In a stunning reversal, the DEA has withdrawn its proposal to ban kratom and temporarily suspended efforts to make it a Schedule 1 drug.
The move comes after an impassioned Internet-based protest by a decentralized network of advocates and activists who contend the southeast Asian plant has tremendous medicinal value.
While not a permanent ruling, the reversal is extremely unusual for the government agency, which is known for aggressive enforcement of its drug policies.
DEA spokesperson Melvin Patterson confirmed that the intense public reaction fueled the decision.
“That was eye-opening for me personally,” he said.“
I want the kratom community to know that the DEA does hear them.
Our goal is to make sure this is available to all of them.”
The suspension will allow for an extended timetable for public feedback and further analysis. This will include an evaluation of mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
A small team of government scientists will now determine whether Americans are allowed to use a curative herbal remedy that has been safely ingested for thousands of years.
The August announcement of the ban came as a shock to many. The American Kratom Association launched a National Call To Action.
Patients and researchers testified that kratom helps to curb opioid addiction and withdrawal. U.S. lawmakers, including 51 representatives and nine senators, applied additional pressure, aware the move coincided with a heroin and prescription painkiller epidemic that has already claimed thousands of lives.
The ban struck a nerve deep within an American public already incensed over decades of the drug war.
Researcher John Hudak of the Brookings Institute says the withdrawal is “shocking.”
“The DEA is not one to second-guess itself, no matter what the facts are.”
Nevertheless, DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg has filed an intent to withdraw notice with the Department of Justice.
News of the temporary ban came as a great relief to kratom users, who would have been risking prison time at the start of October. Kratom vendors expressed cautious optimism. Sara Killbride-Johnson, of Happy High Herbs in Ocean Beach, California, said:
“I’m really excited that people can see they still have power and are not the children of some separate entity government. I’m glad there will be a discourse, and I’m glad the scientific community has been speaking up, and I feel pretty hopeful about how it will turn out (I’m looking forward to a similar honesty happening with vaping now too).”
Sara also expressed a healthy dose of skepticism and concern:
“We have to be very cognizant that it was most likely a purposeful (Schedule 1) grouping as a sly way to eliminate competition to Big Pharma and wipe out small non-corporate businesses… I’m psyched, but the December deadline means they could still just ban it after the first. If they made a mistake and ‘kratom’ is not what they thought it was, why not take it off the table entirely?”
Despite warnings like this, Facebook groups are already full of tearful and celebratory commenters. There are even notes of flamboyant defiance. A member of the American Kratom Association Facebook group, Eric Mothman, wrote:
“[The DEA] underestimated this clan! What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. Trying to take Kratom away was wrong. One good thing came from this [is that] hundreds of thousands saw first hand the corruption that is waged upon the people and that the Gov [sic] is not really separate from big corporations! This is a catalyst to an awakening.”
Is this a signal of a transformational shift in public consciousness? Is the kratom war tapping into the ‘zeitgeist’? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As Sara noted, the DEA could still ban it.
The question now is how the FDA’s scientific analysis will translate into legal terms. The debate could drag on for years. Regardless, the public reaction to the kratom ban is a powerful example of how citizens can mobilize against oppressive government policy.