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DEA Delays ‘Unprecedented’ Ban On Kratom Amid Popular Protest & Government Pushback

Posted in Archive, Journalism, and MintPress News

Originally published at MintPress News.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Drug Enforcement Agency has delayed the implementation of its ban on kratom, a plant-based treatment for depression, anxiety, chronic pain and addiction that originated in Southeast Asia but has gained widespread popularity in the United States.

Although the DEA has abandoned the emergency scheduling decision announced on Aug. 30, the agency says it still plans to classify kratom as a Schedule I drug, alongside substances like heroin, cocaine, and even marijuana, which the federal government claims have no medical benefits.

“We have determined that it represents an imminent hazard, so we’re not going to drag our feet very long,” DEA spokesman Russ Baer said on Sept. 30, the day the ban was supposed to go into effect. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when.”

Kratom users insist the substance is safe and that it often offers more benefits for their health than pharmaceutical drugs. The decision to push back the “unprecedented” measure came on the heels of a wave of popular protests and opposition from within the government.

“I think they are starting to realize how much of a negative effect this will have on fully functional, law-abiding Americans,” James, a member of reddit’s popular kratom subreddit, told MintPress News in an email on Tuesday.

James, who asked to be referred to only by his first name, citing legal concerns over his use of kratom, told MintPress in a previous interview that consuming the plant helps ease the otherwise intractable chronic pain and depression he experiences due to a back injury.

On Sept. 30, Sen. Orrin Hatch, the senior-most Republican in the Senate and chair of the Senate Finance Committee,penned a letter to the DEA urging the agency to delay its plans to allow time for public comment and input from Congress. Hatch’s letter followed a similar missive sent on Sept. 26 to the federal Office of Management and Budget and signed by 50 representatives, who urged the office to use its “statutory authority” to delay the DEA ban.

“Thankfully, due to the activists and users and industry associations, it looks like Congress is leaning on the DEA and they’ve delayed the ban,” said John Bush, owner of Brave New Books, an Austin alternative bookstore, in an interview with MintPress on Tuesday.

Over 141,000 people signed a White House petition urging a halt to the ban, easily surpassing the threshold of 100,000 signatures which requires a response from the Obama administration. Activists took to Twitter using the #KratomSavesLives hashtag and marched across the country, including in Austin.

‘Education and helping one another is the solution’

Bush told MintPress that he discovered kratom when Burke Superfoods, a vendor at the bookstore, began offering kratom a few months ago. Now, he uses it regularly. He explained:

If I’m feeling stressed out, I take some and it really relaxes me and relaxes my mind and makes me feel better overall, even emotionally. And then if I have good solid work session or I’m working into the night, I’ll take some and it’ll give me a few more hours of energy and more mental clarity.

While he’s generally opposed to government interference in people’s lives, Bush said he finds the attack on “natural” medicines like kratom to be especially offensive. He continued:

It’s one thing to ban firearms or to lock people up for not paying income tax, but it’s a whole other thing to make it difficult for people to take care of themselves. It’s one of the most morally reprehensible things that the state does, so I was grateful to see that the people’s voice really was heard in this case, and I think the DEA really took notice when Congress and the U.S. Senate especially started telling them that they’re overreaching their authority.

A close-up of a green kratom leaf. (Wikimedia Commons / ThorPorre)
A close-up of a green kratom leaf. (Wikimedia Commons / ThorPorre)

He also dismissed the notion that the drug should be banned because some people might abuse it, saying personal responsibility needs to come into play. “I think if people think there’s a problem with people abusing kratom, then education and helping one another is the solution, not putting people in a cage,” he added.

In his email, James was sharply critical of the DEA’s continued push for a ban:

This almost seems like an attempt to validate the existence of the DEA and these archaic laws, in a time when marijuana is being legalized at the state level and they have had their funding cut that would be allocated towards raiding cancer patients and LEGAL dispensaries.

Bush said he hopes kratom users will continue to organize and resist the ban, even if it means defying the law. He concluded:

One thing that we need to do … is to build networks of mutual aid and mutual defense and to help protect those people that want to continue to use kratom, because now they’re doing so at a risk to their freedom and safety.

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