Bill adding more protections for kratom consumers clears first Senate hurdle

Kratom-Powder
Like legislation passed last year banning under-21 sales, the bill is called the ‘Florida Kratom Consumer Protection Act.’

Less than six months after Florida’s first statewide regulation of kratom went into effect, lawmakers are advancing legislation to make companies more responsible and accountable for the safety of their kratom products.

Members of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee voted unanimously Tuesday for SB 842, which would impose a host of new standards by which makers of kratom products must abide.

The bill would prohibit the production, sale or distribution of kratom products adulterated with other substances, including synthetic alkaloids that strengthen it to a dangerous degree or that state statutes list as poisonous or harmful.

SB 842 would also ban any product labels claiming kratom is intended to treat, cure or prevent any medical condition or disease.

Violators would face a $500 fine for the first offense and $1,000 fines for each offense after.

“What we have today is two choices,” said Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry, the bill’s sponsor. “One, we could do nothing and leave a big problem for the state of Florida. Or we could at least move forward with the regulation of this product.”

Kratom is a consumable relative of the coffee plant native to Southeast Asia that for centuries has been used as a euphoric pain reliever. In Florida now, sales of kratom products aren’t permitted to people under 21 due to legislation passed last year. It’s also banned altogether in Sarasota County.

Proponents hail kratom’s principal psychoactive ingredient, mitragynine, as a versatile alternative to more harmful addictive substances, including alcohol — a claim backed up, to some extent, by science. In a 2019 Purdue University study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, researchers found kratom “can decrease alcohol intake but still (has) significant risk upon prolonged use.”

Around 15 million Americans use kratom today, according to Mac Haddow, a senior fellow on public policy for the American Kratom Association, which supports Perry’s bill and has backed similar legislation that has passed in 10 other states.

“People use it as a replacement for a cup of coffee,” he said. “At a higher serving size, it helps people suppress feelings of depression, and some say it helps get them off of alcoholism and other kinds of addictions. And at (even) higher doses, people are successfully getting off of opioids.”

Some are dubious of kratom’s true benefits and argue its risks outweigh any potential upside.

Ellen Snelling, a Tampa resident and anti-drug activist, noted that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency categorizes kratom as a “drug of concern” and the Food and Drug Administration lists a variety of adverse effects from heavy kratom use, including liver and kidney damage, drug dependence and neonatal abstinence syndrome.

She pointed to a 2021 report from the Florida Department of Medical Examiners that showed an 24% increase in occurrences of death where kratom was in the deceased’s system.

“There should be more research done, a lot more research. There could be promising chemicals in this that can help people, but at this point I personally would support a ban or more restrictions … especially serving size and total amounts per package,” she said.

Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters, who carried legislation virtually identical to SB 842 for years, including during the last Legislative Session, said the problem is that Florida has almost no say in how kratom is produced and sold today.

“It’s sold as-is,” he said. “And people are cutting it with different things, and that’s where people get sick. That’s where people get hurt. (Regulating) this product to make sure that it’s unadulterated is what we need to do. It should have been done a long time ago.”

Gruters nearly got the changes in SB 842 across the proverbial finish line last year but agreed to weaker strictures in the waning days of Session to at least get some safeguards on the books.

He and Pensacola Republican Rep. Alex Andrade bounced HB 179 back and forth between their respective chambers. Gruters kept adding standards and safeguards to kratom production standards. Andrade kept removing them, saying he was “happy to work in the future” to codify consumer protections but that the extra provisions Gruters wanted came with costs for which no budget apportionment existed.

Andrade this year is carrying a House companion (HB 861) to Perry’s bill, again with far narrower aims than its Senate counterpart. If passed, HB 861 would only set new labeling requirements for kratom products.

Perry’s bill, meanwhile, includes no funding source to cover the added oversight by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which he said would be authorized to lab-test kratom products.

Like the legislation in 2023, both versions of the kratom-focused bills this year are titled the “Florida Kratom Consumer Protection Act.”

SB 842 is to next receive a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government, after which it would have one more stop before reaching a floor vote.

HB 861 awaits a hearing before the first of three committees to which it was referred.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.



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