In unprecedented move, DEA reverses plan to ban Kratom - for now

UPDATE (1/4/2017): Thousands of people have signed a petition asking the incoming Trump administration not to let the DEA schedule Kratom as a banned substance. This story is developing.

Heather Crawford is on your side. 10/12/2016 2016 Getty Images

UPDATE (1/4/2017): Thousands of people have signed a petition asking the incoming Trump administration not to let the DEA schedule Kratom as a banned substance. This story is developing.


Original reporting:

The Drug Enforcement Agency published in a federal register Wednesday a notice to withdrawal its notice of intent to temporary schedule Kratom.

In laymen’s terms, the DEA is no longer seeking a special ban for the herbal supplement and make illegal its usage – which would have turned many Americans into potential felons.

That notice to schedule was filed Aug. 31. Just a month and a half later, those who use Kratom can breathe a sigh of relief.

The DEA received a number of inquiries from the public and from members of Congress, the vast majority of which were in opposition to the proposal to temporarily schedule Kratom.

“In an effort to be as fully transparent as possible – to listen to the American public, to allow the American public time to weigh in on these important issues that impact us all – we decided to take a couple steps back,” says DEA spokesperson Russ Baer.

In a phone interview with On Your Side’s Heather Crawford, Baer says the public will be able to have a say in what will be made of the formal record on Kratom.

“We are accepting comment until the first of December of this year,” Baer says of Kratom.

In addition to soliciting public comment, the DEA is also waiting on the Food and Drug Administration to finish its analysis of the herbal supplement and provide its scheduling recommendation.

“They’ve not given us a time frame as to when they expect to conclude that medical/scientific analysis,” Baer explains. “We reserve the right to notice another intent to temporarily schedule Kratom.”

Baer says from the onset of their notice to withdrawal the ban, the DEA is looking for public comment.

“And we want people to weigh in on what experiences they have had, but we really need to follow the science,” Baer stresses.

Baer says Kratom needs to meet the standards for safe and effective human use as medicine.

Susan Ash, Director of the American Kratom Association, says she and her colleagues are breathing a sigh of relief after this withdrawal – even if it’s only temporary.

For weeks, On Your Side has heard from hundreds of viewers opposed to banning the active ingredients in the plant, which is in the same family as coffee.

However, the DEA does not say the plant is safe.

“The withdrawal notice should not be misconstrued,” Baer adds. “We are still saying that Kratom is dangerous and is harmful.”

The DEA wants public comment. You can do that electronically here – NOTE: This link won’t be active until tomorrow.

“We value a dialogue with the American public,” Baer says of the comments. “So we’re opening up the process to be as transparent as possible.”

Ash says she’s grateful to the DEA for listening and thankful for the 45 members of Congress that reached out to the law enforcement agency asking for more time.

“We believe Kratom should not be scheduled in any way,” Ash says via a statement. “Since it’s been consumed safely for decades in the U.S. and worldwide for millennia, there is no impetus to make it a controlled substance.”

Baer, on the other hand, is unsure of the herbal supplement’s future.

“We don’t want to assume anything. I can’t predict the future beyond Dec. 1,” he says. “But in full consideration of our review of the comments it’s certainly going to take us some time to go through them.”

He says the DEA has received over 2,000 calls from people who oppose banning of Kratom.

In a letter to a congressional staffer, the DEA says they’ve asked the FDA to expedite their evaluation. They also allude to a public inspection document that can be read at this link beginning Oct. 13.

That’s the notice to withdrawal the temporary ban on Kratom.

No one has ever read a document like this.

“This action is unprecedented,” Baer says, “and it is an example of the new leadership that we have had during the past year.”

He is referring to Chuck Rosenberg, who was appointed to Acting Administrator of the DEA on May 13 of last year by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

“We’re looking at programs from top to bottom,” Baer says. “We’ve made a number of changes. This is not the same DEA of old."


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