Powdered Alcohol on Its Way to Prohibition Pretty Much Everywhere


Last Wednesday, as Pennsylvania drinkers celebrated relaxed laws on wine and beer, most were unaware that they were also being theoretically denied a yet-to-be marketed alcohol product that they probably didn’t want in the first place.

On June 8, Pennsylvania became the 32nd state to prohibit the sale of powdered alcohol. The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved powdered alcohol for sale last year, but the dubious product has yet to reach store shelves. The California Assembly followed Pennsylvania’s lead on Friday, June 10, by unanimously passing legislation to ban possession or use of the substance. The bill has yet to pass the rest of the legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

The powdered alcohol product at the center of the debate is Palcohol, the brainchild of Mark Phillips, who, according to his website, invented the stuff to avoid lugging along extra liquid when “hiking, biking, camping and kayaking.” Phillips, who plans to sell powdered vodka and rum, along with pre-mixed drinks like Cosmopolitans and Lemon Drops, valiantly opposed the California Assembly, but to no avail.

State Sen. Bob Huff argued that Palcohol “sends the wrong message to youth and young adults about responsible drinking,” according to a release by watchdog group Alcohol Justice, while other lawmakers have expressed concern that customers might overdose on the powder by snorting it.  

The Palcohol website vehemently defends the substance’s legitimate uses in industries such as medicine and the military, but the pre-emptive pushback from the states doesn’t bode well. The brand’s defensive site reads more like a political treatise than a commercial venture. And it doesn’t help that an earlier version of the site suggested customers smuggle the powder into public venues and acknowledged that one could, in fact, snort it.

Phillips claims that Palcohol is safer than liquid alcohol and that outlawing it will create a black market with no regulation. Those arguments have fallen on deaf ears in the legislature, as lawmakers seem confident they can ban Palcohol without backlash. This tracks with our understanding that one of the prerequisites for having a black market is that people actually want the commodity.

With further prohibition pending in California and elsewhere, the future looks grim for all zero of Palcohol’s fans (we’re disqualifying Mark Phillips as a fan due to conflict of interest). If you’re the kind of lunatic that cannot continue on the earth without tasting powdered alcohol, and if the high-tech hooch ever goes on sale, you’ll need to head to one of the three states to affirmatively approve it: Colorado, Texas or the company’s home state of Arizona.

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