Kratom Petition Reaches Goal, But Now What?

By Pat Anson, Editor

Supporters of a citizens' petition that calls on the Obama administration to reverse a decision that will make the sale and possession of kratom illegal have reached their goal of 100,000 signatures.

But the move is largely symbolic and will probably not prevent the Drug Enforcement Administration from classifying kratom as a Schedule I controlled substance at the end of the month.

The DEA filed notice in the federal register last week for an emergency scheduling of mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, the two main active ingredients in kratom, which comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in southeast Asia.

Kratom is used in teas and supplements as a natural treatment for pain, depression, anxiety and other medical conditions. The DEA claims kratom is also used recreationally for its "psychoactive effects" and has even been used as a substitute for heroin. Kratom supporters say its no stronger than a cup of coffee.

Under its "We the People" petition rules, the Obama Administration promises to "take action" on an issue whenever supporters are able to gather at least 100,000 signatures online within 30 days.

"We will do our best to respond to petitions that cross the signature threshold within 60 days, however, depending on the topic and the overall volume of petitions from We the People, responses may be delayed," the White House says in a statement on its website.

According to the website, the average response time for a successful petition is 118 days. Six petitions -- including the kratom petition -- are currently waiting for a response.

Barring a last minute legal challenge, the DEA scheduling of kratom as a controlled substance, alongside heroin, LSD and marijuana, will begin September 30.

"This may go into effect before we get a response from the White House," says Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association, a volunteer organization of kratom users. "That's one of the reasons why we are doing our rally September 13th in front of the White House, so that we can bring this issue to their attention prior to them being required to give us a response."

The Obama administration began hosting "We the People" petitions on the White House website in 2011. Although the petitions have been criticized as a public relations gimmick, some have resulted in federal action, such as legislation allowing consumers to use their mobile devices on any network they choose.

At other times, however, the White House response to a petition has been a statement that only reaffirms current policy. That was the case in 2011, when petitioners asked the administration to legalize marijuana.

"Like many, we are interested in the potential marijuana may have in providing relief to individuals diagnosed with certain serious illnesses," wrote Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, in the official White House response to the petition.

"That is why we ardently support ongoing research into determining what components of the marijuana plant can be used as medicine. To date, however, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine have found smoked marijuana to meet the modern standard for safe or effective medicine for any condition."

The DEA is taking a similar stance on kratom, saying it has no medically accepted use.