Politics

Inside Colorado Kratom Bill Its Sponsors Aren't Talking About

Kratom is also known as mitragyna speciosa.
Kratom is also known as mitragyna speciosa. CBS This Morning via YouTube
At 1:30 p.m. today, March 16, the Colorado Legislature's Senate finance committee is scheduled to discuss Senate Bill 22-120, also known as "Regulation of Kratom Processors," the first major bill introduced in the state that focuses on kratom, a popular organic substance of Southeast Asian origin. It's also controversial, thanks to warnings from the federal Food and Drug Administration over questions about safety and claims that the herbal pain reliever is as addictive as the opioids that many users say it helped them stop taking.

Kratom legislation has been under discussion for years in Colorado, so today's session represents a significant benchmark in establishing statewide standards, as opposed to the current patchwork of local regulations and bans. However, none of its three sponsors have been available to talk with Westword on the subject; Senators Joann Ginal and Don Coram did not respond to requests for interviews sent starting last week, and while a staffer for Representative Tom Sullivan offered to send a statement about the bill, it has yet to arrive.

In contrast, Mac Haddow, senior policy fellow for the American Kratom Association, makes it clear that his organization "strongly supports SB 22-120 and is actively advocating for its passage in the Colorado Legislature."

Kratom made local headlines in November 2017, after what is now known as the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment issued a ban on its sale for human consumption. The decision came days after a public-health advisory from the FDA warning individuals not to consume kratom. Prior to this alert, reports circulated about more than a dozen deaths associated with, though perhaps not directly attributable to, use of the substance, which is known for its euphoric and pain-relieving effects.

The next month, seventeen members of Congress, including then-U.S. Representative Jared Polis, sent a letter to the FDA asking that the agency lift its public-health warning about kratom. Meanwhile, advocacy groups called for regulating kratom as states such as Colorado had done in respect to marijuana. The most prominent example was the creation of the so-called Kratom Consumer Protection Act, which, by 2019, had passed in four states (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Utah) and was being discussed for introduction in Colorado. At the time, Haddow told Westword that American Kratom Association representatives had met with "a couple of Colorado legislators," as well as staffers for Polis, who by then had been elected governor.

Although discussions about the possibility of a Kratom Consumer Protection Act bill surfacing in Colorado were still underway as late as February 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the process to a screeching halt, and kratom remains banned for human consumption in Denver. But on February 3, "Regulation of Kratom Processors" was put forward by Ginal, Coram and Sullivan.

"Effective January 1, 2023," its summary begins, "the bill requires that, prior to selling or offering for sale any kratom product, each kratom processor must register with the Department of Revenue...and disclose certain information regarding each of the kratom processor's kratom products." In addition, SB22-120 "establishes the minimum requirements for kratom products," "prohibits the sale of kratom products to individuals under eighteen years of age," "requires a kratom processor to notify the department within seven days after being notified that an adverse effect report was made with the federal Food and Drug Administration regarding any of the kratom processor's kratom products" and "authorizes the department to investigate adverse effect reports to determine whether a kratom processor has violated any of the standards specified in the bill."

Such guidelines are necessary, Haddow believes, because "the emerging public-health threat to kratom consumers is adulterated kratom products manufactured by bad actors who increase sales to consumers who believe they are buying a pure kratom product." He cites a recently published article in the Journal of Emergency Medicine that illustrated "the dangers of adulterated kratom products, which in this case involved adding oxycodone and morphine. The FDA is well aware of economically motivated adulteration where a manufacturer deliberately adulterates a product to enhance its perceived effects."

Currently, Haddow points out, "kratom is widely available and sold in the State of Colorado without any regulatory controls that would discourage adulteration of kratom products. Some public health groups oppose SB 22-120 on the premise that the FDA has claimed that kratom is inherently unsafe. But the FDA has failed twice to convince the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Drug Enforcement Administration that kratom meets the criteria for a ban under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The National Institute on Drug Abuse opposed any ban on kratom, and the U.S. Congress has included report language in the last three years in appropriations bills to not ban kratom and to allow for people to continue its use as a harm reduction measure."

Nonetheless, Haddow acknowledges, "the FDA continues to prosecute its claims against kratom, and some local health authorities choose to repeat the FDA narrative without any scientific justification." That's why "the AKA strongly supports science-based policies that will protect consumers and prevent the dangerous adulteration of kratom products. Colorado consumers should have confidence when they purchase a kratom product that it meets the standards for purity and safety. "

Click to read Senate Bill 22-120: "Regulation of Kratom Processors."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts