Indiana Fails to Legalize Kratom in Latest Legislative Session

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Welcome to Indiana sign on highway.

An attempt to overturn a kratom ban got ‘halfway there’ in the Indiana state house, but will now have to wait until next year after momentum fizzled out in the upper chamber. 

The legislators who took up kratom’s cause in Indiana will now have to wait until the 2024 session to reintroduce the effort to flip the plant’s legal status after the deadline for bills to advance past the committee expired this week. That means that measures such as House Bill 1500, which attempted to establish a regulated, legal market for kratom, will have to wait until the next session to try and make it through both houses of the state legislature.

Kratom advocates had individual interest in Indiana, as it’s one of the six states that banned kratom, meaning that a bill to establish a regulated market would not only offer protections to consumers–it would grant access. 

Rep. Alan Morrison (R) introduced HB1500 as an attempt to give customers the legal right to purchase kratom for the first time since 2014 when kratom was banned as a Schedule I substance, the same category as narcotics such as cocaine and heroin. As it stands, Morrison said the only option for customers in Indiana is a black market approach to buying kratom, which puts them at risk of coming across adulterated, dangerous products. 

Under the proposed legislation, customers would be required to be at least 18 years old while manufacturers would be required to follow specific guidelines, including instructions for labeling and selling kratom products. The bill would also have specified that kratom in its natural form is not a controlled substance.

From Morrison’s perspective, there is a distinct difference between kratom and the substances it is legally scheduled alongside. 

“People use this supplement as an energy boost,” Morrison said during discussions on the bill. “But it is not a drug. It is an herbal botanical plant.” 

His colleagues agreed, with the bill advancing from the floor of the Indiana House of Representatives by a vote of 53-40 on Feb. 21 with bipartisan support. From there, it was sponsored in the upper chamber by state Sen. Jon Ford, and assigned to the Committee on Commerce and Technology. A first reading of the bill was conducted almost two weeks later on Mar. 6, however, that was the last formal action taken on the measure before last week’s deadline. 

That leaves the estimated 100,000 kratom users in Indiana stuck living under a law that jumped the gun on a federal follow-up that never came. 

The effort to ban kratom was framed at the time as a preemptive move to get ahead of the federal government, which was discussing the potential of Scheduling the plant at the national level. After Indiana took action to ban kratom in 2014, the Drug Enforcement Agency announced its intention to schedule kratom as a Schedule I substance two years later.  

Initially, the DEA’s attempt to schedule kratom had the support of the Food and Drug Administration and a recommendation by the Department of Health and Human Services. When the plan to schedule kratom was announced, it was met head-on with resistance from a coalition made up of lawmakers, members of the medical community, and kratom users. 

The extensive public comment, matched by a letter from lawmakers, caused the DEA to withdraw its notice of intent three months later in October 2016. By 2018, HHS formally rescinded its request for the DEA to schedule kratom in an interagency letter. 

Unfortunately for customers in Indiana, and in the five other states that were swept up in the rush to ban kratom, they were stuck without legal options to purchase a substance that was still legal in all of its border states. That has led to the conditions Morrison described, with the lawmaker attempting to address the issue with his piece of stalled legislation. 

On top of the labeling and age requirements, Morrison’s proposed legislation would have required specific standards for lab testing, QR codes for customers to access product information, and ban products that contained synthetic kratom. Instead, customers in Indiana will still be subject to buying on the black market or seeking out-of-state solutions. 

Mac Haddow, a policy fellow with the American Kratom Association, told lawmakers that establishing “regulatory frameworks” was a key component in allowing consumers to make informed choices. This fight is years in the making for Haddow.  

Haddow was part of the effort to make the letter from HHS to DEA public, to try and undo the backlash against kratom in the states that had banned it. As part of a press conference around the release of the letter rescinding HHS’ recommendation against kratom, United States Rep. Mark Pocan said the letter clearly indicated that a regulated approach was the best path forward. 

“This is a message to states that have wrongly banned kratom,” Pocan said, “and I look forward to working with HHS and with the kratom community to continue to invest in research on this very important substance.”

In a statement at the time, Haddow made it clear: The FDA’s false claims led to states like Indiana making rash decisions. 

“Public health policymakers, state legislators, county commissioners, city councilmen, law enforcement groups, medical examiners and coroners, researchers, and substance addiction specialists have all been misled,” he said, “into supporting an FDA narrative on kratom tied directly to the claims that kratom should be banned and that scheduling was imminent.”

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