There is a lesson to be learned from the successes the American Kratom Association, together with its members and its partners, have accomplished recently. The lesson is that, by using coordinated educational campaigns to show lawmakers the benefits that Kratom is providing people in their state, we are able to keep Kratom legal almost every time. This is a simple process of presenting scientific facts and clearing up misrepresentations about this botanical. It is changing minds and the direction of our national conversation about Kratom.
This year, our work again started in Florida, where Representative Kristin Jacobs filed the same bill she was forced to withdraw last year. Ironically, a report that she requested from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) at the end of last year's session came back with some very supportive conclusions for Kratom and was provided to all the members of the Florida legislature.
The FDLE report said, in part, "A review of information through currently identified law enforcement and laboratory sources in Florida indicates that Kratom does not constitute a significant risk to the safety and welfare of Florida residents." The Florida Department of Health added that, "there are no pervasive health issues that can be attributed to the ingestion of Kratom products in Florida." It was a consistently fair and thorough report.
Nevertheless, in its first hearing before a House committee, Representative Jacobs' bill was passed unanimously.
When the bill arrived at the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, the discussion took a more serious turn -- in our favor. The Senators noted that there weren't any medical doctors lined up to testify that Kratom is dangerous. There was, however, copious testimony from those for whom Kratom has changed their lives, helping them overcome dependence on opioid pain drugs, return to work and be responsible citizens.
The FDLE report was also taken into consideration, leading Senators on the committee to wonder why they were being asked to place Kratom on the Schedule 1 list of controlled substances. The members of the Criminal Justice Committee also recognized that Kratom does have medicinal uses and should be available to adults. (Schedule 1 drugs have, by definition, no medicinal uses.)
At the conclusion of a long and thoughtful deliberation, Senator Evers, the Chairman of the committee, made an emotional observation that perhaps Kratom could help people with opiate addiction, something that appears to have touched his life personally.
Eventually, the committee voted to amend the bill to place an age restriction on Kratom purchase, possession or sale to anyone under the age of 18. Representative Jacobs would not accept the amendment, so her bill again died in committee. This leaves Kratom legal in Florida for one more year, at least.
Laboratory sources in Florida indicates that Kratom does not constitute a significant risk to the safety and welfare of Florida resident help people dealing with opioid addiction, something that appears to have touched his life personally.
In Georgia, the Botanical Legal Defense (BLD) employed former Georgia legislator, Vernon Jones, who lobbied quietly behind the scenes on our behalf, prior to our arrival. We also had tremendous support from the "Georgia Moms" who filled the state representatives' email inboxes -- and then filled the hearing to standing-room-only capacity. Finally, the testimonies of our AKA Founder/Director and others from the BLD and the AKA, led the committee to remove Mitagynine and 7-Hydroxy-Mitragynine from the bill, which was a comprehensive annual update of controlled substances.
Until the Georgia legislature adjourns for the season, there is still the possibility that we will have more work to do there. For the moment, we appear to have accomplished our goal. If the situation changes, we will reignite our campaign and work to convince the Georgia Senate that Kratom does not deserve to be banned.
After Georgia, our attention turned to New Hampshire where we showed legislators that Kratom is not a "gateway" into heroin use or relapse, but is, instead, a way out. Special thanks are due to the brave effort that NH Representative Shem Kellogg made to come before his own legislature and testify -- even as he was fighting a battle for his life with cancer. Kellog touchingly remarked that, despite the odds, he is looking forward to be able to use Kratom to help wean himself off a high dose of morphine (high enough to kill 2.5 people) when he is cancer free.
New Hampshire recently made public the committee recommendation to leave Kratom alone except for adding an 18 and older purchase, use, and sales requirement on it. That bill passed the Senate on March 17th, a win, and now we're watching what happens in the House, looking forward to the session adjourning with Kratom remaining legal.
We See that -- in General -- Our Methods Are Working
True, there has been one "sneak attack" on the freedom to consume Kratom in Arkansas. We didn't see that one coming, and thus we weren't able to prevent it. As our movement continues to gather resources and momentum, we will go there, too, to lobby and educate Arkansas' lawmakers about the many citizens there who could benefit from Kratom's legality.
Increasingly today, patients want choices. Many people find that a chemical-dependence therapy based on substituting another, more addicting chemical, is far from ideal.
In Kentucky, AKA made a 2-day lobbying visit with a team of local and out-of-state volunteers. We made progress in educating legislators, most of whom had never heard of Kratom. We also made an alliance with the local shop owners and distributors, who helped finance a local lobbyist. Our efforts have paid off thus far, too, as Senate Bill 136, with an amendment to ban Kratom, sits dead in Committee with a pledge by the sponsor not to move it any further this year. Thank you to the shops and distributors who allowed the AKA direct access to their lobbyist.
Next on the agenda was the state of New York, where AKA and a BLD representative went to Albany for 15 meetings with bill sponsors and key committee members, all in one day, led by the BLD's lobbyist. Unfortunately, on March 29th Senate Bill S.6345, which would prohibit the sale and distribution of Kratom in New York, passed out of committee, scheduled to go to the Senate for a floor vote. Its companion bill in the Assembly, A8670, has yet to be scheduled for a committee vote, and we are watching this all very closely, but we need your help now! Here is how you can help in New York
Finally, we have our "problem-child", the state of Alabama, where a Senate hearing gave a rude reception to all the Kratom-supporters the AKA and the BLD brought before them. Even a veteran with PTSD was treated so disrespectfully, he left in tears, feeling sure he might lose the one herb that has helped him cope with his condition. We will not give up so easily, as we continue to work behind the scenes to educate the public and legislators. While we admit Alabama is an uphill battle with well-organized law enforcement and district attorneys, it's apparent they don't understand who the everyday medicinal Kratom consumer is, and hearing from you now might make a difference.
One more small reversal was seen in our recent visit to urge Wisconsin's Controlled Substances Board to continue in the process of taking Kratom off a list of synthetic chemicals, with which they have Kratom (a leaf from a tree) confused. They need more proof -- some of which is contained in the Florida FDLE Report -- before they can put their support behind taking Kratom off their Schedule 1 list of controlled substances.
How Do We Handle So Many States Proposing Bans at Once?
Our method for coordinating local volunteer Kratom activists for a multi-state fight revolves around our effective use of social media and the volunteers who manage it and participate. Some of the credit also goes to the high tech AKA wevsite which ably supports our efforts. With these tools, we are able to support and train teams of volunteers and local political activists from a distance. Then, when the time is right, email campaigns, phone calls, and a visit by AKA members and other experts have been very effective in persuading legislators of the benefits for their citizens of Kratom legality.
The crowning achievements of a difficult Spring legislative and media season were the release of the VICE.com and this Huffington Post article, entitled "Some Say Kratom Is a Solution to Opioid Addiction", which will begin to change the conversation on Kratom. As these articles reveal, powerful forces are coming to the aid of the medical choice issue that is at the heart of the Kratom controversy.
There is much to celebrate in the victories, as yet inconclusive, in this year's efforts to keep Kratom legal. The good news is that coordinated political activism still works in the USA. Those who expect victory and are willing to donate (time and/or money) and tell their political reps how they feel are getting the satisfying results they believe they deserve.
If Kratom is important to you, don't give up when you see its legality being challenged -- Get involved! We can win this fight with your help. Let's do it!