COLUMBUS - Some alcoholic treats - think Jell-O shots, alcohol-infused chocolates and margarita-flavored Popsicles - are tucked away in the voluminous state budget that lawmakers must complete by July 1.
Existing Ohio law doesn't allow the sale of food and confections containing "intoxicating liquor" of more than one-half of 1 percent alcohol by volume. However, the law is largely overlooked, and some products, such as chocolates made with various liquors, are available.
State Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, concerned that Ohio is falling behind other states that allow the sale of alcohol-infused products, inserted a provision into the budget. It would revise the " mixed beverages" definition to include solids and confections "obtained by mixing any type of whiskey, neutral spirits, brandy, gin, or other distilled spirits with water, juice, or other flavorings and that contain between one-half percent and 21 percent of alcohol by volume."
A fiscal analysis accompanying the bill said the state could reap undetermined additional tax revenue because more products would fall under the mixed-beverage excise tax of $1.20 per gallon of alcohol purchased.
But the Columbus chapter of the Drug-Free Action Alliance opposes the budget provision, arguing that it would "legalize and legitimize" products generally unavailable in Ohio that appeal to young people.
The provision would cover products not regulated by state law and put them under oversight of the Division of Liquor Control, said Senate spokesman John McClelland.
Some alcohol-infused products, such as Jell-O shots, have long been popular in bars and taverns frequented by college students. But they are not sold commercially in liquor and grocery stores.
"When you insert language like this, it opens Pandora's box for food items that are very enticing to kids and can be confusing to parents," said Marcie Seidel, the executive director of the Columbus chapter of the Drug-Free Action Alliance. "People think there is money to be made on this."
She cited a 2010 Boston University study that showed drinkers of alcoholic gel shots were more likely to be binge drinkers, in part because "the sugary shots mask the bitter taste of alcohol, making it easier for young alcohol users to ingest larger quantities."
Seidel fought this battle before when she worked for Hope Taft, wife of former Gov. Bob Taft. In 2002, Hope Taft spoke out against a Jell-O-shot-type product called Zippers made by a Toledo company. Resulting enforcement efforts by state liquor agents forced the company to move out of the state.
A $10 million lawsuit filed by Brian Pearson, one of Zippers' founders, alleging that Hope Taft improperly used her influence to put him of business was thrown out by an appeals court.
Alcohol-infused products are available in other states. Those products include ones made by a Santa Monica, Calif., company called SnoBar. The company offers margarita Popsicles containing tequila and Cosmopolitan Popsicles with vodka and triple sec with up to 14.6 percent alcohol, along with Pink Squirrel and Brandy Alexander ice creams that are up to 10 percent alcohol.
In Columbus, Le Chocoholique at 601 N. High St. in the Short North sells candies with alcohol, but Monica Barr, co-owner of the business, said she didn't think the law, if passed, would affect her business much. "There's so little alcohol in them. And the ones that have some alcohol inside don't sell very well anyway."