Gainesville’s kratom community weighs in on state legislation to raise the minimum age to 21
Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify Mai Kai’s statements that he does not provide kratom services to minors.
The Florida Legislature’s second-ever recent attempt to regulate kratom, an herb extract that produces effects similar to stimulants and tranquilizers, received unanimous approval in the House of Representatives on Thursday and is headed to the Senate.
Dubbed the “Florida Kratom Consumer Protection Act,” HB 179 will set 21 as the minimum age to purchase kratom where there is no currently established legal age.
Supporters of the bill argue that kratom has the potential to be addictive, while opponents say it’s a healthier alternative to most recreational drugs. As more research comes to light, states are forced to draft their own regulations, as there is no federal legislation on the substance.
Kratom contains both powdered leaf extract and Mitragyna Speciosa A tree from Southeast Asia, it is often consumed as a tea or dietary supplement.
Mac Haddow, public policy expert at the American Kratom Association, said that kratom is defined as a food rather than a controlled substance, which is why the DEA failed to label it as a Schedule 1 drug in 2016. In 2015, the “additive” allowed it to hijack tons of dietary supplements containing the substance.
“The FDA is out of its lane on this one because they have this inherent bias against all dietary supplements and botanical supplements,” he said.
AKA is an advocacy group that works with various state governments to lobby for kratom regulation. While the organization advocates for the minimum drinking age to be 18, Haddow said she respects the bill’s decision to set it to 21.
He said that the kratom market is expanding in the US, so the products should be regulated in a way that promotes its medicinal properties.
“You have a product that helps people manage pain and also increase alertness and focus at low doses,” he said. “Properly manufactured, appropriately labeled, and restricted to minors, Kratom is a safe product.”
David Chambers, 40, consumed kratom to help him stop drinking alcohol. But he realized that the substance was slowly turning into a habit.
“I went to the truck to buy a tool and found myself [kratom] It was completely unintentionally, with gunpowder in one hand and a water bottle in the other.”
About six months into drinking Kratom, her therapist called her into rehab to quit the substance, she said.
He said he supports the bill because young people are more likely to develop addictions with substances.
“You can increase the likelihood of someone becoming addicted by exposing them early enough in life,” he said.
Daniel Perea served kratom behind Mai Kai’s bar for nearly four years. He said the kratom community in Gainesville has grown over its time, with more people coming regularly to work or hang out on their laptops.
“It’s like a coffee shop vibe,” he said.
Kratom bar does not serve drinks to minors and discourages them from consuming kratom. However, the new law will likely increase identity checks and turn more customers away.
“We don’t want to turn anyone away because we think this is a good place for the Gainesville community to come and get to know each other, exchange ideas and build collaborations,” he said.
He said he’s been sober for six years and enjoys kratom for its mild effects. He likened Kratom to coffee, where it is possible to form bad habits, but said that it does not change one’s personality, like alcohol abuse.
“It doesn’t affect your balance. It does not poison the organs in your body. It’s not as damaging as some other FDA-approved things.”
Perea gave 21-year-old UF student Ruben Gonzales-Vera a cup of Mai Tai, a one-shot kratom drink.
Vera took a sip and sat down on the wooden shack to type on her laptop. She said she regularly comes to kratom bar to study and hang out with her friends.
“I have a problem where I tend to drink too much coffee,” she said. “So it’s kind of healthy for me to consume kava and kratom because it has very little addictive effects and won’t bother my heart.”
He said he tried kratom for the first time at age 18 in his hometown of Sarasota, despite being the only county in Florida to completely ban the substance. He said he drove 20 minutes north to Manatee County to hang out at Manna Tea and Kava Bar.
“Given the fact that I was 18 and had nothing else to do in my hometown, it was either doing something that wasn’t good for me or going to Manna Tea and just… going to open mics and comedy nights and meeting interesting people. ”
He said the new bill would lead to more fake ID use and encourage drinking alcohol because drinking alcohol would make users more intoxicated than kratom if both were banned for people under the age of 21.
“I saw kratom spaces as a great way for people ages 18 to 21 to really find a place to meet new people and talk to people who are very different from you.”