Justice

What Happens After the DEA Ban on Kratom Takes Effect

The Drug Enforcement Administration last month decided to ban kratom — a plant that produces opioid-like effects and is widely used as an alternative to painkillers.

Once the ban takes effect, what happens to retailers throughout the U.S. that have sold the plant legally? And what are they supposed to do with the product?

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Retailers are finding themselves in a curious predicament. In the span of one month, kratom is losing its legal status and will instead be classified as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, the most restrictive category. The legal repercussions of trafficking a Schedule 1 drug are severe, with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $1 million.

I visited a couple head shops in Los Angeles where kratom is still being sold to ask about the ban. One retailer hadn't heard about the ban — two days before it's supposed to take effect — and that's because the DEA makes no effort to directly notify retailers about the scheduling change. The onus is on them to find out and comply with the new law.

DEA spokesperson Melvin Patterson told ATTN: that retailers learn about the ban "through word of mouth" and "getting on the internet." He said the agency has also received calls from sellers, "so we've communicated with retailers that way as well."

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How retailers are expected to get rid of the substance is another matter.

Again, there's no official guideline for dispensing kratom once its illegal. I talked to one employee of a smoke shop where it's currently sold. He told me on condition of anonymity that people planned to take the product home and use it for personal consumption.

Legally, that would qualify as a felony offense once the ban takes effect — but the lack of concern around the legal issues could have something to do with the fact that retailers are getting information about the ban online and "through word of mouth."

"They can coordinate with their state and local law enforcement official or local DEA office [to get rid of the kratom]," Patterson said. But he said they could just as easily throw the product in the trash.

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Drug reform advocates worry that the lack of communication around the ban could have unintended consequences for kratom retailers and consumers.

"I think the DEA has a responsibility to notify the public, and the formal way that they do that [is] to publish something on the Federal Register, which is something that's not on everyone's reading list, to say the least," Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance, told ATTN:. "It's disingenuous to assume that people are going to know about this — that the public is going to know about this and even retailers and distributors are going to know about this ban — especially given how fast it's coming.

"The DEA did not even give a public comment period on this decision," Smith added. "They're rushing this decision in 30 days, and that's going impact millions of Americas. The American Kratom Association estimates that between 3 and 5 million Americans have used kratom at some point, and that's a lot of people who will be impacted."

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