DEA Considers Banning Plant Used in Pain Management, Citing Public Safety Concerns

Green Kratom LeafThe federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 18 U.S.C. § 801 et seq., establishes five schedules of chemicals and materials, setting restrictions on their manufacturing, distribution, sale, and possession. Schedule I contains the most highly restricted drugs. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), part of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), has the authority to add drugs to the schedules, remove them, or reschedule them. In August 2016, the DEA published a notice of intent to add two chemicals, the active components of a plant known as kratom, to Schedule I. 81 Fed. Reg. 59929 (Aug. 31, 2016). The DEA claimed that banning kratom “is necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety.” Id. The notice prompted a massive public response about the purported benefits of kratom. The DEA withdrew its notice of intent about six weeks later and requested additional feedback. 81 Fed. Reg. 70652 (Oct. 13, 2016).

Schedule I controlled substances, according to the CSA, have a “high potential for abuse,” lack a “currently accepted medical use,” and have no “accepted safety” standards for use “under medical supervision.” 21 U.S.C. § 812(b)(1). The CSA includes various opioids and opiate derivatives, including heroin, under Schedule I, as well as MDMA, marijuana, LSD, peyote, and psilocybin. Id. at § 812(c)(I). The DOJ, through the Attorney General, has the authority to add drugs to any of the schedules upon a finding that they have “a potential for abuse” and fit the CSA’s scheduling criteria. Id. at § 811(a). The DOJ has delegated this procedure to the DEA. 21 C.F.R. § 1308.01 et seq.

Kratom is native to Southeast Asia. It is reportedly used in pain management and to treat opiate withdrawal, although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved it for any medical use. Since it has similar effects to opioids, it is also used recreationally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kratom use has been associated with various negative effects. Kratom proponents claim that it is a beneficial alternative to opioid drugs. Six states—Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin—have banned kratom, along with one county in Florida. The FDA has issued an import alert regarding the plant, and the federal government has seized multiple shipments of dietary supplements containing kratom at U.S. ports.

The DEA’s proposed rule would add two opioid chemicals, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, to Schedule I. These are kratom’s “main active constituents,” 81 Fed. Reg. 59929, just as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main active component of marijuana. The DEA claims that adding kratom to Schedule I is necessary to protect public health. It cites the commercial availability of kratom in various forms, and it also claims that it “is an increasingly popular drug of abuse and readily available on the recreational drug market.” Id. at 59930. Since the FDA has never approved it for medical use, it fits that criterion for Schedule I.

The DEA withdrew the proposed rule after it “received numerous comments from the public…offering their opinions regarding the pharmacological effects of these substances.” 81 Fed. Reg. at 70652. This could only be temporary, however, since the CSA gives the DEA wide latitude on this issue.

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

Michael J. Brown, a board-certified drug crime attorney in West Texas, has defended people against alleged state and federal charges for more than 20 years. To schedule a confidential consultation with a skilled and experienced criminal justice advocate, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.

More Blog Posts:

Medical Marijuana Laws Cause Shifts in Court Rulings on Marijuana Odor and Probable Cause for Search Warrants, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, September 7, 2016

2015 Set New Record for Total Number of Exonerations, with Texas at the Top of the List, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 28, 2016

Texas Law that Took Effect Last Year Bans 1,000 Chemicals Potentially Used in Synthetic Marijuana, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 15, 2016

Photo credit: ThorPorre (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.