Kratom

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Chronicle AM: Kratom Ban Delayed (But Still Coming), Mad Drug Arrest Binge in Indy, More... (9/30/16)

California's governor signs asset forfeiture reform and medical marijuana "micro farmer" bills, a Massachusetts town pays out big time for killing an elderly black man in a drug raid, Indianapolis narcs have arrested 1,000 people in two and a half months and think that's success, and more.

Eurie Stamps. Killed in a 2011 drug raid, now his family wins a $3.75 million settlement. (Stamps family)
Marijuana Policy

Another California Poll Has Prop 64 Winning. A new KPIX 5/Survey USA poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative winning with 52% of the vote, with 41% opposed. It's the latest in a long line of polls that show the initiative winning, but has it winning by a smaller margin than most other polls.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Marijuana "Micro Farmer" Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Thursday signed into law the Cottage Cannabis Farmers Bill, Assembly Bill 2516. The measure creates a new medical marijuana cultivator license for "micro farmers," defined as farms with 2,500 square feet or less of total canopy size for mixed-light cultivation, up to 25 mature plants for outdoor cultivation, or 500 square feet or less of total canopy size for indoor cultivation, on one premises.

Kratom

DEA Ban Delayed, But Only for Days. The DEA says that despite loud protests, its proposed emergency ban on kratom is still coming; it's just been delayed for a few days as the agency deals with paperwork. It was supposed to become Schedule I Friday, but the reprieve could last a week or more. A DEA spokesman said it's "highly accurate" to say the ban won't take effect next week, either.

Asset Forfeiture

California Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 443, which requires a criminal conviction before police can permanently seize property valued at under $40,000. Bill sponsor Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) sponsored a similar bill last year, but it failed after law enforcement grumbled that it would make it more difficult to go after big drug dealers. Police dropped their opposition after Mitchell agreed to the $40,000 threshold.

Law Enforcement

Family of Massachusetts Man Killed in SWAT Drug Raid Awarded $3.75 Million. The town of Framingham has agreed to pay $3.75 million to settle a lawsuit in the death of Eurie Stamps, 68, who was shot and killed by a Framingham police officer as he laid on the floor of his home complying with officers' demands. It was the killing of Stamps that inspired the Chronicle's tracking of drug war deaths, a work now in its sixth year.

Federal Bill to Require Police Reporting of Deaths and Injuries Filed. Rep. Mark Veasey (D-TX) has filed HR 6217, which would "require States and units of local government to have in place laws requiring law enforcement officers to submit... reports when an individual is injured or killed by such a law enforcement officer in the course of the officer's employment as a condition on receiving certain grant funding, and for other purposes. Currently, there is no federal database on law enforcement killing or injuring suspects.

Indianapolis Narcs on Mad Arrest Binge. A newly formed Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department drug unit has arrested more than 1,000 people in the past two and half months. Local media is calling it a "success" and IMPD Chief Troy Riggs vowed that more of the same was coming. "We're not backing off," he said. "This is the new normal."

Powerful Coalition is Building Pressure on Feds to Think Again on Kratom Ban [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

In a last ditch bid to stop the DEA from criminalizing an herb widely hailed for its ability to treat pain, depression, and anxiety, and help people wean themselves from more dangerous opioid pain relievers, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to the agency Monday asking it to reconsider its decision to place kratom on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Kratom is headed for Schedule I (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
Kratom is a southeast Asian herb made from the leaves of Mitragyna speciose, a tree related to the coffee plant. In small doses, it has a mild stimulant effect, but in larger doses, it acts like a mild opioid. To be precise, the DEA has moved to criminalize not the herb itself, but two alkaloids, mitragynine and 7-hydroxmitragynine, which activate opioid receptors in the brain.

Last month, the DEA exercised its emergency scheduling powers in announcing that it was moving kratom to Schedule I, effective at the end of this week. The drug agency said kratom poses "an imminent hazard to public safety," citing only press reports of some 15 deaths linked to kratom use. But in at least 14 of those cases, the victims were also using other drugs or had pre-existing life-threatening conditions. (Meanwhile, some 25,000 people died of prescription drug overdoses last year.)

Kratom users, who could number in the millions, immediately raised the alarm, organizing campaigns to undo the decision and lobbying Congress for help. That's what sparked Monday's letter from 51 lawmakers, including 22 Republicans.

"This significant regulatory action was done without any opportunity for public comment from researchers, consumers, and other stakeholders," reads the letter, drafted by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Matt Salmon (R-AZ). "This hasty decision could have serious effects on consumer access and choice of an internationally recognized herbal supplement."

Given the ongoing high level of heroin and prescription opioid use and the associated overdose deaths, he DEA was hypocritical in mounting a campaign against kratom, the lawmakers said.

"The DEA's decision to place kratom as a Schedule I substance will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions -- a significant public health threat," they wrote.

The lawmakers called on DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg to delay the emergency scheduling and instead "engage consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders, in keeping with well-established protocol for such matters."

Since first emerging in the US a few years ago, kratom has been unregulated at the federal level, although the Food & Drug Administration began seizing shipments of it in 2014. At the state level, a half dozen states have entertained moves to ban it, but such efforts failed in all except Alabama. In other states, kratom advocates have managed to turn bans into regulation, with age restrictions and similar limits.

Kratom capsules (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
A ban on kratom would be disastrous, said Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association. Ash said she had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2006 and ended up essentially disabled under the weight of 13 different prescriptions, including opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines (to counter the opioids and the benzos). She became addicted to the opioids and finally tried kratom as a last resort.

"I didn't really want to have anything to do with a plant, but I decided to try it, and it worked day and night," she said Tuesday. "Within two weeks, I went from home bound to starting this organization."

With the kratom ban looming, her members are facing "our darkest hour," Ash said. "Our average member is a middle-aged woman, about 40% of whom have experienced addition, and tens of thousands of them are using it as an alternative to pharmaceutical medications because they believe it is safer and more natural. Now, people are saying they are going to lose their quality of life, that they will be re-disabled. People are terrified. What we need is regulation, not prohibition."

"Despite the moral, political, and scientific consensus that drug use and addiction are best treated as public health issues, the DEA wants to subject people with kratom to prison sentences," said Jag Davies, director of communications strategy for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which is also fighting the ban. "The DEA's move would also effectively halt promising scientific investigations into the plant's uses and medicinal benefits, including helping many people struggling with opioid addiction."

The scientific studies are promising indeed. Researchers at Columbia University just published a study on kratom alkaloids and found that they activate opioid receptors in a way that doesn't trigger respiratory depression, the lethal side effect of most opioids. Such research could lead to the "holy grail" of narcotic analgesics, a painkiller that doesn't kill users and doesn't get them addicted.

"Our research shows that mitragynine and its analogs activate the opioid receptors in a unique way compared to morphine or oxycodone," said Dr. Andrew Kruegel, one of the Columbia researchers. "They activate a certain protein pathway while avoiding other pathways, and that gives you a better safety profile, mostly for respiratory depression. The scientific data is consistent with an improved safety profile from the alkaloids and suggestive of the same with the raw plant," he explained.

"This new prohibition will really restrict our ability to purse new opioid painkillers based on alkaloids and new safer drugs for pain," Kruegel said.

And then some, DPA's Davies added.

"Placing kratom in Schedule I would place regulatory and funding barriers in front of research, drive users into the black market, and leave them facing lengthy prison terms," he said. "It's troubling that the DEA is moving hastily to criminalize kratom at the same time Congress and the president have been made sentencing reform a priority this year and when communities are grappling with unprecedented rates of heroin and opioid overdoses, the DEA is threatening to punish people for using it instead of potent pharmaceutical preparations. Kratom has a role to play in mitigating the opioid crisis."

But not if the DEA refuses to budge from its ban plan. If the DEA cannot be moved, kratom is illegal as of this coming Friday.

Chronicle AM: LA Times Endorses Prop 64, Urgent Action Time on Kratom, More... (9/19/16)

Donations are starting to flow for and against reform initiatives, California's largest newspaper endorses marijuana legalization, so do Italian cops, a new study suggests medical marijuana may reduce opioid-related auto fatalities, it's time to act to keep kratom off Schedule I, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Dr. Bronner's Kicks In $660,000 for Legalization Initiatives. The magic soap and organic products maker -- and longtime drug reform supporter -- Dr. Bronner's had pledged to contribute at least $660,000 to the initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. "The expected sweep of these states will exert enormous pressure on federal lawmakers to end the racist outdated policy of cannabis prohibition, that shreds productive citizens' lives and families for no good reason, and focus law enforcement resources instead on actual crime," officials for Dr. Bronner's said in an announcement released Monday.

Los Angeles Times Endorses Prop 64. California's largest newspaper has hopped on board the legalization bandwagon with an editorial endorsing the Prop 64 initiative. Saying that "the federal government has effectively ceded its role and left it to the states to create a new national marijuana policy," the Times editorial board asks if it is time "to treat marijuana less like heroin and more like alcohol" and answers its own question in the affirmative. "On balance, the proposition deserves a 'yes' vote. It is ultimately better for public health, for law and order and for society if marijuana is a legal, regulated and controlled product for adults. Proposition 64 -- while not perfect -- offers a logical, pragmatic approach to legalization that also would give lawmakers and regulators the flexibility to change the law to address the inevitable unintended consequences."

Massachusetts Legalization Supporters Celebrate With Big Freedom Rally Turnout. Thousands of people turned out for the annual Boston Freedom Rally this weekend, jazzed by the prospect of being able to vote "yes" on the Question 4 legalization initiative in November.

Mississippi Legalization Initiative Campaign Gearing Up. A measure known as Initiative 60, which would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over, has been approved for signature gathering in Mississippi. To make it to the 2018 ballot, organizers will need roughly 86,000 valid voter signatures, with at least 17,000 from each of the state's five congressional districts. They have one year for signature-gathering.

Medical Marijuana

Study of Fatal Car Crashes Suggests Medical Marijuana May Curb Opioid Use. A study conducted at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health has found that fewer drivers killed in car crashes tested positive for opioids in medical marijuana states than before those laws went into effect. The findings will be published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

Florida Medical Marijuana Foes Get a Million Dollars From Sheldon Adelson.Las Vegas casino magnate and conservative philanthropist Sheldon Adelson is again attempting to sway Florida voters away from approving medical marijuana. In 2012, Adelson spent $5.5 million to help defeat the initiative; this year, he has recently kicked in another one million.

Nine out of Ten Montana Medical Marijuana Patients Have No Legal Provider. With the GOP-led legislature's 2011 gutting of the state's medical marijuana program now in effect, 93% of the state's more than 12,000 registered patients have no registered provider. That means unless they can grow it themselves, they are out of luck. An initiative that would restore the state's medical marijuana program, I-182, is on the November ballot.

Kratom

It's Urgent Action Time to Fight DEA's Proposed Kratom Ban. The American Kratom Association is asking supporters to urge their congressional representatives to sign onto a bipartisan "Dear Colleague" letter asking the DEA to slow down the process of placing the herb on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The group is urging supporters to call or email their reps BEFORE 5:00 PM ET TUESDAY.

Sentencing Reform

Federal Sentencing Reform Dead for the Year. Efforts to further reform federal drug sentencing in this congressional session are dead, congressional leaders said late last week. While the consensus legislation appeared set to pass earlier this year, opposition from some Republican lawmakers has killed it. Some Republicans opposed cuts in mandatory minimums, others were angry at President Obama for freeing so many federal drug prisoners, and the "law and order" campaign of Donald Trump seems to have been the final nail in the coffin.

International

Italy's Largest Police Union Calls for Marijuana Legalization. The SIULP, Italy's primary police union, has now come out in support of legalization. A bill to do just that is currently before the Italian parliament, with growing support.

Governor of Mexico's Guerrero State Again Calls for Legalization of Opium Production. Guerrero Gov. Hector Astudillo has again called for the legalization of poppy production for medicinal purposes. "We must look for other paths that bring about less tension, less conflict, and less violence," he said as he reiterated a call first made in March. Guerrero is one of the centers of opium production in Mexico, and production is increasing as local farmers switch from coffee to poppy due to low coffee prices.

Chronicle AM: CA&MA Polls, Kratom Proponents Mobilize, Canada OKs Prescription Heroin; More... (9/14/16)

The polling is looking good in Massachusetts and better in California, there will be no initiative for Michigan this year, kratom proponents fight a proposed DEA ban, Canada gives the go-ahead for expanded heroin prescribing, and more.

The Canadian government has cleared the way for limited heroin prescribing for hard-core users. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Could Be a $50 Billion a Year Industry Within a Decade. A new report from financial analysts Cowen & Company says the legal weed industry could grow to a $50 billion a year business by 2026. The report notes that legalizing pot in California alone could triple the size of the industry, currently around $6 billion a year.

California: LA Times Poll Has Prop 64 at 58%. The Prop 64 legalization initiative is supported by 58% of voters, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. Only 34% said they would vote against the measure, with 8% undecided. "It's very clear that Californians' attitudes have changed dramatically on this issue over the last several years," said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "The opposition is going to have to identify a fairly sizable source of campaign funding if this initiative is to be close," he added.

California: Eyewitness News/Southern California Newsgroup Poll Has Prop 64 at 52%. The Prop 64 legalization initiative has 52% in a new poll from Eyewitness News/Southern California Newsgroup. Some 40% said they would vote no, with 8% undecided.

Massachusetts Poll Has Legalization Initiative Up By Five Points. A new poll from WBUR TV has support for the Question 4 legalization initiative at 50%, with 45% opposed. "There's some big demographic splits, particularly along age lines," pollster Steve Koczela said. "Younger people are very much in favor of legalization, and it declines steadily as you move up the age brackets to where you get to voters who are 60-plus, and they're opposed to it by a 17-point margin."

Federal Judge Puts Final Nail in Coffin of Michigan Legalization Initiative. A federal court judge rejected a last chance effort by MI Legalize to get its legalization initiative on the November ballot. Judge Linda Parker Tuesday denied a motion from the group to stop the printing of election ballots, saying there was not enough time to stop the election process. MI Legalize gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but some of them came outside a 180-day mandated by state law. MI Legalize challenged rulings by state officials that knocked those signatures off the tally, but lost in the state courts -- and now, in federal court.

Kratom

Kratom Supporters Fight Proposed DEA Ban. Proponents of the Southeast Asian plant with mild opium-like qualities have mobilized to block the DEA proposed emergency move to place the substance on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Hundreds marched in front of the White House Tuesday and more than 120,000 have signed a Change.org petition opposing the ban, meaning the White House will have to publicly address the issue.

International

Canada Has Approved Prescription Heroin. The Canadian government last week quietly approved new regulations that will allow doctors to prescribe diacetylmorphine (heroin) to long-term users who have not responded to more conventional approaches to weaning them from the drug. The Crosstown clinic in Vancouver is currently the only place in the country with a heroin maintenance program, but that should now not be the case for long.

British MPs Call for Medical Marijuana. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform has called for medical marijuana to be legalized in the United Kingdom. The call comes on the heels of a report by neurologist Dr. Mike Barnes urging that marijuana be moved from Schedule I to Schedule IV on the British drugs classification scheme. "Many hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are already taking cannabis for primarily medical reasons," said MP Caroline Lucas, who co-chairs the group. "It is totally unacceptable that they should face the added stress of having to break the law to access their medicine."

Chronicle AM: Denver Pot Social Use Init Makes Ballot, Kratom Fight Gathers Steam, More... (9/6/16)

Big city Texas prosecutors are increasingly dropping small-time pot cases, a Denver social use marijuana initiative qualifies for the ballot, kratom proponents move to block the DEA effort to place it on Schedule I, and more, including lots of international items.

Denver skyline (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Big City Prosecutors Are Dismissing Small-Time Marijuana Cases. Prosecutors in the state's five most populous counties -- Bexar (San Antonio), Dallas, Harris (Houston), Tarrant (Ft. Worth), and Travis (Austin) -- are increasingly dismissing small-time pot possession charges. In Ft. Worth, the number of cases dropped rose from 9% in 2011 to 25% last year. In Dallas, the number dropped rose from 18% to 41% in the same period. Travis County prosecutors Dan Hamre explained. "Jurors would look at us like we are crazy," he said. "'You are spending your time, our time and the court's time on a small amount of personal marijuana?'"

Washington State Campaign to End Marijuana Possession Felonies Underway. Under marijuana legalization via I-502, the stat legalized the possession of up to 28 grams of pot, but possession of 40 grams or more remains a felony. A Change.org petition calling on state lawmakers to fix the law is now underway. It has more than a thousand signatures in ten days, but could always use more.

Denver Marijuana Social Club Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. An initiative from the Denver Social Use Campaign has qualified for the November ballot. It would allow for the creation of "designated consumption areas" for marijuana use. Permits would be open to a broad range of businesses, and could cover a single event or be good for up to a year. Patrons would have to bring their own buds, though, since sales would not be allowed.

Medical Marijuana

Second Arkansas Lawsuit Challenges Medical Marijuana Initiative. A Little Rock attorney who is a member of NORML's National Legal Committee has filed a lawsuit seeking to knock the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act off the November ballot. In the lawsuit, attorney Kara Benca asked the court to invalidate some 15,000 voter signatures, which would disqualify the initiative. A second initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, has also qualified for the ballot. If both pass, the won with the most votes wins.

Drug Policy

Petition Drive to Undo Making Kratom Schedule I is Underway. In response to the DEA's announcement it was moving to make kratom's active ingredients Schedule I, fans of the opioid substitute have begun a Change.org petition asking the White House to intervene. The White House must respond if the petition hits 100,000 signatures by month's end. So far, it has nearly 70,000. The American Kratom Association also says it is pondering a lawsuit to block the move.

International

Australia Will Legalize Medical Marijuana in November. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has made it official. The agency has now formally announced it will move medical marijuana from Schedule 9 (prohibited substances) to Schedule 8 (controlled drugs). The change will go into effect in November.

Bolivian Government Proposes Prison Time for Illegal Coca Cultivation. Vice Minister for Social Defense Felipe Caceres announced Friday that the government is proposing a bill that would make illegal coca production a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. Under current law, illegal cultivators face no prison time, only the destruction of their crops.

Colombia Attorney General Calls for Renewed Aerial Eradication of Coca Crops. Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez has released a report calling for a resumption of aerial spraying of coca groups with herbicides. The government ended that policy las year, citing health risks, as well as a desire to emphasize public health and human rights in its drug policies. But an expansion of coca production has the government signaling it may change its tune.

Denmark's Christiania Residents Tear Down Hash Stalls After Police Shot and Wounded. Christiania has long been the go-to place to score hash in Copenhagen, but after a known drug seller opened fire on police last week, wounding two, residents of the hippie enclave began tearing down dealers' stalls, saying they feared organized crime was moving in. "If they start building up the booths again tonight, then well, we're here tonight as well. The plan is to continue tearing them down until it works," Christiania resident Helene Schou said. "I'm not saying hash should disappear completely from Christiania, but we needed a kiosk and what we had was a supermarket."

Philippines Will Make Drug Tests Mandatory for College Students. In the latest move in President Rodrigo Duterte's murderous war on drugs, his administration has announced it will seek to make students entering college undergo drug tests beginning next year. More than 2,400 people accused of being drug users or sellers have been killed in Duterte's two months in office, and his administration has instituted broad drug testing of police and politicians, among others.

DEA Places Kratom on Schedule I, the Same Status as Heroin

The DEA announced Tuesday that it plans to crack down on kratom, a Southeast Asian plant that has gained increasing popularity among chronic pain sufferers and people wishing to wean themselves from opioids.

Kratom. Only on the shelves for another 30 days. (Creative Commons)
The drug agency said it was using its emergency powers to place two psychoactive substances in the plant -- mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine -- on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the same schedule as heroin. The move will take effect by the end of September and will be in effect for up to three years.

"Kratom has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision," the defining characteristics of a Schedule I drug, the DEA said.

Kratom was traditionally used in Thailand and Malaysia to help endure physical labor, relieve pain, and stop diarrhea. It was also good for relieving the symptoms of opium withdrawal.

That's because it acts like an opiate. Its active ingredients activate the same opioid receptors heroin and prescription pain pills do. And it behaves like an opiate -- with a couple of exceptions, one interesting and one quite important.

Like other opiates, it relieves pain, slows bowel activity, produces euphoric feelings, and creates physical addiction and a withdrawal syndrome. But unlike other opiates, it causes a pleasant, caffeine-type buzz in small doses and, more significantly, it is apparently very difficult -- if not impossible -- to overdose on it. The few deaths where kratom is implicated include poly-drug use, or as in a case reported by the New York Times, suicide by a young kratom user who was also being treated for depression.

And it has caught on here in the United States, especially among pain patients and people seeking to transition from opioid addiction, so much so that the DEA said it needed to act "in order to avoid an imminent threat to public safety." Calls to poison control centers about kratom jumped from a mere two between 2000 and 2005 to 660 between 2010 and 2015. DEA reported 15 "kratom-related" deaths between 2014 and now.

But that's out of millions of doses. According to DEA's own data, at least 130,000 pounds of kratom was seized by law enforcement in the last two years, and the FDA has ordered another 140,000 pounds of the stuff held pending an admissibility decision. That's enough for some 12 million doses, and that's just what they seized.

The DEA decision will doubtless lead to the removal of falsely-labeled and tainted products claiming to be kratom, but it's also likely to drive thousands of people with chronic pain and opioid problems back to the substances they were trying to avoid. And when it comes to lethality, kratom is opium's mild-mannered little sister. While the DEA cites 15 deaths linked to kratom since 2014, there were more than 29,000 fatal opioid overdoses in 2014 alone.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: DEA to Make Kratom Schedule I, Thailand to Downschedule Meth, More... (8/30/16)

The DEA announces it will make the active ingredients in kratom Schedule I substances, marijuana legalization initiatives in Arizona and Michigan go to court, the Thai government is moving to reform the way it deals with meth, and more.

Kratom is headed for Schedule I (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Campaign Sues Over Ballot Description. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol filed a lawsuit Monday asking the state Supreme Court to fix what is says is inaccurate language in the ballot description of Prop 205 that will be presented to voters. The description written by Secretary of State Michele Reagan left out information that the campaign says is important, such as noting that a new 15% marijuana tax would go mainly to schools. The Supreme Court is also hearing a challenge from opponents of Prop 205. It needs to finalize the ballot language today.

Michigan Legalization Campaign Asks State Supreme Court to Put Initiative on Ballot. In a last ditch bid to get its legalization initiative on the November ballot, MI Legalize has filed a motion with the Supreme Court asking it to overturn a lower court's ruling that the state had no obligation to include signatures gathered outside a 180-day window. MI Legalize gathered more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but some of them were deemed too old to be counted.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Democratic Party Endorses Medical Marijuana. With two competing medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot, the state Democratic Party has approved a platform plank endorsing medical marijuana. The plank calls for "the development of a responsible medical marijuana program that will receive patients in need of such relief the freedom to access this remedy."

Drug Policy

DEA to Place Kratom on Schedule I. The DEA announced Wednesday that it is moving to place the active materials in the kratom plant on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. That schedule is reserved for drugs that have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. The scheduled substances are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Kratom is a tropical tree indigenous to Southeast Asia. It produces opioid-like effects and has been marketed as a legal alternative to controlled substances. Not anymore, though.

International

Hundreds of Argentine Judges, Lawyers Call for End to Drug War. Some 500 magistrates, lawyers, and other legal figures used the 30th anniversary of key Supreme Court decision to call for an end to the war on drugs. In 1986, in the "Bazterrica" ruling, the nation's high court ruled it unconstitutional to prosecute people for simple drug possession. Yet Argentine law still allows such prosecutions. The legal figures are demanding that the law be changed to be in compliance with the Bazterrica ruling.

Thailand Takes Another Step Toward Moving Meth off Dangerous Drugs List. The Justice Ministry is set to remove methamphetamine from its list of dangerous drugs, which would allow health authorities to use it for medical reasons. The move is part of a larger shift in how the country deals with drug use, and is part of a bill that will emphasize treatment for drug users, including substituting prescription stimulants such as Modafinil for meth. The government has given no time line for when the bill will move.

Could Kratom Be a Better Choice for Heroin and Pain Pill Users? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

The Southeast Asian herb is now available powdered...
A Southeast Asian herb is gaining popularity among addicted heroin and prescription opiate users, pain sufferers, and hipsters looking for a nice buzz, and it's legal -- at least for now. It's usually consumed as a tea, and is now available at non-alcohol kratom bars in several states, as well as in powdered from in specialty shops and on the Internet.

It is regulated as an herbal supplement, not a controlled substance, but it is coming under some scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators. The FDA banned its import in 2014, and the DEA has it listed as a drug of concern, but has not moved to criminalize it. It is illegal in four states, though -- Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming -- and similar laws are now being proposed in Florida and New Jersey.

The stuff is called kratom, and was traditionally used in Thailand and Malaysia to help endure physical labor, relieve pain, and stop diarrhea. It was also good for relieving the symptoms of opium withdrawal.

That's because its active ingredients activate the same opioid receptors heroin and prescription pain pills do. And it behaves like an opiate -- with a couple of exceptions, one interesting and one quite important.

...or it can be brewed into a tea. (wikimedia.org)
Like other opiates, it relieves pain, slows bowel activity, produces euphoric feelings, and creates physical addiction and a whithdrawal syndrome. But unlike other opiates, it causes a pleasant, caffeine-type buzz in small doses. More significantly, it is apparently very difficult -- if not impossible -- to overdose on. The few deaths where kratom is implicated include poly-drug use, or as in a case reported by the New York Times, suicide by a young kratom user who was also being treated for depression.

"Direct kratom overdoses from the life-threatening respiratory depression that usually occurs with opioid overdoses have not been reported," says Oliver Grundmann, clinical associate professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Florida, told journalist Maia Szalavitz at Vice. Grundmann should know; he just reviewed the research on kratom for the International Journal of Legal Medicine.

"It's a fascinating drug, but we need to know a lot more about it, Dr. Edward W. Boyer, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a co-author of several scientific articles on kratom, told the Times. "Recreationally or to self-treat opioid dependence, beware -- potentially you're at just as much risk" as with an opiate.

Well, except for that whole fatal overdose thing. And like the kratom high, the physical dependence appears much milder.

Szalavitz consulted Mark Swogger, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who with his colleagues analyzed 161 "experience reports" posted by kratom users on the drug information site Erowid.org for a recent study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

"I think it's pretty safe to say that kratom has at least some addiction potential. The data is fairly strong on that and our study also found that people are reporting addiction," but "overall, we found that it's really mild compared to opioid addiction and it didn't seem to last as long."

About one in six of the users reported nausea or stomach pain and 6% actually vomited. There have been a handful of other handful of reports of liver problems.

All this makes kratom something like opium's mild-mannered little sister. And that is apparently something a lot of people are looking for.

One of them was Susan Ash, 46, who told the Times she began taking kratom while being treated for dependence on prescription pain relievers and now takes a small dose daily to ease chronic pain and depression.

She was so impressed with the results that last year, she founded the American Kratom Association to represent consumers. The group now has more than 2,000 members and lobbies against bills to ban the herb.

"We know from all our experiences that kratom has the potential to be a wonderful medicine," she said. "We're all experiencing that it's changing our lives. We do agree that more science is needed to actually prove this potential that we know it has."

Yes, more science is needed, and kratom does have its disaffected users, as the Times was quick to dig up, but so far, it looks like we have a drug like opium, but with attenuated effects. If people are taking kratom to get off heroin or prescription pills or to treat pain or just to get a nice buzz, and they're not overdosing by the tens of thousands, as they are with the opiates, that would seem like an overall good thing. If we want to reduce harm from heroin and prescription opiates, kratom should be studied and, perhaps, embraced, not proscribed.

Now They're Trying to Ban... Kratom? [FEATURE]

The prohibitionist impulse is strong. When confronted with a newly encountered psychoactive substance, there are always special pleaders to sound the alarm and politicians willing to reflexively resort to the power of the ban. Whether it is something with serious potential dangers, like the "bath salts" drugs, or something much more innocuous, like khat, the mild stimulant from the Horn of Africa, doesn't seem to matter; the prohibitionist impulse is strong.

mitragyna speciosa (kratom) tree (photo by Gringobonk, courtesy Erowid.org)
Kratom is a substance that falls on the more innocuous side of the psychoactive spectrum. It is the leaves of the kratom tree, mitragyna speciosa, which is native to Thailand and Indonesia, where the leaves have been chewed or brewed into a tea and used for therapeutic and social purposes for years. According to the online repository of psychoactive knowledge, the Vaults of Erowid, kratom acts as both a mild stimulant and a mild sedative, creates feelings of empathy and euphoria, is useful for labor, and is relatively short-acting.

Of course, any psychoactive substance has its good and its bad sides, but kratom's downside doesn't seem very severe. Erowid lists its negatives as including a bitter taste, dizziness and nausea at higher doses, mild depression coming down, feeling hot and sweaty, and hangovers similar to alcohol. There is no mention of potential for addiction, and while fatal overdoses are theoretically possible, especially with its methanol and alkaloid extracts, in the real world, ODing on kratom doesn't appear to be an issue. No fatal overdoses are known to have actually occurred.

On the other hand, some of kratom's alkaloids bind to opioid receptors in the brain, making it an opioid agonist, and it is now being sold in the West and used to treat pain, depression, anxiety, and opiate withdrawal. Sold in smoke shops, herbal supplement emporia, and on the Internet, it is now apparently being lumped in with synthetic cannabinoids and the "bath salts" drugs by treatment professionals, law enforcement, and others who make a habit of searching for scary new drugs.

Kratom is not listed as a banned substance in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or its successor treaty, and has been banned in only a handful of countries, most ironically in Thailand itself. It was banned there in 1943, when then Thai government was taxing the opium trade and opium users were switching to kratom to aid in withdrawals and as a substitute.

Arrests for kratom possession have jumped in recent years, from more than 1,200 in 2005 to more than 7,000 in 2009, even though the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board recommended to the Justice Department in 2010 that it be decriminalized because of the lack of any perceivable social harms.

In the US, the DEA added kratom to its list of drugs of concern in 2010, although that doesn't mean that a federal ban is necessarily imminent. Salvia divinorum, for example, has been a drug of concern for more than a decade now, with no action taken. But while the feds haven't acted, there were efforts to ban kratom in several states in the US this year, although only Indiana actually succeeding in outlawing it. In Louisiana, age restrictions were placed on its purchase.

The experience of Iowa, where legislation to ban kratom is still pending, is illustrative of how bans are created. The Iowa effort happened after state Rep. Clel Baudler (R) heard about kratom on a radio program. Within two hours, he was moving to ban it.

"Kratom is a hallucinogen, addictive, and can be life threatening," he said at the time, in complete contradiction of all that is actually known about kratom.

It's not just states that are considering bans on kratom. Pinellas County, Florida, was about to enact one this week, but the prohibitionist bandwagon hit a bump in the road in the form of perennial drug war gadfly Randy Heine, owner of Rockin' Cards and Gifts in Pinellas Park, who told the Chronicle he had been selling kratom in his store since 1981.

Seeing what was coming down the pike, Heine alerted the Kratom Association, a group of users, producers, and vendors dedicated to keeping kratom legal, who flooded county commissioners with emails. He also addressed the commission itself.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/randy-heine-201px.jpg
Randy Heine
"I have been selling kratom for over 30 years out of my store on Park Blvd. I challenge anyone to find any problem originating from my store selling kratom," he wrote in a letter made available to the Chronicle. "Do not lump in synthetic chemicals with an organic plant material. This is like comparing apples to oranges. I would like to see kratom be sold only to persons over the age of 18, similar to the proposal being made in our sister state of Louisiana."

In the conservative county, Heine also appealed to the ghost of Ronald Reagan in his letter to commissioners. What riles up the Reagan in him, Heine wrote, is "growing the bureaucracy by creating another board to regulate what I and others do in privacy of our own homes."

"I got letters back from two of the commissioners," said Heine. "They read my Ronald Reagan letter out loud, and one of the GOP commissioners thanked me for sharing my thoughts. The commission has now deferred this item so we can take a closer look at the issues involved."

Many of his kratom customers are using it as an opiate substitute, he said.

"We have a drug rehab place here, and my feeling is that a lot of their clients are purchasing kratom instead of methadone. It's competition; I'm taking away money," he said. "Some of my customers say methadone is worse than heroin and keeps you addicted. Kratom weans them off heroin. A lot of them say they just do less and less kratom until the craving stops. I have a couple of senior women who say they're tired of taking prescription pills, that they make them nutty, and kratom works for them."

Chronicle readers may recall that Pinellas County is where a drug reform-minded upstart Democratic candidate for sheriff is taking on either the scandal-plagued Republican incumbent sheriff or his challenger and predecessor, former Sheriff Everett Rice (the GOP primary is next week), whose supporters on the council were pushing the kratom ban. That Democrat, Scott Swope, is so good on drug policy that his candidacy persuaded Heine to drop his own bid for the sheriff's office.

"This looks like another unconstitutional intrusion into the lives of Pinellas citizens who aren't harming anyone," Swope said. "I've researched kratom and although there doesn't seem to be as much research available as cannabis, it appears to me to be a plant product that should not be banned. I think the purchase or possession of any of these things (cannabis, kratom, bath salts) by minors should not be allowed. Adults, however, should be free to do what they want as long as they aren't harming anyone else."

While Heine is currently bedeviled by the effort to ban kratom, as well as an associated effort to force smoke shops to put large signs on their doors saying they sell drug paraphernalia, the Swope candidacy has him hoping for better times ahead. 

"Swope can win," he exulted. "We finally have a candidate who is talking about marijuana. Even the Republican candidates are now saying they wouldn't bust people for marijuana. When I was still a candidate, I went to many forums to talk about pot, and the media started asking these guys about it. Scott won't arrest people for personal use."

Whether it's relatively unknown substances like kratom or now familiar substances like marijuana, the battle lines are drawn in what is ultimately a culture war. On one hand, the forces of fear and authoritarianism; on the other, the forces of free inquiry and personal liberty. It's been a long war, and it isn't going to end anytime soon, but perhaps now there are hints that the correlation of forces is changing.

Stopping unnecessary prohibitions before they get started is part of the struggle; undoing entrenched prohibitions with powerful interests behind them is another part of the struggle, but even though the substances are different, it's the same struggle.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Pinellas County
FL
United States

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