Andrea Marquez came to a House committee hearing Monday armed with three things: Kool-Aid packets, her makeup bag and a big bottle of Jack Daniels.
The 17-year-old from El Paso High School told the House Licensing and Administrative Committee hearing Monday that the Kool-Aid pouches were the same size as packets that could hold powdered alcohol — a form of dehydrated booze that can be mixed with water, soda or juice.
Marquez counted 48 packets in her makeup bag, the equivalent of 48 shots — eight shots more than the bottle of whiskey she had an adult bring into the hearing room.
"I have so many shots in my makeup bag, and I can tell you that this is very small," Marquez said. "How easy would it be for me to leave the house, go to a party and carry this with me? Which do you think would be easier to conceal: my makeup bag or a bottle?"
Concerns about powdered alcohol have led 34 states to ban or considering banning it, and Marquez was one of several people who asked the committee to ban it in Texas too. "I think everyone here cares about the future of our youth and I definitely think this bill needs to protect our youth more," Marquez said.
The committee discussed two bills Monday that would regulate the sale of powdered alcohol in Texas. If the bills pass, Texas could become the first state to do so [Wisconsin is also considering similar legislation].
One of the House bill’s authors, state Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, told The Texas Tribune he filed House Bill 47 because he was concerned about the dangers powdered alcohol posed to kids. Since powdered alcohol is a relatively new product, it is not explicitly regulated — or prohibited — under state law.
"I am worried about minors having access to this product, and [current law] leaves this as a possibility. We can't let that stand," Guillen said.
Chris Porter, spokesman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, said powdered alcohol products haven’t appeared in Texas market yet, but he agreed that his agency doesn’t have the authority to regulate it under current law.
"We will continue defer to our state lawmakers and the legislative process on these issues and will do our part to enforce any new laws passed during the legislative session," Porter said.
House Bill 47 would amend the definition of an alcoholic beverage to include powdered alcohol, ban the possession and purchase of the product by minors and tax and regulate powdered alcohol the same way as traditional liquid liquor. Guillen’s bill would also give TABC the authority to regulate powdered alcohol.
Nicole Holt, CEO of Texans Standing Tall, a statewide coalition that works to support healthier and safer communities for kids, encouraged legislators to issue an outright ban on powdered alcohol, arguing it could be used in dangerous ways.
"The fact that you can eat it or snort it is dangerous," Holt said. "Our concern is that you then take a product that is already dangerous and you make it even easier for kids to consume at larger quantities and a larger rate."
An Arizona man who developed his own brand of powdered alcohol — Palcohol — because he wanted an easier way to drink while "hiking, biking, camping and kayaking," according to the product’s website, got his brand labels approved by the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau in March 2015. That allows the company to make Palcohol commercially available, though it’s still not available for purchase.
In Galveston, Ralph McMorris said he is manufacturing a non-alcoholic version of the product and has applied for federal approval to make and market powdered alcohol in Texas. He told the Tribune he plans to ask lawmakers to amend their bills so that powdered alcohol can be sold in larger pouches than what the bills call for.
"With the little ones you can put them in your pocket and sneak them ... I don’t want to make the little bags. That’s what the kids buy," McMorris said. "They’re trying to make it safer in regards to children, but they really shot themselves in the foot."
State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, the upper chamber’s author of a similar powdered alcohol regulatory measure this session, said he doesn’t want to ban powdered alcohol because "prohibition doesn’t work."
"I think if those other 34 states think that a ban works, then why don't they ban all alcohol? I think just as a matter of reality we should regulate and tax it," Seliger told the Tribune on Tuesday. "I just think it's alcohol in another form."
All three bills were left pending in committee.
Read related Tribune coverage:
- Despite warning that powdered alcohol could lead to a spike in underage drinking that would "make the darkest days of the Four Loko era look tame," a lawmaker pulled back his measure to outlaw the product in Texas in the 2015 legislative session.