Kratom Legalization: Local Battles and Consumer Compromises in Massachusetts

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Boston, Massachusetts, USA cityscape with the State House at dusk.

Amidst the back-and-forth around kratom legalization, some states have opted to leave the decision to local lawmakers instead of making wide-sweeping rules and regulations. 

In Massachusetts, local authorities didn’t wait for permission and have taken advantage of the lack of action at the state level to propose local kratom bans. 

A pair of municipalities in Massachusetts have signaled their intention to take action against kratom after state-wide legislation to establish a regulated kratom market failed to pass earlier this session. That leaves small businesses and consumers caught in the legal crossfire of local authorities attempting to make a stand against kratom.

The city of North Attleboro, Massachusetts was the first domino to fall and was recently joined by Belchertown on the list of municipalities targeting kratom.

A Compromise For Consumers

Eventually, the Board of Health in North Attleboro passed a restriction on the kratom market that is set to take effect on December 31 of this year. Rather than institute a ban or try or rules stopping specific businesses from selling kratom, North Attleboro set an age limit at 21 and said kratom can only be sold by tobacco stores. 

Recently in one community in Illinois, a measure was introduced to stop stores with alcohol or tobacco licenses from selling the plant-based dietary supplement. After many rounds of discussion, the Board of Health went in a different direction than its peers on the kratom front. 

The process in North Attleboro proved to be anything but straightforward. 

Initial action to limit kratom was supposed to be introduced in a public forum early in September. The initial Board of Health meeting where the subject was on the agenda was canceled, and then the matter appeared on the agenda for the last meeting in September and the first gathering in October due to the resistance to an outright ban on kratom.  

The conversation continued through the rest of October and into November. Kratom regulation was among the agenda items for five consecutive meetings until the final version of the regulation appeared in the city’s document center after the fifth meeting of the board. 

Back-and-Forth in Belchertown

In Belchertown, a similar multi-step process is playing out without clearly indicating what the city picked as a plan in the end. 

It started with a similar idea being floated before the Board of Health. At the September meeting, an ordinance was introduced to explore age limits and sales restrictions on kratom within the community of Belchertown. Spearheading the charge to limit access to kratom was Kristen Hoag, the program director and project coordinator of the Belchertown Public Schools Drug-Free Communities program. 

Given her position with the school system, Hoag spoke about the lack of federal regulations, and how the lack of action by the Massachusetts state legislature has created a blind spot left for local authorities to address. 

“The legal age to buy kratom in the USA is not agreed on, specifically in Massachusetts, there is no purchasing age limit. Each region in the United States has its own age regulations to ensure youth safety,” Hoag said. “Each town has the right to make a decision about regulating the age for sales or banning it from the town altogether.”

Quabbin Health District Director of Public Health Andrea Crete was the health authority present and suggested pushing back the item to October for full consideration due to missing members at the meeting. 

At that meeting, the board discussed potential fines for violating the ordinance and briefly touched on the subject of kratom. Other cities in the area have taken action against synthetic cannabinoids without including kratom. Hoag was present but had nothing to add to her comments from the previous meeting, which included warnings from the Food and Drug Administration about kratom. 

Massachusetts Rep. Aaron Sanders was the final speaker about the proposed ordinance and questioned whether or not such a matter should be taken up at the local level. Such a measure is only required because Rep. Saunders and his peers failed to take action this session. 

A version of the Kratom Consumer Protection Act was introduced in Massachusetts earlier this year but stalled in committee. That would have adopted a more vigorous system of regulations, with the same structure of fines that was selected by Belchertown’s board, and set the age limit for purchase at 21. Instead, the task is left up to municipalities until action is taken at the state level. 

Mac Haddow from the American Kratom Association spoke out in favor of kratom, answering questions for the board about the plant and pointing them in the direction of research and information from the federal government. With the back-and-forth surrounding the matter, the board decided to push it back to another meeting and include a public comment period. 

Haddow introduced information and promised to provide the board with studies referenced, in contrast to the outdated FDA talking points introduced in the first meeting on the matter. Board members questioned whether a ban on kratom or restricting the age for purchase was the best path forward, but tabled those discussions until the meeting that came with a public hearing. 

That meeting happened on November 8, but no minutes or video has been made available, nor has a public ordinance been issued similar to North Attleboro.

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