Amid pressure from the public and Congress, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) may delay its decision to put the subtance Kratom on the federal government's list of Schedule I drugs and allow for an extended public comment period, according to a U.S. Congressman who met with the acting DEA administrator on Friday.
Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin met with acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg over the proposed ban on Kratom—a leaf from Southeast Asia that has been used for pain-relief for centures—that was expected to go into effect on Friday. "It appears the DEA will instead open up a modified comment process before a final decision will be made," Pocan's office said in a statement. "While we do not know the exacting timing or details of the new comment period for kratom, Acting Administrator Rosenberg assured Congressman Pocan that we will find out more in the near future."
On Aug. 30, the DEA announced it would be temporarily placing Kratom on the list of Schedule I drugs "to avoid an imminent hazard to public safety." As Reason's Jacob Sullum explained, it was a bad and totally predictable decision:
Kratom is a pain-relieving leaf that acts as a stimulant or a sedative, depending on the dose. But the most important thing to know about kratom, if you want to understand the DEA's reasoning, is that it's not from here. Kratom comes from a tree, Mitragyna speciosa, that is native to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea. It has gained a following in the United States only recently, hawked by online merchants and head shops as an herbal medicine, "dietary supplement," or legal high. As far as the DEA is concerned, the fact that people in other countries have used kratom for centuries to ease pain, boost work performance, and wean themselves from opiate addiction counts for nothing. All the DEA needs to know is that our shores have been invaded by a foreign drug that is increasingly popular among Americans as a home remedy and recreational intoxicant. From the DEA's perspective, that is intolerable, regardless of the drug's hazards or benefits.
News of the impending ban infuriated U.S. consumers of Kratom, who have lit up phone lines on Capitol Hill to complain. Members of Congress have responded in suit. On Friday, Democratic Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Ron Wyden sent a letter to the DEA espressing concern that the agency' did not leave "a sufficient amount of time for public comment on a drug that, according to recent scientific studies, may actually be an effective substance to help combat the opioid epidemic."
"While we understand there are times when public safety demands that your agency act quickly on scheduling decisions, we believe that in this instance additional time for the scientific community, public health officials, and other members of the public to comment is warranted and may prove to be in the interest of public health and safety," the senators added. "Since 1980, our federal prison population has exploded by nearly 800 percent. This increase is a result of draconian drug policies that continue to place nonviolent drug offenders behind bars. We should not, in haste and without adequate opportunity for comment and analysis, place substances in categories that may be inconsistent with their medical value and potential for abuse."