The question of kratom’s legal status has been taken up in states and municipalities across the country as the kratom industry continues to grow in United States markets, including San Diego, California.
For this city, in the state best known for embracing herbal lifestyle choices, the decision on kratom may surprise consumers.
Is kratom legal in San Diego, California?
The simple answer is no, you cannot use or buy kratom in San Diego. This includes buying kratom online and shipping it to your San Diego home. Kratom was part of an addition to the San Diego Municipal Code in 2016 that made it illegal to sell, distribute and possess certain substances and drugs.
Specifically, kratom falls into the “novel psychoactive compound” category of the ordinance. That’s because kratom is not a scheduled substance at the federal level, and was made illegal to buy or possess in San Diego as the city looked to crack down on synthetic substances that were appearing in local communities. Although kratom is not synthetic, bad actors within the industry have sold kratom containing contaminants and adulterants in the past, which prompted the city of San Diego to ban this natural herb. Furthermore, kratom has yet to be approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Can you still buy kratom in the state of California?
The good news for kratom users in the San Diego area is that no such ordinance exists at either the state level or in San Diego County (outside of city limits). This means there are a variety of options to buy kratom just beyond the city limits.
California, in large part due to its policies on cannabis and other substances, has earned a reputation as a progressive outpost in the American West. That doesn’t mean that the state is above the patchwork series of laws and ordinances that limit the kratom industry in the United States.
Since the sale of kratom and kratom use is not banned in San Diego County, some cities border San Diego which gives customers access to legal kratom. Carlsbad and La Mesa are cities that border San Diego and contain a variety of options for consumers, such as kratom powder, kratom capsules, kratom extracts, and more. Both cities even feature kratom cafes, where kratom can be served for on-site consumption or to be packaged to be taken home.
Those living within the city limits of San Diego are still affected by the verbiage of the city ordinance that prohibits the possession of kratom within the city. Per the measure, those caught possessing kratom inside the city could be subject to a $500 fine or potential jail time for repeat offenders.
In addition to San Diego, the municipality, the city of Oceanside also took action in 2016 to prohibit kratom as part of a wave of concerns over synthetic cannabis and illicit bath salts.
Those actions were taken concerning what police said was an “epidemic” of several hundred spice and salt overdoses in the San Diego community and came as illicit chemists tweaked and changed street drugs to avoid prosecution. Kratom is a naturally occurring herb, with advocates for kratom seeking federal action to ensure increased access to pure, unadulterated kratom. Any notation for why kratom was linked to synthetic drugs was not included in the ordinance passed by the San Diego City Council.
What’s interesting about the wording of the ordinance is how it relates to the current debate around kratom legality in the United States.
Where is kratom banned?
At the same time that kratom was banned in San Diego, six states across the country also took action to ban kratom. Alabama, Arkansas, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island prohibit buying and selling kratom, as well as kratom use. Other counties and cities, such as Sarasota County, Florida, Jerseyville, Illinois, Union County, Mississippi, Ontario, Oregon, and Oceanside, California also have bans on kratom use.
The federal government and the DEA also discussed scheduling kratom, but pressure from constituents, lawmakers, and scientists in support of kratom kept the Drug Enforcement Administration from taking action against the herb.
Why is kratom banned in San Diego?
In the ordinance passed in San Diego, the specific wording cites the prohibition of “any Federal Schedule I Drug, Novel Synthetic Drug, or Novel Psychoactive Drug.” This puts kratom in the same category as opioids, controlled substances, and other dangerous, synthetic drugs.
Because the federal government decided not to schedule kratom, the ordinance had to specifically include mitragynine, the main alkaloid responsible for kratom’s effects, among the “Novel Psychoactive Drugs.” However, there is no specific evidence or reasoning to include kratom’s active ingredient in that category.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines “novel psychoactive substances” as “substances of abuse, either in a pure form or a preparation, that are not controlled by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, but which may pose a public health threat.”
Kratom, also known as mitragyna speciosa, is a natural plant originating from Southeast Asia, that has been used in traditional ways around the globe throughout history. Neither of the mentioned conventions included action on kratom, and when the UNODC looked into kratom in 2021, the committee “concluded that there is insufficient evidence to recommend a critical review of kratom.”
Beyond a lack of clarity as to why kratom is included as a “Novel Psychoactive Drug,” there is also an overlap between what the San Diego ordinance prohibits and what kratom advocates are pushing for in a regulated atmosphere.
The evidentiary factors in determining violations of the banned substance ordinance include the marketing of the product, the information on the labels, and the way and location where the product is sold. In the last year, multiple states have passed legislation called the Kratom Consumer Protection Act (KCPA), regulating kratom that includes specific instructions for labeling, marketing, and manufacturing of kratom products, making sure they are safe for human consumption.
Instead of going the way of states who have established a regulated kratom market, like the manufacturing standards and label requirements in Colorado’s kratom market, San Diego still has its law on the books to ban kratom, rather than passing laws to separate the substance from other drugs that have been deemed “novel psychoactive substances” by higher authorities.
How can I support the legality of kratom in San Diego?
To help make kratom legal again in San Diego, you can speak to your local lawmakers and share your personal testimony. The American Kratom Association is on the forefront of kratom legality across the country, recently aiding in the ban reversal in Indiana, and passing the KCPA in several states. Supporting the AKA and staying up-to-date with the latest news on the legality of kratom is also helpful in reversing the ban of kratom in San Diego. Visit ProtectKratom.org to see learn more about kratom legislation.