Wisconsin legislators are back with a bill in an attempt to finish a years-long fight to overturn a kratom ban in the state.
Legislators introduced a bill to flip Wisconsin’s kratom ban into a regulated market for the second consecutive session in hopes of undoing a 2014 law that bans the plant. The two sides squared off in a hearing last week, setting the stage for a showdown between prevailing science and the same restrictive reasoning that won out nearly ten years ago.
Rep. David Murphy introduced AB393, an act to repeal the previous kratom ban and institute a regulatory framework for kratom in the state. The law is similar to the Kratom Consumer Protection Acts that have been introduced and passed in other states. What is unique is that this bill would be the first legislative effort to overturn a kratom ban if it passed.
“If somebody would have told me three years ago that somehow I would be the front line of the fight for kratom in Wisconsin, I would have never believed you because I didn’t know anything about kratom,” Murphy said.
Then Murphy tried kratom and came to the realization that the plant did not belong in Schedule I. When Murphy looked into it further, he realized that creating a safe marketplace for kratom, free from adulterants and with included consumer protections, was the best path forward for kratom policy.
“Really what we’re trying to do here is to regulate kratom so that it can be taken safely in Wisconsin,” he said. “I’m hoping you’ll give it the consideration it deserves.”
Addressing Concerns Head-on
Before taking questions from the House State Affairs Committee, Murphy addressed the concerns that led to kratom’s scheduling in Wisconsin. Murphy opened by testifying about personal experience with kratom and his amateur investigations into kratom’s safety profile. When Murphy discovered a kratom-associated death where a kratom user was fatally shot, he knew there was more to the story.
“I’m pretty sure kratom doesn’t make you more likely to be shot by someone else,” Murphy said.
At that public hearing, the questions about kratom’s safety were handled mostly by Mac Haddow from the American Kratom Association and Dr. Jack Henningfield of Johns Hopkins.
As has happened in multiple hearings in other states, one legislator brought up the Mayo Clinic’s page on kratom. Haddow said that the page in question from Mayo contains no direct research, and has led to confusion over the kratom question in other states due to its ranking on Google searches. If you use a different approach to using the same platform, Haddow said the results are much different.
“If you use Google Science, you will find hundreds, hundreds of peer-reviewed published articles that support the kratom safety and addiction liability profile that will support this legislation,” Haddow said.
Henningfield was directly asked if you can overdose on kratom and testified that science has not identified a mechanism that could cause a fatal reaction to kratom. In his role with federal agencies, and now as a researcher, Henningfield said all indications point to regulation as the best path forward for kratom.
In a separate hearing with the state’s controlled substance board, Henningfield said there was a positive discussion about the role regulation could play in protecting kratom consumers.
“To me, (that hearing) was in part about oversight and guardrails–to enable vendors, give them guidance and protect consumers,” he said. “That’s what we need here.”
Opposite of the kratom advocates who spoke, representatives from state medical agencies and law enforcement spoke out against kratom. A member of a state medical association testified that advocates had misrepresented statements by the American Medical Association, claiming he had reached out to the lawyer named on the document cited by advocates.
That document is publicly available on the AMA’s website and was quoted nearly verbatim during testimony in favor of kratom.
Law enforcement sources were pushed as to whether they had knowledge of crime or incidents related to kratom. A local sheriff did not offer a direct answer and adamantly told the committee to reach out to state crime labs due to “his direct experience.” Another member of local law enforcement shared details of a local traffic stop where he claimed the individual was found passed out at the wheel and said the subject later revealed to the sergeant that he had used kratom.
A member of the committee asked if the blood work had returned for that individual and jokingly reminded the hearing that some people accused of crimes have been known to lie. The sergeant said test results were not available, and a backlog at the lab meant it could take up to a year in some instances to find out what substances were in a person’s system.
Despite facing resistance similar to other states taking up the kratom question, the public sentiment in the room showed that Wisconsin citizens want reasonable kratom regulation, including a 90-year-old kratom consumer whose daughter had to drive her to Illinois for access to kratom.
Now supporters of the bill are hoping that momentum can kick off a legislative process that would see Wisconsin, which banned the plant via legislative action in 2014, become the first state legislator to pass a law making a U-turn on the natural supplement.
Here’s the current ‘kratom count’: Six states banned kratom (one of whom is in the process of undoing that action), eleven states have passed versions of a Kratom Consumer Protection Act and Haddow said he expects around 30 more to consider such legislation in the coming year. There is also a federal version of the KCPA in the works.
Wisconsin could become the second state to reverse a ban after Vermont’s Department of Health announced plans to remove kratom from the list of scheduled substances earlier this year.
For more information on the state-by-state status of kratom, check out our Kratom Legality Map and keep an eye on our latest kratom news section to stay up-to-date with developments on the soon-to-be-introduced Federal Kratom Consumer Protection Act.