COLUMBIA – Powdered alcohol sales in the state could be banned for a year under a proposal that passed the Senate after an Upstate senator once again argued that the substance could prove to be a grave threat to children if left unregulated.
Sen. Larry Martin, a Pickens Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had tried for two days to persuade the Senate to pass a ban but was opposed by some conservatives who said some fears about the product were exaggerated and lawmakers shouldn't be in a rush to tax a new product.
Alcohol products in the state are all subject to a special tax, but the state Department of Revenue says powdered alcohol doesn't fall in the state's regulations.
Martin said he fears the product is about to be approved by federal authorities and could be introduced into the state without regulation after the Legislature adjourns for the year.
"If we don't act, literally alcohol could be sold to children and that's not acceptable," he told the Senate on Wednesday.
Martin said if lawmakers don't regulate powdered alcohol, it could wind up in stores as early as this summer and eventually in the hands of underage drinkers.
He has predicted that in such instances, alcohol poisoning would be certain.
Martin had tried to ban powdered alcohol on Tuesday, but his attempt to amend a House bill that dealt with alcohol was ruled not germane.
Other senators argued that worries the product could be used to spike drinks or more easily smuggled into public arenas is overblown and said they suspect the move to ban the product is more about making sure it is taxed than protecting the public.
Martin ran into the same problem on Wednesday after an objection by Sen. Kevin Bryant, an Anderson Republican and pharmacist who opposed the proposal on Tuesday.
But Bryant said he was willing to agree to a one-year ban, which Martin then proposed. The Senate approved the amended bill 41-0.
The bill would exempt manufacturing or industrial use of powdered alcohol.
Martin said he would appoint a panel next year to study powdered alcohol and recommend regulations or a continuation of the ban.
The proposal, if the bill is approved for a final reading, must still be approved by the House.
The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn for the year next week.