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Louisiana Parish Bans Kratom as Debate Over Access Rages On

The patchwork of legislation surrounding kratom added a fresh tangle earlier this month when a local Louisiana council passed a ban on the substance. 

Ascension Parish in Louisiana became the first municipality in the state to prohibit the sale of kratom, adding to a growing list of local authorities to take action against the herbal supplement. What makes the matter more complicated is the reasoning behind the ban, as well as the mixed signals from the federal government, which has only amplified the calls for broad action to address emerging natural health alternatives. 

At a meeting on Aug. 18, the Ascension Parish Council unanimously voted to prohibit the sale of kratom, after council members nixed a plan to also ban the possession and use of the supplement. The ordinance will go into effect 10 days from the vote, and could result in a loss of a business license, as well as potential fines or jail time for repeat offenders. 

Councilman Michael Mason told a local television station that the reasoning for the ban came down to an issue of quality, rather than a generalized debate over kratom’s effectiveness. According to Mason, the ban of kratom sales did not reflect his views on the substance “in its purest form”, rather, the ban was to address the local availability of the supplement. 

“What we were saying is that what we have in Ascension Parish is not in its purest form,” Mason told WAFB.  

On the federal level, kratom remains in limbo The Drug Enforcement Agency attempted to schedule kratom as Schedule I in 2016 before eventually rescinding its plans. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration issued a consumer warning about kratom, warning of “risk of addiction, abuse and dependence.” 

That flies in the face of Congress, however, after the House of Representatives carved out a space for more research into kratom, specifically urging the National Institute of Health to consider a human clinical trial to research how kratom can help ease the opioid crisis in America. 

In the south alone, the lack of action by the federal government has led to inconsistent regulation of kratom as different factions wrestle for control. 

Kratom is currently a controlled substance in both Alabama and Arkansas, making it illegal, although advocates in both states are working to expand access. In Mississippi, lawmakers passed a bill to make kratom illegal through the state House of Representatives with a vote of 82-28. That bill then died in committee before being voted on by the state Senate. 

The prevailing discussions at the local level show how muddled the conversation has become in light of the tug of war happening at the federal level. 

On one hand, opponents of kratom, like the state representative who proposed the Mississippi bill, have toed the line of seeing kratom as a substance worth scheduling. 

“This is a drug that has no medicinal value,” said Lee Yancey on the House floor. Yancey is also the House Drug Policy Chairman in Mississippi. 

At the same time, some in Mississippi see the need for broad legislation regulating the substance. Although a handful of municipalities banned the possession of kratom in Mississippi, one of the larger counties, Lee County, decided against a local ban in lieu of regulation from a higher legislative body. 

In this instance, the lawyer for the county told local reporters that he didn’t “think counties should be in the drug policy business” and said it was a matter for the state legislature. Now with more states and local governments taking action on kratom, it appears the simplest path to a singular approach to kratom would come from the federal level. 

That reasoning is also in line with kratom advocates, who have become frustrated with the lack of uniform reasoning on how the substance is treated by regulatory bodies. In the Ascension Parish case, Mac Haddow from the American Kratom Association disagreed with the prevailing narrative around the substance. 

Haddow described kratom as “a great alternative to people managing their health and well-being” to WAFB, and said that he hopes local leaders will reconsider. 

“They say that Ascension Parish is the thought leader of all policies that other parishes and that the state of Louisiana follows,” he said. “If they truly believe that then they should’ve listened to the non-Ascension Parish residents that came and spoke.”

Author

  • Patrick Radigan is a recovering sports journalist who had his eyes opened to the world of drug policy reform while covering a court case of a cannabis consultant found not guilty on trumped up possession charges. Since that case, he's covered legalization issues in multiple states, monitored tribal movements in the legal cannabis space and is now turning his attention to the wide spectrum of legalization and policy matters surrounding natural medicine alternatives. Patrick has written stories for newsprint, shot video for television news and got his start covering biofuels and soil science for a climate magazine. Originally from South Dakota, Pat earned a pair of journalism degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and now resides in Colorado.