Broward News

Kratom Ban Is Absurd, Says Palm Beach Lawsuit by Former Cop UPDATED

Back in August, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it would soon become illegal to purchase or possess kratom, which is derived from the leaves of a Southeast Asian shrub and often served in drinks and teas at kava bars. As a Schedule I Controlled Substance, it would be in the same category as heroin, ecstasy, and LSD.

The response to the ban has been pretty much unanimous: This is overkill. Fifty-one members of Congress have signed a letter to the DEA asking to get it overturned. They point out there should have been a period for public comment first.

Now Michael Dombrowksi, who owns Tenaga Kava in Palm Beach Gardens, is leading a lawsuit against the DEA. He says until recently, his business relied primarily on kratom tea sales, and he'll lose all the money he invested when he opened the kava bar in 2015 after retiring from a job in law enforcement. He also claims the economic impact of the ban — both in terms of lost annual revenue and taxes and salaries that would have been paid to his employees — would be at least a million dollars.

Dombrowski declined to comment further on the lawsuit, saying that he didn't want to speak for the other kava bar owners — James Scianno of Purple Lotus Kava Bar in Boynton Beach and Keith Engelhardt and Thomas Harrison of Te Mana in West Palm Beach — who are listed as plaintiffs. 

His reluctance is understandable given that kratom is often plagued with controversy. There are some kava-bar owners who are vehemently opposed to its use, and it's been the subject of lawsuits from people who claim that it's addictive or can lead to suicide. But there's also a considerable body of evidence that suggests it may help people overcome opiate addiction. And, anecdotally, other local kava-bar owners have seen their lounges become a safe space for people who are recovering from alcoholism.

In fact, plenty of people who sell or serve kratom support some regulation — they just don't think it's necessary to make it a Schedule I drug. After all, the DEA's main argument in support of banning kratom seems to be that it contributed to 15 deaths nationwide over the past two years. Keep in mind that during that same time frame, heroin overdoses killed 108 people in Broward County alone. Is it really necessary to crack down on an obscure plant?

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a ban on kratom was already in effect. In fact, the DEA has only filed a Notice of Intent saying that it plans to ban kratom. Also, Keith Engelhardt and Thomas Harrison are the owners of Te Mana in West Palm Beach. 

You can see the full lawsuit here: 

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Antonia Farzan is a fellow at New Times. After receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, she moved to South Florida to pursue her dream of seeing a manatee and meeting DJ Khaled (ideally at the same time). She was born and raised in Rhode Island and has a BA in classics from Hamilton College.