Arkansas Man Sentenced to 10-Years for Kratom Despite Public Outcry, Lack of Federal Action

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In the back-and-forth between kratom advocates and a legal system still caught in the throes of the War on Drugs, an Arkansas man has been caught in the crossfire. 

Marshall Ray Price became the most recent face of the kratom question last week when he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for trafficking a controlled substance. It’s a sentence that was praised by prosecutors, but questioned by the constituents of a local news channel.  

For many, Price’s case is just the latest example of the danger posed by a patchwork of legalization laws that can leave individuals exposed while the federal government drags its feet on living up to recent promises of taking a closer look at how kratom should be regulated. 

“Wow, honestly the LEOs involved should be ashamed of this. This is some Reefer Madness levels of delusion,” said commenter Nathaniel Woodson, one of many who made their voices heard on the local news coverage of the case. (linkto: “It’s one thing to be delusional about the nature of a particular substance, it’s another to ruin somebody’s life over it.”

Price was pulled over on May 5, 2021 in what was described as a “routine traffic stop” and consented to a search of his vehicle, where police discovered a “large amount” of kratom. Now, more than 18 months later, a jury found Price guilty of trafficking, and recommended the 10-year sentence. Circuit Judge Randy Philhours confirmed that recommendation. 

The hefty prison sentence comes after Arkansas amended its Controlled Substance Act in 2016 to include kratom as a Schedule I substance. The change came after a ban was enacted in the state the year before. Soon after Arkansas banned kratom, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency moved to also schedule kratom, but that move was abandoned in the face of public outcry and resistance from members of Congress. 

Kratom is currently illegal in five other states, but has not been scheduled by the federal government. While some in the medical community have expressed concern, available research and the federal agency responsible for drug abuse have both called for further research to determine how kratom can best fit into the modern medical landscape. 

That’s why Congress has called for more research into how kratom can help those seeking relief, including specific language calling for an investigation into how kratom could potentially help ease the pressure of the nation’s current opioid crisis. 

The gray area surrounding kratom was at the heart of many of the commenters’ anger at the treatment of Price. Despite the fact that there is no currently accepted medical use for kratom, many commenters shared their personal experience in their support of Price, and as the basis for opposing legal action taken against kratom. 

“This is absolutely insane! The Kratom ban is the reason I left Arkansas. It sent me back to addiction,” said commenter Bethany Cook. “Kratom is not a drug! It should have never been banned!” 

“This is a gross injustice,” said commenter Gabrielle, “10 years of this man’s life ROBBED because he had some kratom? A benign herb that millions of people in the United States consume daily and without issue? What a complete and utter joke. Shame on the jury, the judge, the police officers, and the entire state of Arkansas.”

In that same news report, the prosecuting attorney was quoted as praising the two deputy prosecutors who handled the case for the state. 

“Watts and Butler are sending a clear message: Our communities won’t tolerate drug trafficking. I’m thankful for their hard work and willingness to serve,” said attorney Keith L. Chrestman. 

But on the website for the Greene County Sheriff’s office, there are no press releases available for the entire year of 2022, and the website for the prosecuting attorney’s office does not contain such information. That means that for concerned citizens in and around the area, there is no readily available public record of the details of the case, including reasoning for why a search was conducted or exactly how much kratom Price had at the time. 

“Great job for ruining a man’s life over a mild, harmless, and clinically helpful herbal medication that’s legal almost everywhere else in the world,” said commenter Dan Mahoney. “I’m sure the cops and prosecutors won’t lose any sleep over it. Ignorance or indifference? Probably both. Just throw another body into that criminal justice meat grinder. Really sad state of affairs.”

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