Monday, November 22, 2010

A Resurgence of Prohibition?

You may have heard that alcohol-containing energy drinks have been banned by the FDA.  If you haven't, check out this story and this page from the FDA.  The FDA sent out warning letters to the manufacturers of those drinks, but did not direct those letters to the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages that only contain caffeine as a natural constituent of one or more of their ingredients, such as coffee flavoring.  Whatever may be your opinion of the FDA's ban and its choice to step in and "protect" from themselves citizens who are legally old enough to drink, at least they made the distinction between these energy drinks they deemed "dangerous" and regular alcoholic beverages that happen to have some caffeine.

NJ is not making the same distinction.  Bergen County Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, of Englewood, has proposed a new bit of legislation, Bill A3437.  The bill has been co-sponsored by Assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo, of Belleville.

The new proposed legislation states, "No person shall knowingly sell, offer for sale, deliver, receive, or purchase for resale in this State any caffeinated alcoholic beverage.  A person who violates the provisions of this section shall be liable to a civil penalty of not less than $250 for the first violation, not less than $500 for the second violation, and $1,000 for the third and each subsequent violation."

That doesn't sound terrible, until you read this:  "A caffeinated alcoholic beverage is defined in the bill as any prepackaged alcoholic beverage that has been supplemented by the manufacturer with added caffeine or other stimulant that is metabolized by the body as caffeine."

That doesn't just encompass the energy drinks containing alcohol, which the FDA has deemed dangerous.  That arguably encompasses every beer made with coffee or chocolate.  Young's Double Chocolate Stout, for instance.  My own husband brews a rather delicious stout, made with Ghirardelli cocoa powder.  It may very well include Godiva and Starbucks liqueurs.

Should you wish to voice your opinion regarding this piece of legislation, you can find your legislators here, listed by municipality.

There have been some grumblings that this is the beginning of a new era of Prohibition, which, as we know, was a bad idea the first time around, in 1919.  Is it?  I tend to veer away from an alarmist attitude, but there's no denying the similarity of these new laws to those in the 1600s - 1800s that led to "The Noble Experiment."  Even then, the original laws were on the state level, and it wasn't until the anti-alcohol political parties and lobbies gained more power on the local level in the early 1900s that the 18th Amendment prohibiting the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol on a national level was passed.

Could it happen again?

If you don't think so, you should wonder why this bill has been proposed.  Note that there's another bill still pending in the NJ Assembly, one proposed prior to Ms. Huttle's bill.  The first one, proposed by Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini of Wall Township, is A3402, which mirrors the FDA ban and specifies, "No holder of a license issued pursuant to 24 R.S.33:1-11 or R.S.33:1-12 shall knowingly sell, or offer for sale 25 any alcoholic energy drink."

Why, if this piece of legislation was already proposed and in the works, did Ms. Huttle feel the need to put forth her version?  Why indeed, unless it's intended as a real move toward prohibition.

Do you think it's coming?
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