Local Louisiana Kratom Ban Proposal Sparks Backlash and Concerns

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Zachary, Louisiana, where kratom ban is proposed.

Louisiana’s back-and-forth over kratom was already an intricate debate about balancing the demands of both sides. A small town’s decision to propose a kratom ban has added another knot to an already tangled mess. 

City councilors in Zachary, Louisiana unanimously introduced an ordinance to prohibit the sale and possession of kratom at their Aug. 22 meeting, taking advantage of a loophole created by state law. That sets the stage for a showdown between local authorities, touting the same argument that failed to convince state lawmakers to take action, and kratom advocates worried that this layer of criminalization inappropriately targets consumers. 

Council member Ambre DeVirgilio spoke in favor of the ordinance at that meeting and cited the same talking points and warnings from the Food and Drug Administration that have been the basis for action against kratom in state houses and city halls across the country. 

Council Member Distorted Facts in Kratom Claims

The next step is voting on the proposed ordinance at a Sep. 12 meeting of the Zachary City Council. It isn’t clear when or if the council will host a hearing or public comment session before the vote.  

Fresh off of helping fight a statewide kratom ban in Louisiana, the American Kratom Association is taking this proposed measure head-on, and has set up a page for local residents and kratom advocates to contact council members and urge them to support kratom. The AKA has urged local residents to reach out to council members and support science over this latest round of fear-mongering. 

DeVirgilio’s attempt is similar in how it refrences FDA claims against kratom. What is unique is how the councilwoman packaged her version of the science around kratom–a claim with no factual basis. DeVirgilio suggested that kratom consumers can enhance opioid usage and claimed that kratom is part of a “deadly combination with severe risk for respiratory depression and death.”

Kratom is not an opioid. Initial animal studies into kratom’s effects suggest it does not affect the receptors that can trigger respiratory depression. Available scientific data indicates that kratom use does not present the same euphoric effects as opioids. Basically, the scientific assertions and claims represented by DeVirgilio were contrary to all available science on kratom. 

Wiggle Room Left by the Legislature

Unfortunately for advocates, developments in state law created the situation where DeVirgilio and her colleagues have the ability to take action against the plant. 

Three bills were introduced in the Louisiana legislature during the last session, including a proposed ban in each chamber and a hearing for a bill that would have established a Kratom Consumer Protection Act in the state’s House of Representatives. Other states have signed versions of a KCPA into law to establish markets for unadulterated kratom, often with age requirements for purchase. The first hearings on a proposed ban saw that bill stall out, as the momentum appeared to skew in favor of regulating kratom instead of scheduling it.

Then the state Senate got involved, and Senate Bill 94 (a different attempt at a ban) made it through the upper chamber. What survived the process was a compromise: The bill established age restrictions for purchase, with no other regulatory restrictions from the KCPA, and it carved out the ability for local jurisdictions to ban kratom. 

In both the testimony before the bill passed and the reaction to the compromise, advocates and lawmakers expressed concern that a patchwork approach to kratom legalization could present problems. The proposed ordinance is the type of situation some were afraid of. 

Questioning the Motives Behind a Kratom Ban

There are multiple examples of what could go wrong in a general sense with kratom legalization, but the location of Zachary presents a specific challenge. 

Zachary’s City Hall is just 15 miles from the State Capitol in Baton Rouge (a 22-minute drive on Google), meaning that even if it becomes illegal to sell or possess kratom in Zachary city limits, residents and visitors to the area would still have easy access to heavily populated areas where kratom is sold legally. 

Recent developments in kratom legal cases provide a detailed picture of what can go wrong when access to kratom is limited. Across the border in Arkansas, a man was arrested for kratom and later died in custody. In Alabama, a woman faces similar charges after being pulled over after crossing the Florida border with kratom in her possession

The proximity of Zachary to other cities and towns illustrates the same point that was presented by lawmakers in favor of a KCPA: Creating small-scale bans will do little more than criminalize residents and encourage consumers to sidestep the ordinance. By creating a kratom ban with obvious loopholes, advocates worry the actions taken by the Zachary City Council could be a thinly veiled attempt to criminalize certain behaviors in the name of generating fees and putting otherwise law-abiding citizens behind bars. 

It’s been a week since the council suggested the ban. DeVirgilio said she has been “incessantly” bombarded by calls against such a ban. From her perspective, DeVirgilio said the pressure is due to the influence of a billion-dollar industry and said she expected a lively debate at that Sep. 12 meeting. 

For others, DeVirgilio is describing the act of consumers reaching out to elected officials in favor of a product they believe should be legal. 

How You Can Help Prevent the Kratom Ban in Zachary, Louisiana

The City of Zachary has not set an official hearing date for the local kratom ban, however, it will most likely be on September 12, 2023. If you are in the local area, we encourage people to attend.

Please visit https://www.protectkratom.org/ for more information on how you can help.

You can also reach out to local council members directly. Here is their information below:

District 1

Councilwoman Brandy Westmoreland

23309 Old Scenic Hwy
Zachary, LA 70791

District 2

Councilman John LeBlanc

1420 Eagle Drive
Zachary, LA 70791

District 3

Mayor Pro Tempore Councilwoman Ambre DeVirgilio

P.O. Box 33
Zachary, LA 70791

District 4

Councilman James Graves

20123 Plank Road
Zachary, LA 70791

District 5

Councilwoman Jennifer Boyd

4431 40th Street
Zachary, LA 70791

Clerk of City Council

Dana LeJeune

4700 Main Street
Zachary, LA 70791
(225) 654-0023

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