Food & Drink

Powdered alcohol controversy proves America too trigger happy when it comes to banning new things

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As Americans, we're slow learners. But we're getting there. After decades of agitation, alcohol was successfully prohibited in 1919, and it took us almost 15 years to learn that blanket bans are probably not a good idea. Four years after repeal, in 1937, we made marijuana illegal, and only now are we beginning to extricate ourselves from that, with legal, recreational weed in Colorado and Washington.

And yet, after almost 100 years of evidence that prohibitions cause more problems than they solve, our legislators simply can't help themselves. Whenever they smell an opportunity to make something illegal — that is, to take away your choice to experiment with it or not — they are ready to marshal silly, scaremongering rhetoric to ram through a ban.

To see this mentality, you need only look at the national reaction to "powdered alcohol." It's an ingenious invention that uses carrier molecules to hold molecules of ethyl alcohol. Adding warm water frees up the ethyl, allowing you to create, say, a martini or a cosmo out of a packet of powder. A company named Palcohol intends to market it. One other thing: It probably doesn't taste great, even if it is a fun gimmick with limited applications for, say, hikers or air travelers. In an era of craft cocktails and heirloom bitters, this hardly seems a product ready to take the drinking world by storm.

Now, bear in mind that this product is not in stores. It isn't even approved for use by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Nobody knows anything about how people will use it or whether there's even a market for it. Given that rather complete lack of knowledge, what do you think legislators are doing right now?

That's right: They're banning it.

As we prepared to go to press, Alaska, Delaware, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Vermont had already banned powdered alcohol, and bans are under consideration in Minnesota, Ohio, New York, and Colorado. Perhaps the most ridiculous example is Colorado, one of the very states where a referendum forced authorities to stop hassling peaceful pot smokers. And what Colorado officials are saying is just as hard to believe as some of the Reefer Madness-style rhetoric of the War on Drugs. Chris Johnson, executive director of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, said powdered alcohol will make it easier for children to "sprinkle it on top of their Wheaties for breakfast." Colorado state Rep. JoAnn Windholz (R) has sponsored the powdered alcohol prohibition bill, saying Palcohol should be banned until they can find out if it's stronger than liquid alcohol. (The claim, Palcohol's backers say, is completely unfounded.) Windholz seemed alarmed that people could have something on them that could be turned into an unappealing alcoholic drink, and walk into a school, or a Broncos game, without a law that whisks them away to jail.

All this, despite there being no evidence that anybody even wants to buy the stuff. But, hey, when you have a monopoly on telling people what they can or can't do, it's ban first, ask questions later.

Why? Well, think of the children ...

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