Vigorous debate over proposed ban of Kratom sale/use in Ascension Parish

Ascension Council and President

It is a rare occasion when the mere Introduction of Ordinances generates much in the way of public participation at a Ascension Parish Council meeting, particularly one conducted on the parish’s sparsely populated west bank.  Thursday’s was certainly the exception as a few dozen individuals descended on Donaldsonville’s historic courthouse to express passionate opinions on the proposed ordinance “to regulate the sale and use of Kratom in the Parish of Ascension.”  The proposed ordinance would criminalize the sale, purchase, consumption or possession of the controversial substance.

While Kratom is not controlled under the Controlled Substances Act, six states have implemented regulations or prohibitions against its possession and use.  Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has listed kratom as a Drug and Chemical of Concern, publishing a Kratom Fact Sheet that asserts:

“Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. Consumption of its leaves produces both stimulant effects (in low doses) and sedative effects (in high doses), and can lead to psychotic symptoms, and psychological and physiological dependence. Kratom leaves contain two major psychoactive ingredients (mitragynine and 7-hydroxymytragynine). These leaves are crushed and then smoked, brewed with tea, or placed into gel capsules. Kratom has a long history of use in Southeast Asia, where it is commonly known as thang, kakuam, thom, ketum, and biak. In the U.S., the abuse of kratom has increased markedly in recent years.

  • At low doses, kratom produces stimulant effects with users reporting increased alertness, physical energy, and talkativeness.
  • At high doses, users experience sedative effects. Kratom consumption can lead to addiction.
  • Several cases of psychosis resulting from use of kratom have been reported, where individuals addicted to kratom exhibited psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations, delusion, and confusion.
  • Kratom’s effects on the body include nausea, itching, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, increased urination, tachycardia, vomiting, drowsiness, and loss of appetite. Users of kratom have also experienced anorexia, weight loss, insomnia, hepatotoxicity, seizure, and hallucinations.”

Elements of the recovery community, including multiple rehab counsellors at Thursday’s Council meeting, tout Kratom as a near panacea to replace methadone and other opiate-based substances employed to wean the user from dependency and its corresponding ravages.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has has not approved Kratom for any medical use, warning consumers against it due to concerns “that kratom, which affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine, appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and dependence.”

But Kratom is readily available over the counter in Ascension according to every local speaker on Thursday (on both sides of an extraordinarily divisive issue).  Trust of American institutions at an all-time low, who cares what DEA and FDA have to say?  Take the War on Drugs…please (with apologies to Henny Youngman).  When marijuana is a Schedule I-Controlled Dangerous Substance, isn’t it time to reconsider the entire regulatory scheme?

After all, Kratom is a plant, just like marijuana went a commonly-propounded argument on Thursday.

But local law enforcement, in the person of Detective Todd Tullier who was speaking for Sheriff Bobby Webre, is not subject to that growing distrust.  Tullier told the council that APSO does not want to outlaw the use of Kratom, only its sale in Ascension Parish.  An experienced narcotics detective, he deemed it “a heroin substitute.”

None of which can be said of 11 Parish Council members.  Who, among the governing authority, possesses qualifications, expertise or scientific knowledge sufficient to pronounce what the average citizen should be able to ingest…or not.  Their proposed ordinance includes:

The Parish of Ascension does hereby declare that the use of Kratom is a serious problem affecting the health and welfare of all citizens. The parish pursuant to its police powers does further declare and determine that all reasonable steps should and must be taken to prohibit the possession, sale and consumption of Kratom by citizens of Ascension Parish.

It shall be illegal for any person to sell, purchase, consume, or possess, either actual or constructive, Kratom in the Parish of Ascension.

Whoever violates the provisions of this section shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars ($500.00) or imprisoned for not more than six (6) months, or both.

A second offense merits a $1,000 fine; subsequent offenses $1,500 with the forfeiture of the vendor, seller or retailer’s license to do business in the parish.

Geoffrey Laredo, a self-described “substance use and addiction policy expert who retired from the federal civil service in 2018 after serving for 30 years in a variety of policy positions,” appeared on behalf of the American Kratom Association.  

“Your work should not be based on opinion,” Laredo urged.  Rely on science…evidence and truth.  If you do this you will, not only, not ban Kratom sales and use in the parish, you’ll help foster solid regulations to protect public health (and) ensure safe, unadulterated Kratom appropriately regulated.”

If there was a point of agreement, it was that Kratom should be regulated to protect against “adulteration” by additives such as fentanyl.  Laredo insisted that “overwhelming scientific evidence says ‘Kratom kills no one.'”  Oftentimes, though, the product packaging includes no “certificate of analysis” attesting to purity, i.e. unadulterated Kratom.

Anecdotal testimony was plentiful, on both sides of the debate.  A mom and dad from Iberia Parish showed up to blame Kratom for their 26-year old son’s death, but so did an Iberia Parish Councilman and Kratom retailer who called it “an alternative to opioid pain relievers.”

A self-identified “pain pill addict” related his $300/day Kratom habit which took everything, adding that he tested positive for fentanyl after one bout of Kratom use (adulteration?).  A Life House counsellor and recovering opioid addict described “men willing to go back to jail, be homeless” rather than give up the Kratom habit.

“Kratom doesn’t destroy lives, it saves them,” countered a similarly afflicted man now thriving in local industry.  Accusing the rehab industry and “Big Pharma” for the opioid crisis, it was “Kratom that alleviated my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (caused by multiple combat tours).”

It is an issue so divisive that a local libertarian showed up to decry the Council’s consideration of banning Kratom.  Enumerating common substances (alcohol, tobacco and ibuprofen) “that will kill you when misused,” Colin Nicol touted his own use and insisted that “Kratom is not addictive…(it) absolutely helps people getting off of opiates, it helps with detoxification.

“Kratom’s not the problem,” Nicol declared.  “It is fascism and tyranny to outlaw things we disapprove of.  Stop banning things.”

The Council was silent on Thursday since the operative ordinance was only introduced.  In keeping with regular procedure, the body will conduct another public hearing and vote in two weeks, August 18 in Gonzales.

 

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