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Local Leaders Look For Guidance on Kratom Regulation

The delicate balance between the federal government and state houses have worked pretty much the same way when it comes to regulating substances and consumer access. 

On the federal level, guidance is issued based on available science and information, and that allows state governments to set the rules for local markets. When it comes to kratom, that balance has been upset by a lack of research and a federal agency fueling a negative narrative that isn’t backed by facts. 

Now that confusion is leaking to the local level and affecting customers in a variety of ways. 

As some states embrace kratom and have worked to set up regulated markets, others have taken action to limit the substance, including actions taken by local municipalities to limit consumer access. That mimics the back-and-forth advocates have experienced at the federal level, with congress working to pass kratom laws in the face of resistance from federal agencies. 

With forces pulling in opposite directions, one key component of the equation is being left to fend for itself: The millions of consumers across the country looking for safe access to kratom. 

When it comes to momentum in the tug-of-war over kratom regulations and research, it’s not exactly clear which side is winning.

On one hand, advocates have found their “congressional heroes” to submit what they’ve deemed as “landmark legislation” to further kratom research and formalize the process of figuring out the science behind the substance. On the state level, kratom is being discussed in state houses across the country, and those same advocates were behind legislation in Colorado earlier this year to regulate the market for kratom and ensure customer access. 

The other side of the coin contains challenges for the kratom industry. 

Lawmakers in Mississippi are readying for a fresh attempt to try and ban the substance in the state and make it the seventh state to ban kratom. In Arkansas, one of the states to ban kratom, a man was arrested and convicted of drug trafficking for having seven ounces of kratom; he was subsequently killed in prison. The statewide bans have also led to some municipalities in the south taking action against the substance

The logic for those bans can be traced back to the federal level, where the Food and Drug Administration maintains that kratom is not safe. The FDA’s misrepresented facts about the substance have been echoed by major medical providers and plastered across Google’s front page

That back-and-forth has left many communities in the dark about the substance, and the lack of knowledge is affecting business owners and consumers alike. 

David Kovatch opened the first herbal bar in Ohio earlier this year, and made a move to open a second location for his Sacred Water’s cafe, a new concept of a “bar” that serves kratom and other herbal concoctions. Except this time, he was met with resistance from the leadership of North Olmsted, the city where the cafe is located. 

Despite meeting no resistance for his location in Lakewood, Ohio, Kovatch’s efforts led to a moratorium against any new herbal drink cafe in North Olmsted, with the city council passing an emergency measure 7-0 “for the immediate preservation of the public peace.” 

Now, Kovatch is worried it could lead to further action. 

Kovatch told the Cleveland Scene that he tried to present the council with information from Johns Hopkins University, but that “it didn’t even matter what I said”—the council had already made up their mind “before (Kovatch) walked in the door.” In the minutes for the meeting, council members expressed the need for further information and research into kratom. North Olmsted’s Director of Economic & Community Development Max Upton told the Scene that the council was simply acting out of caution. 

“We’re gathering information to create a policy that preserves the health, safety and welfare of our citizens. It’d be very presumptuous to say that we’re contemplating an outright ban on these as an administration.”

In the neighboring state of Pennsylvania, a similar story is playing out in the face of a lack of information and available research. After a kratom store opened in Radnor Township, local authorities took immediate action to shut down the store over “concerns of code compliance and failure to seek proper permits,” according to the local ABC affiliate

The company behind the store said it was working to comply with local regulations, and apologized for not addressing those issues before opening the store. The President of the Board of Commissioners told the ABC affiliate that they “had no idea” about the store, but didn’t go as far as to say the store will remain permanently closed. 

Instead, Mulroney admitted the board was in a similar position to many local authorities trying to answer the kratom question. 

“This is a new issue for all of us in Radnor Township. It’s not a product that many of us were even familiar with.” 

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