Kratom Debate: Victory Against Ban in Chicago Suburb

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alt= City council members are seated at a large, curved desk while a speaker addresses them from a podium. A screen above reads "Amending Title 5 of the City Code to Prohibit the Sale of Illicit THC Products and Kratom.

As the number of states and municipalities debating kratom policy continues to rise, a recent back-and-forth over the dietary supplement shows that momentum over the ‘kratom question’ continues to skew in favor of the plant-based supplement. 

Local advocates, with an assist from the kratom industry, swooped in to defeat a proposed ban on kratom in a suburb of Chicago. The measure followed a similar pattern of trying to ban kratom alongside other products, but ultimately kratom was removed from the suggested action by a 4-3 vote following public backlash and questions from within the council. 

What started as a knee-jerk reaction to close a “loophole in the law” led to a proposed kratom ban before the City Council of Des Plaines, Illinois last month. That proposal, which also included a ban on unregulated THC products, advanced to a final vote at the next meeting without opposition. 

At the time, Alderman Carla Brookman said these products exist in a “legal gray area” and moved to ban both kratom and certain THC products due to their unregulated status. That led to the May 6 meeting of the City Council, which included public testimony and debate on the measure. The kratom discussion and public testimony took the vast majority of the hour-and-45-minute meeting. 

Discovering Dissent

A familiar face was the first to testify when Mac Haddow from the American Kratom Association stepped to the podium to start the public comment period. Haddow repeated his practiced refrain about the prevailing science on kratom, with the recent addition of proposed research on kratom, and told the council that while the science is still up in the air regarding kratom’s potential therapeutic uses one thing is clear: Kratom on its own is neither dangerous nor a ‘drug’ in the legal or scientific sense.  

“Kratom is not THC, it’s not related to THC and it’s not a scheduled substance federally or at the state level,” Haddow said. “I think there’s a good argument to be made as to why you should not take the action that is proposed.” 

In the meantime, Haddow encouraged the council to leave the decision up to customers. 

Before Haddow even spoke, it was evident that some on the council had reservations about the measure after it was introduced at the previous meeting. Several councilmembers questioned the inclusion of kratom, including Alderman Mark Lysakowski, who wondered aloud why some on the council felt the need to take action he felt should come from the state house. 

“So we have three municipalities, out of all the municipalities in Illinois, and we’re going to be the ones who are the ‘go-getters’ and ban this? I don’t understand… I don’t even know where this came from, to be honest,” Lysakowski said. 

Those concerns were echoed by Alderman Mark Walsten, who said that he believed this matter was best taken up on a larger scale. Currently, there is an age limit that was signed into law nearly a decade ago, and Illinois is one of the handful of states that saw its version of a Kratom Consumer Protection Act (KCPA) stall out in the state legislature. Without guidance at the state level, Walsten said he would rather let consumers decide on an issue that was still up for debate.

“I’m just wondering if we’re jumping the gun in banning this,” he said. “I don’t think I know enough about it to come out and ban it if it’s helping people–especially veterans.”

Setting the Record Straight

Others on the council were either confused about the basic details of kratom or parroted the same talking points that anti-kratom legislators have pulled from the Food and Drug Administration’s one-page warning against kratom, which cites information that was deemed insufficient to schedule kratom despite multiple efforts. 

Alderman Patsy Smith started by asking Haddow a meandering question that stumbled onto the same matter being taken up by state legislators. 

“There’s nothing on the bottle or however it’s dispensed on how to use it… that’s what I’ve been told,” Smith said. “Is that true?” 

Haddow corrected Smith and told her that many kratom products are labeled, with instructions for usage and dosage, and told the council about the proposed KCPA. Illinois state Sen. Elgie Sims introduced that bill in February of 2023 and it was never assigned to a committee. The proposed law included a clause requiring clear labeling of all kratom products and made it illegal to sell adulterated kratom products–two issues council members used to support the proposed ban on kratom. 

Public testimony included a man who does hip-hop dancing and said kratom was part of his healthy lifestyle, a 90-year-old woman who has been using kratom for years and other members of the community who wanted to maintain access to a dietary supplement that they incorporated as part of their daily routine. 

The only dissenting voice was the police chief, who told the council he would prefer they ban the substance until state legislators could pass regulations for the industry. 

A woman stands at a podium speaking during a city council meeting discussing an amendment to prohibit the sale of illicit THC products and kratom.

At one point, Smith questioned the 90-year-old woman about whether or not she had any association with or was paid by any kratom company. Upon further questioning, the woman’s two daughters stepped up to clarify that they were all independent of the kratom industry and were just there as local citizens who opposed a ban on these plant-based products. 

Following the back-and-forth with Haddow and a few contentious moments with others who had stepped up to testify, it was Smith who wound up casting the decisive vote in a 4-3 decision to remove kratom from the proposed ban. The council then voted to pass the measure to ban unregulated THC products. 

Alderman Brookman, who spoke against kratom at the first meeting, was absent from the meeting. 

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