Attempt at a Kratom Ban in Montana Falls Flat

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Drone view of the Montana State Capitol, in Helena, on a sunny afternoon with hazy sky caused by wildfires. The Montana State Capitol houses the Montana State Legislature. This is where an attempt on a kratom ban in Montana was made.

Opponents of kratom have mostly stayed true to the same playbook in attempts to ban the plant. A failed effort to take action against kratom in Montana this year provides an insight into how counter-attempts might evolve as the push toward regulation gains momentum. 

Montana lawmakers took a unique path to arrive at a kratom ban when they added an amendment to an unrelated bill that would add kratom as a controlled substance. That proposed amendment didn’t even survive until a floor vote. Any hope of a ban on kratom went away when that bill became law without any mention of kratom. 

Rep. Katie Zolnikov, R-Billings | 2023 Montana State Representative who supported the kratom ban in Montana.
Rep. Katie Zolnikov, R-Billings | 2023 Montana State Representative

This means Montana joins a growing list of states that have failed to take action against kratom. What remains is another blueprint for opponents to try and subvert science and public opinion. 

What started as “an act generally revising criminal drug laws” quickly took on a new tone with its first amendment. State Rep. Katie Zolnikov introduced House Bill 437 to address two issues: Removing testing items from the list of drug paraphernalia and altering the wording of cannabis-related charges for driving under the influence. That bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee unanimously, then breezed through its floor vote by a margin of 98-1.  

Upon arrival in the Senate Zolnikov’s bill was steered toward a detour. 

Complications In Committee

It took nearly two months for HB437 to be assigned to a committee, in this instance the Senate Committee for Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs. Montana’s Senate also has a Judiciary Committee. Instead of sending a bill about criminal drug laws to that committee, it was sent to a business-based body. 

The reasoning for that became clear when the Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee immediately amended the bill. Rather than alter any of the text of the initial laws impacted by the proposed changes, the amendment added a clause to schedule kratom as a Schedule I “dangerous drug.” The amendment passed by a vote of 10-0 in the committee; the full Senate then passed the bill 44-6 to send a different version back to the House. 

Montana is an overwhelmingly Republican state, so rather than this conflict breaking on party lines, it was clear that the two chambers had drastically different perspectives on kratom. The proposed ban returned to the House floor and was rejected by a unanimous 100-0 vote (one representative abstained from the original vote in the House). 

That reverted the bill to the Senate in its original form. Even without the language that scheduled kratom, the bill passed through the Senate by a vote of 39-10. 

Both chambers needed to vote to approve the conference committee and formally rectify the different versions. The House voted 96-0 and the tally in the Senate was 46-3 to adopt the report from the conference committee. 

By rejecting a chance to schedule kratom, the number of states that have banned kratom still stands at six. 

BATON ROUGE, USA - JULY 13:  the house of chambers in Louisiana State Capitol on July 13,2013 in Baton Rouge, USA. The New State Capitol was build in 1930 and is still in use by Louisianan politician. This is where an attempt at a kratom ban in Louisiana took place.
The house of chambers in Louisiana State Capitol.

The State of Kratom in Other States

While it has been years since any state legislature has taken action against kratom there have been continued attempts. In Louisiana, a push toward establishing a Kratom Consumer Protection Act was derailed by bills introduced in both chambers of the state house that attempted to schedule kratom in place of a KCPA. All three bills received hearings, and the legislative back-and-forth inevitably gutted both sides’ attempts. 

What passed was a bill that simply set an age requirement for purchase and allowed local municipalities to ban kratom. It was a barebones compromise—not the genuine attempt to regulate kratom that was supported by lawmakers and kratom consumers.

In South Carolina, lawmakers attempted to make kratom a Schedule IV substance, placing it in a category more commonly associated with medical applications. All 11 states that have passed a version of the KCPA have included definitions of kratom as a food product. Many even call for specific usage instructions that reflect its role as a dietary supplement. 

The momentum toward kratom regulation still hasn’t stopped states like Montana from trying to schedule kratom as a dangerous substance with no approved uses. Those attempts also included an effort to schedule kratom at the federal level and via the United Nations in recent years. Both fell short due to a lack of supporting evidence to meet specific criteria. 

Public Comments Against Kratom Ban in Montana

A scan of the comments on the proposed legislation also reflects a desire for regulation over prohibition. All 16 comments attached to the bill comment on the potential addition of kratom to the legislation. Only one supported the idea of scheduling kratom–from an individual who has testified in multiple states against kratom.

Many included their experience with kratom in Montana, and a desire to see kratom protections added to ensure safe access to unadulterated kratom. Some even went as far as Nicole Faye, who pointed out the support for kratom and that “times are changing, people are paying more attention.” 

“It would be wise for politicians to take these matters seriously when people express their concerns,” Faye continued. “If kratom continues to be included in this bill, it will make me question the competency of the politicians that supported it, and alter who I choose to vote for in future.”

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