Blog Post

We Still Have a Chance to Stop Kratom Prohibition – And the DEA Actually Wants to Hear Your Thoughts

Jag Davies

This summer, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced its intent to ban kratom, a medicinal plant used for millennia in Southeast Asia and currently used by millions in the United States. After DPA members and activists sent over 70,000 messages to Congress, 51 U.S. Representatives and almost a dozen Senators asked the DEA to postpone their ban.

In October, the DEA took the unprecedented step of delaying the ban – and is now soliciting public comments until December 1.

With an incoming presidential administration that’s looking more hostile to equitable drug policies by the day, it’s imperative for us to make the most of this opportunity to stop the senseless criminalization of millions more people.  Ominously, drug war extremist and professional racist Jeff Sessions has been tapped to lead the Justice Department, which oversees the DEA, making it hard to imagine them showing restraint on kratom prohibition post-inauguration. (You can ask your Senator to oppose Sessions’ nomination here.)

Given the widespread moral, political and scientific consensus that drug use and addiction are best treated as health issues, there’s no good reason for people who use kratom to be treated as criminals – especially considering how much we already know about prohibition’s shamefully disproportionate impact on people of color and other marginalized groups.

Please consider submitting a comment to the DEA explaining why kratom should not be banned. Here are some useful talking points:

  • Banning kratom expands the war on drugs, while the public overwhelmingly supports ending it.
  • If kratom is added to any one of the five drug schedules, people who use it will be criminalized and locked up behind bars.
  • Kratom has been used safely by millions of people in the U.S. and evidence supports kratom’s potential as a pain reliever and opioid replacement.
  • Many people struggling with opioid addiction have turned to kratom to help them cut back or quit, but now all promising scientific studies on kratom’s role in opioid treatment could be immediately shut down.
  • Side effects of kratom are minimal, and its withdrawal symptoms are weak and nearly inconsequential compared to the suffering of people trying to quit opioids.
  • Prohibiting kratom will worsen the country’s problems of opioid addiction and overdose.

(Be respectful in your comments and mindful that everything you submit is a matter of public record.)

In the long run, what we really need is a new, post-prohibition drug classification system that’s based on science and best public health practices. Kratom is suffering the same fate as countless other medicinal plants that have been used by our ancestors for millennia -- there’s no profit incentive for pharmaceutical companies to do years of clinical research to gain FDA approval for a plant that they can’t patent for prescription use, which leaves it in a regulatory gray area.

It makes no sense for the DEA to be in charge of federal decisions involving scientific research and medical practice, especially when its successive directors have systematically abused their discretionary powers in this area. Responsibility for deciding drug classifications and public health policies should be completely removed from the DEA and transferred to a health or science agency. (Check out DPA’s “Fire the DEA” campaign to learn more about how the DEA has fueled mass incarceration, wasted taxpayer money, and blocked scientific research.)

In the meantime, it’s crucial for us to accelerate a new vision for ethical drug policies before the next misguided “drug scare” inevitably rears its head.  Now’s the time to strike while the iron’s hot and we still have a fighting chance to stop the madness of kratom prohibition.

Jag Davies is the director of communications strategy for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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