An attempt to establish a safe, regulated kratom market in Nevada was undone when the governor struck down Nevada’s kratom law with a last-minute veto.
A bill to establish a Kratom Consumer Protection Act in Nevada easily passed through the legislative process, and looked promising to make the state the 12th in the country with such a law in place. Instead, that effort was undone by Gov. Joe Lombardo, a first-term, former sheriff, who cited misleading federal guidance in his dismissal of what he called a “fundamentally flawed” piece of legislation.
Rep. Duy Nguyen picked up the mantle of a years-long debate over kratom in Nevada when the Las Vegas-based legislator introduced AB322 back in March. Similar to other states, Nguyen’s bill sought to define kratom as a food product, set up a regulatory structure for manufacturers and sellers and made it illegal to sell adulterated products.
By the time the bill received a hearing, Nguyen had already made tweaks, including focused logistical changes such as switching regulatory agencies from the Board of Oriental Medicine to the State Department of Agriculture. At the hearing, Nguyen presented alongside advocates from the American Kratom Association, and vowed to collaborate with the state’s agencies to address any issues after the hearing.
Mac Haddow, a senior policy fellow with the AKA, also spoke to the willingness to find a middle ground. Part of the measure proposed by Nguyen included protections against scheduling kratom at the state level, among other language about how kratom policy would be set based on federal substance guidelines.
Haddow testified that he had participated in discussions about how to satisfy all parties, and remained optimistic at the time they could find a compromise.
“We’re willing to work with the Board of Pharmacies to find a good compromise, I’m not sure we’re there yet,” Haddow said. “We want to make sure that (a state agency) can’t abuse science in order to restrict consumer access.”
Despite three members voicing concern over those compromises, and the willingness of the bill’s sponsors to work with opponents, the bill passed out of committee with the amendments presented by Nguyen. Two of the legislators who voiced concerns even acknowledged they were still voting for the bill’s passage out of committee.
After more than a month, the measure finally reached the floor of the State Assembly, was amended twice more over regulatory details, and eventually passed out of that chamber by a vote of 30-12. In the Senate, the support was nearly unanimous, with the bill breezing through committee before a vote of 19-2 sent the measure to the desk of the governor.
Unfortunately for kratom advocates, the current occupant of the chair is Gov. Joe Lombardo. After a 34-year career in law enforcement, most recently as the sheriff of the county that contains Las Vegas, Lombardo made his will known in his first legislative session as governor by vetoing a record 75 bills. The veto of AB322 came as part of a flurry of 43 vetoes that were issued on June 16, the final day of a 10-day window after the session where the governor has the constitutional authority to sign or veto legislation.
By vetoing the measure after the session had ended, the governor avoided the potential of having his veto overridden by a ⅔ majority in each chamber. Both chambers of the Nevada legislature passed AB322 with more votes than would be required to counter the governor’s veto.
Lombardo cited guidance from the Food and Drug Administration, and the lack of approved medical uses for kratom as the reason to veto a bill that established a regulated market for kratom as a food product. The letter that accompanied the veto claimed that “kratom is unsafe” and referenced medical concerns without any supporting evidence.
That same evidence that is behind Lombardo’s claims is what the FDA used in 2016 to try and influence bans on kratom at both the state and federal level. Eventually, the Drug Enforcement Agency announced its intentions to schedule kratom, before quickly retreating in the face of public backlash and a lack of scientific backing.
The DEA’s reluctance to schedule kratom was even discussed at the hearing in the Nevada Assembly for AB322. Assemblyman Steve Yeager spoke at that hearing in support of the bill, and said this is something he has supported since a 2019 effort to regulate kratom in the state.
Yeager referenced the FDA’s warnings, but was quick to point out the significance of the DEA’s decision to abandon the attempt to schedule the plant.
“I think (it’s) probably something I’ve never seen before,” Yeager said. “I think they actually had a hearing on it (before withdrawing)…which to my knowledge, doesn’t happen on a regular basis once you get to the hearing phase.”
And that reliance on flawed FDA guidance is what Yeager said was frustrating. Since 2019, when the AKA sent a letter to the same committee, those in favor of regulation have presented studies and anecdotal evidence about the true risk of severe reaction: Adulterated products.
Both in that letter and at the hearing this spring, advocates for kratom presented research and scientific data that shows limited risk of severe reaction when using unadulterated kratom. Haddow’s testimony in April was just the latest refrain in a years-long attempt to get the state to rely on prevailing science and available information–rather than the agenda of one agency that has an unfavorable view of kratom.
“The right policy on kratom is to stop the dangerous adulteration and allow consumers
to safely use unadulterated kratom products,” said the letter from the AKA in 2019. “Nevada should be the next state to pass this legislation.”
By vetoing Nevada’s kratom law, AB322, kratom consumers in the state will have to wait at least one more year for any such policy to become law.