Lawmakers Push to Ban Kratom in New York and Florida

By Victoria Kim 01/12/17

These recent attempts come on the heels of the DEA's ill-fated push to place an emergency ban on kratom in 2016.

Bags of Kratom

Users and advocates of kratom may have dodged a bullet last year when they successfully pressured the Drug Enforcement Administration into backing down from issuing a nationwide temporary ban on the plant. But now, lawmakers in Florida and New York have reintroduced legislation to ban kratom in their own states.

Florida State Rep. Kristin Jacobs filed House Bill 183 on Friday (Jan. 6), which would add kratom’s active compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, to Florida’s list of controlled substances. (This would not apply to drug products containing these compounds already approved by the FDA.) Thus, the sale, manufacture, or import of kratom would be treated as a first-degree misdemeanor.

Kratom is a tropical evergreen native to Southeast Asia, known for its narcotic and stimulant effects. It’s commonly used to manage pain and as an alternative to opioid painkillers. Kratom is currently illegal in six states: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin. 

The DEA tried to issue an emergency ban on kratom last summer, citing safety concerns, but failed after immense public backlash forced the agency to reconsider. The temporary ban would have placed kratom in the same federal drugs category as cannabis and LSD, which the U.S. government defines as having a high potential for abuse and no medical benefits. 

The threat of a national ban still lingers, though. The DEA gave the public until Dec. 1 to comment on the proposed ban, receiving over 22,000 submissions in that time. According to the Pain News Network, the final decision will likely rest with the incoming Trump administration. 

Pain News reported that similar legislation has also resurfaced in the New York state legislature thanks to Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, which would make the sale and distribution of the herbal supplement punishable by a fine of $2,000.

It’s unclear how far Rep. Jacobs’ bill will go in Florida. According to a 2016 analysis of House Bill 73, Jacobs’ previous attempt at banning kratom, Florida law enforcement have already established that the plant poses no serious threat to the state. 

A December 2015 report issued by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) concluded that “kratom does not currently constitute a significant risk to the safety and welfare of Florida residents," and that "the Florida Department of Health has found that there are no pervasive health issues [that] can be attributed to the ingestion of kratom products in Florida.”

Jacobs elaborated on her crusade against kratom this week, painting herself as a lone fighter against the kratom "lie machine" which she described as a "powerful lobby with a lot of money." Advocates of kratom "have a story," the Coconut Creek representative told Florida Politics. "Just like Hitler believed if you tell a lie over and over again, it becomes the truth." 

Jacobs said kratom is a "scourge on society," spoken like a true drug warrior. She says she's intent on punishing the industry that's "profiting off the misery of addicts," not the "unfortunate people who [are] addicted."

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr