In what the Seattle Times calls an “unprecedented move,” the Drug Enforcement Administration said it will withdraw its plan to place an emergency ban on kratom after an outcry from users and scientists who say the green leaf shows promise as a way to manage pain and opiate addiction. Dozens of Republicans and Democrats in Congress sent letters objecting to the DEA’s announcement that it would classify kratom as a Schedule I substance, making it a felony to possess the plant, and putting it beyond the reach of many scientists studying it.
Kratom, which is indigenous to Southeast Asia, has become more popular in the U.S. in recent years. Schedule I is the DEA’s most restrictive category, defined as drugs with “no currently accepted medical use,” and would have put kratom alongside heroin, LSD, and cannabis. Changing course on a proposed drug ban, said DEA agent Melvin Patterson, “is something we’ve never done before.” The agency argued that a ban was necessary because kratom and its chemical compounds “pose an imminent hazard to the public safety,” though the agency could point only to 15 kratom-related deaths in the U.S., 14 of which also involved other drugs. The outcry was swift and widespread, including a march and protest on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House.