The governor of Georgia signs a law establishing regulations for the production and sale of the herbal supplement Kratom

ATLANTA – Georgia's governor signed a bill Thursday that includes new regulations for the production and sale of products containing kratom, an herbal dietary supplement.

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, bans the sale of kratom to anyone under 21 and says it must be kept behind a counter or in a display area accessible only to store employees. It will also limit the concentration of kratom's key chemical components in products sold in Georgia, introduce new labeling requirements and impose penalties for violations.

Kratom is extracted from the leaves of a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia and used to make capsules, powders, and liquids. It is often sold in gas stations or tobacconists and marketed as a remedy for pain, anxiety, and drug addiction.

Proponents of kratom say it is a safe, natural herbal supplement that can help relieve pain and lessen the effects of opioid withdrawal. An estimated 1.7 million Americans used kratom in 2021, according to a nationwide survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, it acts as a stimulant in low doses and as a sedative in high doses. Kratom can be addictive and cause hallucinations, delusions, and confusion. The DEA considers kratom a “drug and chemical of concern,” but it is not a controlled substance. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any medicines containing kratom or its key chemical components.

State Representative Rick Townsend, a Republican from the coastal town of Brunswick, supported the legislation after being contacted by Anne and Larry Rogers, a couple in his district whose son Wes died after using kratom.

“It pretty much shook me up,” he said of that call, which led him to research kratom. His original plan was to ban it, he said, but he ultimately decided to impose regulations.

“This is a joyful day, but it is not a joyful day because we have lost loved ones because of it. But at least now we can try to save some others,” Townsend said at a news conference after the governor signed the bill. He was joined by the Rogers family and two other families who said they lost loved ones who used kratom.

U.S. health officials said in a 2019 report that kratom was a cause of 91 overdose deaths in 27 states. While most of those who died had also taken heroin, fentanyl or other drugs, kratom was the only substance detected in seven of the deaths.

Dana and John Pope, whose son Ethan died after consuming kratom, have filed a lawsuit against individuals, companies and organizations associated with the production, marketing and sale of kratom. Dana Pope said at the news conference that the product her son took was illegal under the new law, “so we really hope that his death stops other families from having to endure the pain and loss that we have.”

The American Kratom Association, a trade organization and advocacy group, had urged people to contact Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and ask him to veto the bill. He said it “adds criminalization penalties for sellers, complicates product configurations and limits the availability of kratom to consumers.” in Georgia.”

Mac Haddow, senior fellow for public policy at the association, said Thursday that the organization supports regulations to protect consumers. But he said they are disappointed that this law does not mandate a state agency to ensure that kratom products are properly formulated and labeled. That could make retailers reluctant to sell kratom products if they're unsure whether they comply with the law, he said.

The association hopes to work with Georgia lawmakers during the next legislative session, which begins in January, to quickly address these issues, Haddow said.

Georgian legislation increases the minimum age for purchasing kratom from 18 to 21 years. It also prohibits the use of kratom with any type of vaping device or the sale of kratom intended for use in a vaping device.

The law clarifies the definition of kratom and limits the allowable amounts of kratom's two main chemical components, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, in one serving of a kratom product. It also requires that labels indicate the recommended serving size and a time frame for safe consumption, and limits the benefits claims that can be made on labeling.

Violations of some portions of the law, including the sale of kratom to a minor, constitute a misdemeanor and are subject to a fine of up to $250 for the first offense, up to $500 for the second offense, and up to fined $1,000 for each additional violation.

Processors and retailers who “knowingly or negligently” violate any other section of law relating to the manufacture or labeling of kratom products may be charged with a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Both can be fined in dollars.

Anna Harden

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