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Powdered alcohol, also known as Palcohol, is a new product that is generating a great deal of buzz from various sources. This product claims to be alcohol reduced to a powdered form that can be mixed into non-alcoholic drinks to make instant cocktails, sprinkled onto food products and even snorted.
In April 2014, the United States Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved powdered alcohol; however this approval was rescinded two weeks later after public outcry. The manufacturer of Palcohol hopes to begin selling this product throughout the U.S. in the near future. Eight states, including California, New York, Vermont and Alaska currently prohibit the sale and consumption of powdered alcohol. A dozen other states are considering similar bans on the product.
While the future of Palcohol may be up in the air, law enforcement agencies and public watchdogs are studying how this product works and what effect it may have on public health and safety.
One of the biggest concerns about powdered alcohol is its potency and the fact that it can be snorted. When one snorts Palcohol, it is instantaneously delivered into the bloodstream and would effectively cause immediate intoxication. Public advocates are understandably concerned about any product that would cause instant intoxication, especially for people who may be driving.
Powdered alcohol is chemically equivalent to liquid alcohol and one would be criminally liable under California’s DUI laws if caught driving under the influence of this substance. The physical and mental effects of powdered alcohol when consumed are not as widely known as liquid alcohol, however law enforcement officers regularly receive extensive training in recognizing the symptoms of alcohol intoxication. These would presumably be the same regardless if the alcohol consumed was a liquid or a powder. While someone who has been snorting Palcohol may not have the same odor of alcohol on their breath, they may still be observed to have trouble maintaining balance, slurred speech or bloodshot and watery eyes.
Those arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence are required to submit to chemical testing in the form of either a breath or blood test. Powdered alcohol which has been ingested and has entered the bloodstream would register on a blood test just as liquid alcohol would. It is not known what effect powdered alcohol would have on someone taking a breath test on either a Breathalyzer or a Preliminary Alcohol Sensor (“PAS”) device. However, because both of these instruments measure air from the deep lung area, the fact that alcohol has been consumed earlier in powdered rather than liquid form should not make a difference. Further research will be needed before a definitive answer is available.
If Palcohol becomes widely available to consumers, lawmakers will have to address how to control the sale, manufacture and consumption of this substance. Law enforcement officers will be increasingly aware of suspects who may possess or be under the influence of powdered alcohol. One can be arrested for DUI regardless of whether the alcohol consumed was in liquid or powder form.