’s definition of alcoholic beverages to include powdered alcohol. The House would be right to adopt this ban.

Although Martin was criticized by some as simply wanting to attract more tax revenue, his concerns are valid. The state is responsible for regulating alcohol, and one of the ways it does that is through taxation. Regardless, this product packs the punch of a typical mixed drink but in powdered form so it can be mixed with any liquid, and it should be regulated the same as alcoholic beverages.

Martin’s concerns stem from the lack of state rules for dealing with powdered alcohol. He cites a letter he received from the state Department of Revenue that concluded powdered alcohol does not fall under the state’s existing definition for alcoholic beverages and therefore is not regulated by the state. Current rules, according to the letter, regulate only liquid forms of alcohol used as a beverage.

Martin raises legitimate concerns about possible misuse of powdered alcohol if it is not regulated. “This stuff, if it’s approved, will be sold to children,” Martin said in a recent Greenville News report by reporter Tim Smith. “And that’s despicable that we would sit back and allow that to happen.”

The state needs to take steps to ensure retailers can be held accountable for distributing the product to minors, and a one-year ban allows time to do that.

Concerns have been raised nationally that such a product would be snorted by some users seeking a quicker, more intense intoxication. There also are concerns powdered alcohol is too portable and could easily be sneaked into venues such as concerts and ballgames, or into places where alcohol is not allowed. Martin worries that powdered alcohol could find its way into schools and be easily distributed among underage students.

Martin’s effort makes South Carolina the fourth state to be seeking at least a temporary ban on powdered alcohol sales, according to a recent report in The State.

Sen. Kevin Bryant said powdered alcohol would be difficult to abuse in the ways that concern Martin. The volume of powder needed to make the equivalent of one mixed drink would make it difficult to surreptitiously spike drinks and would make it unattractive to those who want to snort the product for a quicker high. He initially called Martin’s bill “a solution in search of a problem,” according to a Greenville News report, but he later agreed to the one-year ban.

Bryant also initially said he was opposed to the state automatically taxing products such as alcohol, and Sen. Lee Bright said Martin’s push is being fueled by a desire to increase tax collections. It is appropriate for the state to tax alcoholic beverages. To allow a new form of alcohol to go to market without subjecting it to the same regulation as existing forms of alcohol doesn’t make sense and could indeed create enforcement problems.

This agreement demonstrates that this debate is not about permanently banning a legal substance. Instead, it is about ensuring that South Carolina’s laws keep up with the alcoholic beverage market. Before powdered alcohol is legal for sale, the state needs to have rules in place for it. South Carolina was among the leaders fighting substances such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana that had been legally available and continue to be a concern as manufacturers modify the substances to skirt the law.

Although powdered alcohol may not be as dangerous or as controversial as those substances, it certainly is sensible for state legislators to take a closer look at ensuring this product is regulated.

When powdered alcohol will come to market is uncertain, but given that the federal government had taken steps toward approving it for sale, it could come soon. Lawmakers have taken the first step toward fixing the state’s definition of alcoholic beverages; they need to follow through in the waning days of this legislative session.

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