An Alabama woman is facing drug trafficking charges for $50 worth of kratom product that was purchased legally in a state just hundreds of feet away.
Shaina Brown, who was identified as residing in Atmore, Alabama, was arrested on March 31 following a traffic stop by a police officer from nearby Flomaton. Brown remains in custody, with bond set at $1 million. Police found 250 grams worth of kratom in Brown’s vehicle, and charged the 33-year-old with “trafficking in synthetic substances” under Alabama state law, which was modified in 2016 to include kratom’s key alkaloids as Schedule I substances.
Labeling kratom as a “synthetic substance” is false, as kratom is a naturally occurring plant. The state law even incorrectly lists one of the alkaloids it attempted to ban, calling into question the legitimacy of the case.
Brown was cited for the possession of kratom, with the charge upgraded to trafficking due to the proximity to the Florida border. The traffic stop occurred about 200 feet from the state line, outside of the Flomaton city limits, but was initiated by an officer from the Flomaton Police Department and assisted by a local sheriff’s deputy.
In her vehicle, officers found 250 grams of kratom in two containers, one of which was identified as unopened. When questioned, Brown told officers she thought she was still in Florida, but was pulled over just before turning onto Old Atmore Road. That means Brown was just 15 minutes away from where she lives, a city that sits two miles from the Florida border.
Per state law, that makes Brown guilty under the portion of state drug trafficking laws that include “synthetic substances”. That is due to how Alabama lawmakers enacted the state’s kratom ban back in 2016.
The trafficking law references the section of law defining synthetic controlled substances, which was amended to include mitragynine and ‘hydroxymitragynine’ when the state moved to ban kratom. Mitragynine is the most abundant active alkaloid in the kratom plant. Hydroxymitragynine is not an actual substance.
There is a second alkaloid often associated with kratom called 7-hydroxymitragynine, often referred to as ‘7-OH.’ Attempts to clarify or rectify any confusion over the discrepancy have been unsuccessful.
Either way, the inclusion of kratom’s alkaloids on the list of synthetic controlled substance list, despite kratom being a naturally occurring plant, means that Brown violated the threshold for a trafficking charge, per state law. The law states: “Any person who knowingly sells, manufactures, delivers, or brings into this state, or who is knowingly in actual or constructive possession of 56 or more grams” of such a substance are “guilty of a felony.”
The law goes on to establish different brackets for penalties depending on the quantity, starting with minimum sentencing guidelines of “a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of three calendar years” for anything between 56 and 500 grams.
On Super Speciosa’s online store, a 100-gram package is available for $19.99 pretax. A package of 250 grams, the same amount Brown was arrested for under trafficking laws, goes for $39.99.
Kratom is legal at the federal level, and multiple attempts to study kratom for potential scheduling have fallen well short. The United Nations even rejected scheduling kratom at a lower standard than the United States government, and kratom is sold unregulated in a majority of states.
In Florida, where the kratom was purchased, lawmakers passed a bill that would set age requirements for purchasing kratom as a barebones option in lieu of more comprehensive regulatory measures. Neither of the measures introduced in the legislature this session had any penalties or restrictions on purchasing kratom to take across state lines.
For kratom consumers, that means that a relatively inexpensive purchase could make a law abiding citizen a felon, depending on which state line is crossed with the product.
Beyond Brown’s case, the implications could get much more severe for customers that could simply be buying kratom for personal use. Due to its inclusion in a category that doesn’t fit the nature of the substance, penalties become life-altering at a startling low threshold.
A 1-kilogram bag of kratom is listed for sale online for $139.99. That same product, purchased in powder form, would put an individual in the second tier of trafficking penalties under Alabama law, and require a mandatory sentence of 10 years. For $1000 worth of kratom, a consumer could get 10 kilograms–and a mandatory life sentence.
That’s the same threshold for a mandatory life sentence for cocaine. Under Alabama law, an individual would need to be in possession of 1000 pounds of cannabis to fall into the same category of penalty.
With those numbers in mind, advocates are concerned about the precedent this case could set, should state law be applied as is.
In nearby Louisiana, lawmakers recently heard testimony on a proposed ban of kratom similar in nature to Alabama’s scheduling of the plant. As part of the public testimony, multiple opponents of the measure spoke to their concerns of the consequences of scheduling a substance that the federal government declined to schedule.
That group included veterans in favor of kratom and civil rights advocates who were worried about how individuals could be targeted and criminalized in the name of a kratom ban.
Due to the application of Alabama’s law, and its improper categorization of kratom, Brown was able to be charged with felony trafficking instead of simple possession. By the wording of the law, trafficking is determined by the quantity “actively possessed” rather than any measure of intent–meaning anyone in possession of at least 56 grams in the state of Alabama could be charged with drug trafficking.