By Pat Anson, Editor
Four kava bar owners in South Florida – one of them a retired police officer – have filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice over its threated ban on kratom.
Named as co-defendants are Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The lawsuit, first reported by New Times Broward Palm Beach , was filed by Michael Dombrowksi, who owns the Tenaga Kava bar in Palm Beach Gardens. Dombrowski says his business relies on kratom tea sales and he risked losing a million dollars in revenue if the DEA carried out plans to list two of the active ingredients in kratom as Schedule I controlled substances.
“Plaintiff business relies primarily on kratom tea sales, as do 9 other kava and tea lounges where consumers purchase and rely upon kratom tea for a variety of claims from medicinal value to relaxation,” the lawsuit states.
“Defendant will lose all of his investment in the creation of his business in 2015 including the bulk of his law enforcement retirement and the loss of his livelihood which he planned for his happy retirement.”
Listed as co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are James Scianno of the Purple Lotus Kava Bar in Boynton Beach and Keith Engelhardt and Thomas Harrison of Kavasutra in West Palm Beach.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, seeks an emergency injunction to prevent the scheduling of kratom, along with punitive damages of $14 million.
The lawsuit was filed on September 30, the same day the DEA could have made the sale and possession of kratom a felony by putting it in the same class of controlled substances as heroin, LSD and marijuana.. The agency delayed the scheduling after a backlash from kratom consumers and some members of Congress, who urged the DEA to seek public comment on its ruling.
The DEA claims kratom, which comes from the leaves of a tree in Southeast Asia, has a high potential for abuse because of its “psychoactive effects” and that imported kratom products are “routinely misdeclared and falsely labelled.”
Kratom is usually sold as dried or crushed leaves, powder, capsules, and tablets. Some kava bars, like the ones in Florida, brew kratom leaves with kava root to make a strong tea. In 2013, a lawsuit was filed against the owners of the Purple Lotus bar for not disclosing that the tea contained kratom. The plaintiff in that suit – a recovering alcoholic -- claimed she became addicted to kratom tea.
Kratom supporters say the herb is no more addictive than caffeine and helps treat symptoms of chronic pain, anxiety, depression and addiction.