by Matt Wright
On August 30th Forbes published an article revealing the DEA’s plan to ban the herbal supplement known as kratom. The governmental agency stated that kratom poses “an imminent hazard to the public safety” and had decided to reclassify the leaf into schedule-I of the Controlled Substances Act. This intention, if enacted, would classify kratom along other dangerous narcotics such as heroin, LSD, MDMA, and GHB, and some other undeserving of the classification drugs such as marijuana, or (from my understanding, and no experience) khat.
Immediately the members of the so-called “kratom community” catapulted into a frenzy as their chosen medical, recreational, or social choices have been cast aside by the government that was allegedly made by and for the people. Some online retailers seeing the end of their business and having a basic understanding of simple economics increased their prices 100-300 percent. Kava bars and other ethnobotanical distributors who understood the need of the people took two different approaches, either by lowering the costs of their products to both aid their clientele, and to liquidate their product before the ban goes into effect on October 1st.
The hashtags #IAMKRATOM and #LEAFMEALONE quickly began to spread, as a petition was created in the hopes that the White House would look upon the number of people who are going to affected by the ban and decide to overturn the ban put forth by the executive agency. The American Kratom Association (AKA), behind the hard work of Susan Ash and Paul Kemp, went to work urging their members to begin a grassroots campaign with the sole intention of letting the people in charge know that this decision will do more harm than it will do good.
The petition was gaining 10,000 signatures a day. Social media exploded with people making videos explaining how the ban would affect them personally, as they all repeated the rallying cry “I am kratom.” A rally was set for September 13th outside of the White House in D.C. as members of the kratom community from across the country began planning on how they were going to venture to the nation’s Capitol, taking time away from their already financially-threatened businesses, or their soon-to-be upended lives when they could be searching for other natural alternatives as opposed to the pharmaceuticals many of them have successfully strayed away from since finding the herbal supplement.
Plans were made by many as they hoped their efforts would not fall upon the deaf ears of a government that appears to be in bed with Big Pharma and has little concern about the number of people who would rather be felons in the eyes of the law than be forced to take another synthetic painkiller. All while the government began planning another attack in the failed “war on drugs,” this time taking aim at a group of people trying to find alternative solutions for pain management, fatigue, pain, anxiety, PTSD, help manage addiction, or just looking for a healthier alternative to the alcohol scene.
As the manager of Low Tide Kava Bar in Gulfport, FL, I was one of those who made the trek to our nation’s Capitol for the rally. With me came Sean, the owner of Low Tide, Jeremy, a devout activist, and Stephen, a documentary film maker who wanted to interview some of those who were going to be affected greatly by the ban. Together we arrived in the city a little before noon, and quickly met up with some other kava bar owners from Florida who had also made the trek. Hugs, handshakes, and other pleasantries were exchanged before we discussed the possibility of the DEA reversing their decision, allowing us to run our businesses and our customers to make the medical and personal choices for their bodies granted from birth. The general consensus being; kava bar owners, along with many reputable kratom distributors already self-regulate by not selling to anyone who is under the age of 18. Why is the government inserting itself into an industry where their overreaching hand would only hinder growth of a market that is already policing itself?
I wandered around in the hot D.C. sun, using a sign that had a circle with a diagonal line going through the words “BIG PHARMA” for shade (utilizing the actual definition, along with the current colloquialism), as well as show my support for a cause I believe in. I talked to Rob, from Ohio, who told me kratom helped him stop using caffeine, nicotine, pharmaceuticals, and other drugs. I spoke with Sam and Christie, from Kentucky, who were concerned for their future, now that kratom was going to be banned. Both were using the herbal supplement to ease chronic pain, and did not want to continue using prescribed painkillers that they felt had hindered their lives, and took away from their ability to function in their day-to-day lives. I met up with Paul Kemp, and Susan Ash, who expressed worry for the millions of daily kratom users who would be lost without the supplement, some of whom would fall off the proverbial wagon.
I saw people holding signs with the death statistics of other illegal drugs from 2014; Heroin: 11,000, Cocaine: 5,000, Alcohol: 88,000, Opioid Pain Relievers: 20,000, Kratom: 0. I saw numerous signs saying “Kratom Saves Lives,” “Plants Not Pills,” “Farm Not Pharma,” and one heart wrenching sign held by a young boy who appeared to be between 6 and 9 reading “Kratom Saved My Mom.”
There was a press conference where a few brave individuals told their stories in front of cameras of how they came to find kratom, and how the herbal supplement has helped them get their lives back. People chanted the phrases “I am kratom,” “Kratom saves lives,” “Plants not pills,” and other soundbite-esque phrases in a show of solidarity against the tyrannical attack on our rights and freedoms. Once it was all over we all hugged each other, many feeling hope for the future and that our government had heard our voices but, in all honesty, my cynical attitude toward our nations political process left me less than excited for the future.
Personally, I am proud of each and every person who made it to the White House that day. I am elated they were able to come out and use their First Amendment right to voice their issues with the decision. I am happy to be part of such a small community that is still willing to fight for their freedoms. A group of people who took it to heart when Steve Rogers (or Captain America) said, “Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree besides the river of truth, and tell the whole world – ‘No, you move.’”
Those who showed up on September 13th in the District of Columbia looked the government in the eyes and said it doesn’t matter that the press inaccurately classifies kratom along with synthetic drugs such as spice, and flakka. It doesn’t matter if Kristin Jacobs of Florida and others of her ilk falsely claim that kratom is responsible for multiple deaths across the nation. It doesn’t matter what inflated statistics Big Pharma (the mob) puts out there to convince people kratom is bad. It doesn’t matter if the whole country gives up, and says it’s a lost cause to fight the DEA. We stood together for what we believe and, no matter the odds or consequences, we will continue to plant ourselves like a tree beside the river of truth, and say (to steal another line) “We will not go quietly into the night.” We will continue to fight. We will stand for what we believe, and one day, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not this year, but one day, we will win.
And when that day comes I will walk into my kava bar with some legal kratom, make a large batch for my customers and give it out to them for free that day. I will do this because that will be the day we defeated the government. That will be the day we won a cause that is necessary to win. That will be a win that will help all of the people who have turned to an herbal supplement from Southeast Asia in our times of need.
Again, I am Matt Wright. I am the manager of Low Tide Kava Bar. I have seen the good that this all-natural leaf can do. I Am Kratom.