Kratom criminalization proposed

Kratom would be added to Nebraska’s list of substances whose manufacture, possession and use are regulated by the state under a measure considered by the Judiciary Committee Feb. 1.

Sen. Loren Lippincott
Sen. Loren Lippincott

LB972, introduced by Central City Sen. Loren Lippincott, would add Mitragynine, commonly known as kratom, and its synthetic forms to Nebraska’s controlled substances list.

Lippincott said kratom is an herbal substance native to Southeast Asia that can resemble opioids and has stimulant-like effects. It typically is ingested orally in the form of a tablet, capsule or extract or drunk as a tea, he said.

Five years ago, most people didn’t know what kratom was, Lippincott said, but now it’s difficult to drive across town without seeing a store that sells it. While it may have benefits, kratom can be addictive and some people may require medical intervention to stop using it, he said.

“Kratom actually works to some extent, but try getting off kratom,“ Lippincott said. “You can’t do it, or it’s very difficult to do.”

As introduced, the bill would immediately ban kratom upon passage. Lippincott provided the committee with an amendment at the hearing that would delay implementation until Jan. 1, 2025, which he said would give Nebraskans ample time to comply with the new law.

Maggie Ballard, representing Heartland Family Service, testified in support of the measure. Kratom is advertised to help with a number of ailments including pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety and menstrual cramps, she said, but the federal government has not approved kratom for any medical purpose.

There also are numerous side effects with kratom use, Ballard said, including nausea, weight loss and psychiatric, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems.

Sarah Linden, owner of the stores Generation V and Grateful Green, testified in opposition to the proposal. Over 15 million people in the U.S. use kratom, she said, and a majority of them are between ages 30 and 50, are employed and have some college education. People use the product for a variety of reasons, including to treat pain and depression, increase focus and alertness and self-manage opioid addiction and other substance abuse disorders, Linden said.

“Kratom users are regular people — soccer moms, athletes, construction workers and older folks — looking for natural remedies rather than pharmaceutical prescription drugs [that] have failed them,” she said.

Also testifying in opposition to LB972 was Mac Haddow, representing the American Kratom Association. Banning kratom could exacerbate the opioid crisis, Haddow said, by forcing the millions of people who use kratom back to medications with much more dangerous side effects. Instead of banning kratom, Nebraska should join 11 other states and pass the Kratom Consumer Protection Act, he said, which would enact specific regulations for selling kratom, including age limits to purchase it.

Spike Eickholt, representing the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, testified against the measure. He argued that classifying kratom as a controlled substance would put Nebraskans who currently use it at risk of being charged with a felony.

“Even the introducer of the bill acknowledged that he wants to delay the implementation of the bill back to January because he recognizes that people are able to buy this stuff,” Eickholt said. “People are using it and you’re going to make it a felony for them to have it.”

The committee took no immediate action on LB972.

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