A controversial bill that would have made kratom a Schedule I controlled substance, classifying it as a drug that has a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, has been amended. The amendment includes having the state's attorney general, as well as the Department of Children and Families, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Program Office, to collect information and report on the herb before it can be added as a Schedule I controlled substance.
The bill, HB 287, filed by freshman Rep. and former Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, would have originally placed kratom in the same list as heroin, classifying it as a drug that, like smack, has a high potential for abuse with no accepted medical use or benefit. It also would have made kratom illegal.
Kratom, which is an herb found in Southeast Asia found in the same family as the coffee tree, is banned in Thailand, Australia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and recently Indiana and Tennessee. Kratom is most associated with kava, a coffee substitute that uses the herb as an ingredient and is served at kava bars.
Opponents of the herb consider kratom highly addictive, and claim that the herb is responsible for several deaths and multiple emerency-room visits across the country since it was introduced to the U.S.
Kratom opponents have blamed kratom for the death of a 20-year-old Boynton Beach man named Ian Mautner, who leapt to his death from the SW 23rd Avenue I-95 overpass last August.
Mautner's mother has claimed that her son was addicted to kratom.
Mautner's death led to Palm Beach County commissioners to call for a ban. They eventually settled on an investigation of the ingredient offered at local kava bars that serve drinks with kratom in them. When she was a commissioner in Broward, Jacobs tried unsuccessfully to have it banned. The Palm Beach County commission is expected to revisit the issue later this year.
Jacobs' bill has to go through three committees before heading to the floor. But the bill hit its first snag when it was reviewed by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, who voted unanimously for the amendment. The bill is scheduled to be reviewed by the House Justice and Appropriations Subcommittee next.
Meanwhile, the Senate version of the bill, SB 764, which also being vetted through committees, has not been amended. It too seeks to make kratom a Schedule I drug. The bill seeks to make it a first-degree misdemeanor to sell, buy or possess kratom.
For their part, the DEA, which has been monitoring kratom use across the U.S., has said that it produces opium-like effects. It's not illegal, but there has reportedly been a growing number of people seeking treatment for addiction to it.
In 2013, New Times reported on a Jupiter couple who sued a West Palm Beach kava bar because they claimed they became addicted to the kratom-laced drinks served there.
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Since then, two of New Times' reporters actually tried kratom and reported their respective findings.
Some who consume drinks with kratom in them at kava bars like Purple Lotus Kava Bar in West Palm Beach say the herb is natural and not a mind-altering drug like other illegal substances.
Back in October, Purple Lotus owner Jim Scianno claimed that his kratom drinks are "just an alternative, something healthy and safe to take the edge off. It's the nemesis of coffee."