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Louisiana kratom regulation: can a middle ground be found?

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BATON ROUGE, USA - the house of chambers in Louisiana State Capitol on July 13,2013 in Baton Rouge, USA. The New State Capitol was build in 1930 and is still in use by Louisianan politician. This is where lawmakers meet to determine kratom legislation in Louisiana.
The house of chambers in Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, USA.

A log jam of kratom regulation in Louisiana is about to reach its tipping point, leaving advocates to anxiously await the fallout. 

Two different approaches, introduced in both chambers of the Louisiana legislature, are teetering toward a conclusion and could create a showdown at the finish line to determine what happens with kratom in the state. Both sides have made their case in committee and worked a bill through one chamber. Now all that’s left is to see if either effort can make it to the governor’s desk and have a chance to be codified into law in Louisiana. 

The debate over Louisiana’s approach to kratom regulation appeared to be settled earlier this month in the state’s House of Representatives, until an 11th-hour curveball in the state Senate reopened the conversation. 

Opposing bills were introduced in the House, starting with bill HB14 by Rep. Gabe Firment that proposed scheduling kratom as Schedule I. During the hearing for his bill, Firment and a law enforcement official testifying on behalf of the bill repeated claims that led to six states banning kratom in 2016.

Louisiana State Representative Michael "Gabe" Firment, supports kratom ban instead of legislation.
Louisiana State Representative Michael “Gabe” Firment, supports kratom ban instead of legislation.

Upon questioning, Firment was asked directly if he was willing to work to find a middle ground with the competing legislation introduced by state Rep. Jonathan Goudeau. Firment made it clear that he would not support any measure that came short of banning kratom. That bill was passed favorably out of committee, which moved it to the third and final reading before a floor vote. 

Unfortunately for Firment, that bill was called twice on the floor but never put to a vote and eventually returned to the calendar. 

That was in part due to the promise of Goudeau’s bill, HB572, which had its hearing the day after Firment’s legislation stalled out. At that hearing, Goudeau and his testifying witnesses presented a much different case. Goudeau has never directly voiced his support for kratom as a dietary ingredient, but he said he was introducing his bill due to the risks posed by the potential of a black market should the substance be banned. 

Goudeau’s claims were backed by advocates from the American Kratom Association, who informed committee members that what they heard during the first hearing was outdated information being misrepresented by a federal agency with a “bias” against kratom. All parties testifying in support had the same approach: the true risk when it comes to kratom comes from adulterants, shady manufacturing practices, and products that don’t have clear labels or instructions. 

Louisiana State Representative Jonathan Goudeau, in support of Kratom Consumer Protection Act.
Louisiana State Representative Jonathan Goudeau, in support of Kratom Consumer Protection Act.

By passing his bill, Goudeau told the committee that they could ensure that consumers who choose to take kratom know what they’re getting from a product. Goudeau even went as far as to reintroduce a new version of his original bill to include considerations presented by his fellow representatives, and that compromise was passed favorably out of committee. 

Then the state Senate decided to get involved. 

A bill by state Sen. Caleb Seth Kleinpeter was introduced on the same day as Goudeau’s bill and sought to tweak existing state law to ban kratom. Instead of banning kratom in 2016, the state legislature passed a law that would immediately schedule kratom should the federal government take action to schedule kratom. Two attempts to schedule kratom at the federal level have been rejected.

Kleinpeter’s bill would remove the stipulation and immediately schedule kratom, regardless of the stance of the federal government. The Senate Judiciary Committee reported the bill favorably, and it was moved to the third reading, following the same pattern as the two bills in the House. 

That’s when the real back-and-forth kicked off. 

The Senate bill to ban kratom was returned to the calendar in the days following Goudeau’s bill making it out of committee. Goudeau’s bill then leapfrogged its Senate counterpart when it was scheduled for a floor debate and vote. Not to be outdone, Kleinpeter’s bill was called from the Senate calendar on the day before floor debate on Goudeau’s bill, and the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 38-0. 

With Kleinpeter’s bill formally sent to the House for consideration (and referred to the Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice), members of that chamber took action. Goudeau’s bill was called to the floor of the House two days later, amended, and passed by a vote of 80-16. 

Now, both a bill to regulate kratom and a bill to ban it have advanced to the second chamber, creating a legislative foot race to see if either piece of proposed legislation can get across the finish line.