A last-minute tweak to a bill aiming to curb intoxicated driving has caught kratom in the crossfire of the Montana legislature.
What started in the Montana House of Representatives as a bill “generally revising criminal drug laws,” primarily focused on how tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) constituted driving under the influence, has become an attempt at making kratom a Schedule I substance. That amendment was added by the chair of the state Senate’s committee on Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs, and was passed by the Senate in its amended form.
Now, it heads back to the House, with the potential of Montana reversing a recent trend and adding to the number of states that have banned kratom.
Rep. Katie Zolnikov introduced the initial measure, titled HB 437, and presented her general revision of drug laws that aimed to make two changes to existing law. First was language removing testing materials from the list of items considered to be drug paraphernalia. The other alteration, and more substantial, was changing the language of the law on DUIs to include all forms of THC, instead of targeting the specific THC associated with cannabis.
Those two changes, with no mention of kratom in the bill, were passed out of the house by a vote of 98-1 on the third reading.
After being considered by the Judiciary committee in the House, the bill was assigned to the Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs committee following its first reading in the Senate. The Senate does have a Judiciary committee as well.
In committee, the bill was amended at the request of committee chair Sen. Jason Small to include language that would schedule any substance that is a derivative of the kratom plant as a Schedule I drug under the label of “Hallucinogenic substances.” That would put kratom alongside illicit drugs such as heroin in Schedule I.
By a 10-0 vote, the bill advanced out of committee, then passed by a vote of 44-6 on its third reading in the Senate.
Per Montana procedure, the bill will be sent back to the House, where the lower chamber could vote to concur the amendments and enroll the bill to be sent to the governor’s desk. Or, should a motion be made to reject the Senate’s amendments, the House could request a conference committee to settle differences between the two bills.
That means that the fate of kratom in Montana will be decided by the House’s actions in reply to the amendment, with advocates needing members of the House to either call for a committee to drop the amendment, or abandon the measure altogether. The second reading of the amended bill is scheduled for April 24.
As part of a recent hearing in another state (in an attempt to reverse kratom’s scheduling), Mac Haddow testified about available science on kratom, and how the plant is being targeted by the Food and Drug Administration. Haddow is the senior policy fellow with the American Kratom Association and spoke to recent findings on kratom in both animal and human studies.
At that hearing, Haddow testified that while kratom can cause dependencies, similar to caffeine or other routine dietary ingredients, results of trials indicate that kratom has a low potential for addiction. That conclusion came as the result of human trials that had been submitted for consideration by the FDA, something Haddow said is a rare hurdle for such substances.
On the subject of kratom’s potential risk of overdose, animal studies show that kratom’s active ingredients do not affect the same pathways as classic opioids, which indicates a lower risk of severe reactions and overdoses associated with those drugs.
Even in the face of repeated scrutiny by the FDA and other agencies, Haddow said the available research is clear: Kratom does not belong in the same category as other substances that are considered Schedule I.
“We ask you to look at the science, and the science will show you that pure, unadulterated kratom does not lead to those kinds of overdoses,” Haddow said. “Kratom as a partial agonist does not go to that sector of the brain which produces euphoric highs. Nor does it produce respiratory suppression.”
“That is why the National Institute on Drug Abuse advocates for accessibility of kratom,” Haddow said.
Haddow also pointed to the failed attempts to schedule kratom at the federal level. In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Agency announced intentions to schedule kratom but backtracked just two months later after public comment and backlash from lawmakers.
An attempt was made again in 2018 to revive the discussion, and this time was dismissed by the Department of Health and Human Services for what Haddow said was described as “disappointingly poor evidence and data” in a letter from HHS leadership. In the same letter, which advocates claimed was obscured from the public, said scheduling kratom “failed to consider the overall public health impact.”
The FDA even tried to turn to the United Nations to try and get kratom scheduled, according to Haddow.
“They shopped their ban at a lower standard,” Haddow said, “and 12 independent experts from around the world unanimously agreed that the evidence wasn’t sufficient for scheduling, even at the lowest standard.”
How you can help:
In response to the action taken by the Montana legislature, Haddow’s organization has put together a list of resources for kratom consumers to reach out to their lawmakers and oppose the proposed scheduling. The AKA set up a form to reach out to members of the Montana House of Representatives and is encouraging kratom users from across the country to reach out with their personal experiences.