High-proof grain alcohol bill vetoed over concern for underage, binge drinking

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Whiskey making stills produce at the Kings County Distillery, New York City?s oldest operating whiskey distillery and the first since prohibition, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, September 22, 2012. Founded in 2010, soon after the creation of a New York State Farm Distillery License, Kings County makes hand-crafted moonshine and bourbon out of a 112-year-old paymaster building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/GettyImages)

RICHMOND, Va. –  On Monday,  Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed legislation that would have allowed the sale of high-proof class 1 neutral grain spirits in Virginia. That means alcohol like Everclear that is over 101 proof.

The governor said his decision to veto the legislation stems from the concern expressed by educators and health professionals, that the sale of those inexpensive and flavor- and aroma-neutral products negatively impact underage and binge drinking on college campuses.

The distinction is that such spirits have no taste. Other high-proof products are sold in the state, but they have a flavor; such as Wild Turkey 101.

In addition to the veto, McAuliffe also issued a letter to the Secretaries of Health and Human Resources, Education and Public Safety and Homeland Security, that directed them to develop recommendations on how Virginia could sell these products responsibly, without increasing dangerous underage or binge drinking.

The Governor’s full veto message is below:

Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto House Bill 143, which would allow the sale of Class 1 neutral grain spirits or alcohol, as defined by federal regulations, that are without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color at a proof greater than 101 in government stores.

I put forward an amendment to require a reenactment of the legislation in order to give the legislative and the executive branches further time to study this issue. The amendment requiring reenactment was rejected by the House of Delegates.

The educators and health professionals from across the Commonwealth who have been tasked with reducing harm associated with alcohol abuse on college campuses raised public safety concerns with this legislation. I share their concern that a prime market for these products is young people who are attracted to their high proof and low cost. Underage drinking and binge drinking, particularly on college campuses, are threats to public health and safety that we should be working to curb. Therefore, I continue to believe the best course of action is to study this issue further, with particular focus on the restrictions and strategies implemented by other states that can be codified to reduce potential abuse of such products by young adults and youth, before selling this product in Virginia.

Accordingly, I veto this bill.


Terence R. McAuliffe