The Washington Post recently reported that the DEA has just placed a plant called Kratom into the Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act (making it a felony to possess it in Virginia). Over the last several years, kratom has gained popularity in use by people suffering from chronic pain or drug addiction, who sought out a way to break their reliance on illegal narcotics or prescription pain medication – substances known to have serious medical consquences.
When asked the purpose of the Kratom ban, the Agency responded, "the placement of these opioids into schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety." The agency's notice cited reports of 15 deaths linked to, though not necessarily attributable to, kratom use between 2014 and 2016.
Creating criminals to protect the public.
The kratom ban is a good example of the odd way in which our criminal justice system is misguided. While I understand the DEA’s concern for a plant that is not well researched, by banning it, they are essentially creating criminals of people who now use or possess it. The same individuals who would not have been criminals last week.
At the heart of it, our drug laws are intended to protect the public. But the DEA's action here demonstrates that there’s essentially zero recognition by law enforcement as to the overly-punitive nature of our criminal justice system. If the DEA were truly concerned about the well-being of the public, they would take the necessary time and effort to understand the plant, its long-term effects, and as well as potential benefits.
Instead, it’s willing to go ahead and (at least here in Virginia) label its users as felons for life, subjecting the users to the scarlet letter of a felony, a possible prison sentence, and all of the implications that flow from having gone through the criminal justice system.
While I don’t ultimately know whether kratom is dangerous or not, neither does the DEA. And that’s their job. If they were being sincere in their goals, they would recognize this is not the way to go about controlling kratom usage. Rather, they would take the time and effort necessary to educate both themselves and the public about the substance instead of the gut reaction of creating criminals.