Proposed ban would keep powdered alcohol off the shelves in Maine

Good morning from Augusta, where lawmakers will hear public testimony on a slew of bills related to the struggling University of Maine System, which expects this year to dip into its reserves for $8.8 million to balance the books at six of its seven universities.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have floated bills to address funding and other concerns at the state’s public university system. Those bills will get their first day in the sun when the Education Committee takes them up this morning.

Among the proposals are a plan to audit the system’s finances and governance, guarantee or increase state funding to the system, and to fund the restoration of recently cut programs or positions. There’s also a proposal on the table to create a unified Board of Higher Education, which would have oversight of the UMaine system and the state’s community colleges, and several bills aimed at making college more affordable for Mainers.

Meanwhile, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will consider several efforts to prevent repeat efforts to ban the practice of bear-baiting. The issue has been subject to two statewide referenda, prompting some pro-baiting groups to fear that anti-baiting groups — including the deep-pocketed Humane Society of the United States, which funded last year’s campaign — will come up again and again.

Two of those plans would simply exclude hunting laws from the citizen’s initiative process, effectively prohibiting Mainers from changing the state’s hunting rules at the ballot box.

Another plan would require that at least 5 percent of the signatures required to initiate a referendum come from each of Maine’s 16 counties — a move that could drive up the cost of signature gathering and increase the difficulty of meeting the threshold to put an issue to popular vote.

You can check here for more information on the bills mentioned above, and to see a full list of bills up for consideration by committees today. And don’t forget to sign up to receive the Daily Brief in your inbox every weekday morning. — Mario Moretto.

Should Maine ban the sale and use of powdered alcohol?

At least 10 state lawmakers think so.

The group, including members of leadership from both parties, was spurred to action when the federal government recently approved powdered alcohol for sale to the general public.

The stuff is exactly what it sounds like — alcohol reduced to powdered form, which can be added to water to create cocktails on-the-go.

Lipsmark LLC, the company leading the charge on the product, markets “Palcohol” as a product for hikers, bicyclists, campers, travelers and others who may want to enjoy a drink, but don’t want to carry heavy bottles of booze to do it.

But lawmakers in 37 states are considering moves to ban the stuff before it ever hits the shelves, citing concerns that the product will too easily fall into the hands of minors, and that the stuff could be snorted (apparently, at this point, the fear is that people will snort any powder at all, even powdered margarita).

Last year, a writer at VICE — of course it was VICE — concocted some powdered alcohol and promptly put it straight up his nose … for science, I guess? He described it as a painful experience. Here’s a description of the experience:

“Somehow, the powder turned straight into glue when it hit my sinuses. I was immediately plugged up. The fumes burned inside my nose, but only for the first minute or so. After that came an uneasy numbness. Maybe all the nerve endings were dead. There was no one left to sound an alarm.

The headache was still present—a throbbing pressure at my temples—but the powder drunk was giving me a weird, out-of-body feeling. If you like headaches and gummed-up sinuses and numb, dissociative drunks, you’re going to go apeshit for powdered booze.”

Here in Maine, Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, is the author of the bill to ban Palcohol.

“The potential for misuse and abuse of powdered alcohol is extraordinarily high,” said Devin in a written statement. “It’s bad enough that people could easily snort it and put themselves and others in grave danger. Even worse, the available flavors are likely to appeal to teens and even children.”

Those flavors include margarita, cosmopolitan, rum and vodka.

Mark Philips, Palcohol’s inventor, feels so besieged by lawmakers like Devin that the company’s entire website is geared toward easing fears about potential misuse.

“Listen, people can snort black pepper….so do we ban it? No,” he writes. “Just because a few goofballs use a product irresponsibly doesn’t mean you ban it. But even the goofballs won’t snort Palcohol, due to the pain the alcohol would cause. It really burns. Imagine sniffing liquid vodka. Second, it’s impractical. It takes approximately 60 minutes to snort the equivalent of one shot of vodka. Why would anyone do that when they can do a shot of liquid vodka in two seconds?”

Devin’s bill makes the possession, use, sale or furnishing of powdered alcohol a civil violation. Repeat offenders would be charged with a Class E misdemeanor. If an establishment with a liquor license is caught distributing powdered alcohol, that license could be suspended for up to a year.

A hearing on Devin’s bill has not yet been scheduled. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list

Catching up with the Catholics

catholic_proj_7.jpgDid you miss last week’s serial on the Catholic church in Maine? It wrapped over the weekend, so now is a good opportunity to catch up with the parts you may have missed, or to start from the very beginning.

The whole series is compelling stuff, and definitely worth your time. But you’re probably in a rush this morning, and we understand. The series is like a five-course meal, and you probably don’t have time before you head to work. So here’s an appetizer, courtesy of Dan MacLeod: These 5 facts show what’s going on with the Catholic Church in Maine — Mario Moretto. (BDN photo, above, by Troy R. Bennett.)

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.