Jan 17, 2023 - News

Kratom draws new scrutiny from Colorado authorities

Capsules of the herbal supplement Kratom. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Capsules of the herbal supplement Kratom. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Colorado's wild west days of kratom — an unregulated and controversial herbal supplement — are coming to an end.

Driving the news: The Polis administration is proposing a robust set of rules — akin to the regulation of marijuana — that the kratom industry says would put retailers out of business and leave consumers without access, John discovered.

  • The $1.5 million regulatory scheme would impose strict manufacturing, testing and labeling requirements, and ban sales of vaporizers, concentrates, food additives and certain gummy edibles. The existing prohibition on sales to anyone under age 21 would remain in effect.

Yes, but: The proposed rules expressly permit the production and sale of kratom, which currently resides in a legal gray area.

Why it matters: Kratom faces renewed scrutiny about its safety and effectiveness with the federal Food and Drug Administration warning people not to use the supplement — formally Mitragyna speciosa — because of concerns about abuse and addiction.

The other side: Kratom advocates dispute the FDA's stance and point to various studies that show its effectiveness as an opioid alternative for pain. In small doses, it can boost energy and mood, similar to coffee.

The American Kratom Association, which advocates for consumers, supports requirements for better labeling but says Colorado's proposed rules would be the most onerous regulatory scheme in the country.

The cost of regulation would fall to the industry, and the fees "put an artificial barrier up on kratom for consumer access" because retailers wouldn't be able to afford it, the association's Mac Haddow says.

  • The application of marijuana-level regulation is unneeded, he adds. "The difference is kratom is not a scheduled product, it doesn't need that level of regulation," he says.

The big picture: At least nine other states regulate kratom, and six ban it altogether. Local bans are in place in seven states, according to the kratom association.

  • At least 280 stores in Colorado now market the product, and it's sold in many of the state's 4,000 tobacco retailers.
  • In Colorado, Parker and Monument explicitly ban the sale of kratom. Denver requires labels with a consumer advisory warning, and Castle Rock recently imposed an age limit to purchase of 21.

The intrigue: Gov. Jared Polis, a long-time kratom advocate, is stuck in the middle of the dispute. In his first campaign for governor, he promised to "protect access to legal alternatives for pain management, like kratom and medical marijuana."

  • The kratom association met with him Thursday to lobby him to dial back the regulations. After the meeting, Polis spokesperson Conor Cahill told Axios Denver the governor is committed to finding "a workable solution that protects access for consumers."

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