Patients should remain free to choose kratom

[W]e favor the repeal of all laws creating 'crimes' without victims, such as gambling, the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes, and consensual transactions involving sexual services.

The herbal supplement known as kratom has become a popular over-the-counter alternative treatment for chronic pain. Some people also claim it’s effective at alleviating symptoms of coughing, diarrhea, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. Although the Food and Drug Administration has claimed to link kratom to a few dozen overdose deaths, the National Institute on Drug Abuse points out that those cases involve adulterated doses and multiple drug interactions. There appear to be no clear cases of fatal overdose on kratom alone. No matter how many people use kratom safely and effectively, however, regulators focus only on the possibility of abuse. Their solution? Prohibition, of course.

In 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act, which aimed to grant the Department of Justice broad unilateral authority over classifying chemical analogues or substances like kratom as prohibited drugs. Although the SITSA Act didn’t pass the Senate, future iterations of the bill may resurface. State legislatures, including in Utah and Georgia, have also begun to form committees and draft their own forms of kratom regulation.

Grown and used as a pain reliever for centuries in Southeast Asia, kratom acts as a stimulant at low doses and a sedative at high doses, interacting with the brain in a way similar to opiates but reportedly without side effects like physical dependence and slowed breathing. The SITSA Act would have allowed the bureaucrats of a single federal agency to determine its legality without needing input or consultation from others.

“The scope of the bill — allowing the Attorney General broad powers to unilaterally decide which drugs should be scheduled — was unprecedented for any time, let alone a moment when the Trump Administration was so intent on escalating the drug war,” wrote Michael Collins, interim director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “We had to fight back.”

Thanks to testimony and informational campaigns from the Drug Policy Alliance and other activist groups like FreedomWorks and Human Rights Watch, the SITSA Act fizzled out in the Senate. The Libertarian Party stands with them in opposing the SITSA Act and any similar legislation that may arise at all levels of government. During the 2018 Libertarian National Convention in New Orleans, the Libertarian National Committee adopted a resolution condemning the SITSA Act:

Whereas, the Libertarian Party favors the repeal of all laws creating “crimes” without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes;

Whereas, individuals have the freedom and responsibility to decide what they knowingly and voluntarily consume, and what risks they accept to their own health, finances, safety, or life;

Whereas, the Libertarian Party stands against the gross and negligent overreach of The SITSA Act HB 2851 and its future Senate counterpart;

Be it resolved, that the Libertarian Party will draft and publish a press release in a timely fashion to both educate and warn the public of the dangers of the SITSA Act.

Although the SITSA Act was abandoned, the prohibitionist mindset that it represents continues unabated. Effective pain relief is more difficult than ever for patients to obtain safely and legally as the federal government cracks down on doctors and pharmacists for doing nothing more than treating the chronic pain of their patients. One out of every five prisoners in the United States is behind bars for a drug offense. Legalizing drugs would save $41.3 billion in annual taxpayer expense, simply by calling a halt to the wasteful and destructive war on drugs. Drug decriminalization in Portugal has been a stunning success, with decreased overall drug use and the normalization of medical treatment rather than harsh punishment for addicts who truly need help.

It’s time to trust Americans to decide what they choose to ingest, and allow the sunlight of legal market activity to eradicate the violence and tumult of black-market drug trafficking. Republicans and Democrats alike consistently vote to keep the drug war funded and continually escalating. Only the Libertarian Party takes individual conscience and choice seriously enough to call for an end to substance prohibition.