Georgia legislators declined to move forward Monday with a bill that would have banned kratom, a mostly unregulated herb that several people blamed for contributing to the deaths of their family members.
Other people in the packed hearing at the Georgia Capitol told lawmakers that kratom helps ease their pain and anxiety, saying it would be better to require accurate ingredient labeling and enforcement of violations rather than make the product illegal.
The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee voted unanimously to table the measure, House Bill 181. Legislators said they would work on revising the bill for potential future consideration.
Kraton comes from the leaves of a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia and is consumed through capsules, powders and liquids as an aid for pain, anxiety and drug dependence. It’s sold at gas stations and smoke shops across Georgia.
“It’s buyer beware. Good people are getting hurt, and we’ve got to stop that,” said state Rep. Rick Townsend, a Republican from Brunswick who introduced the bill. “This is a dangerous situation.”
Supporters of kratom said an estimated 200,000 Georgians use it, telling legislators that most deaths are caused by mixing kratom with hard drugs such as fentanyl or heroin.
“Let’s get rid of the adulterated kratom. That’s where deaths do occur,” Mac Haddow of the American Kratom Association said during the nearly four-hour hearing. “Science should rule on all of this.”
Dana Pope, whose 23-year-old son Ethan died in Rome in December 2021, said she had never heard of kratom beforehand, and a GBI autopsy didn’t find indications of alcohol or illegal drugs in his body.
She later found a note he had written that said, “stop taking kratom.”
“We have a hole in our heart that will never be filled,” Pope said. “Please support House Bill 181 so other families don’t have to endure the pain we have.”
She and her husband have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against companies and individuals connected to the manufacturing, marketing and sale of kratom.
The federal government hasn’t regulated kratom, but a handful of states have done so. Kratom is banned in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.
State Rep. Yasmin Neal said she’s heard from kratom users who say it helps them during recovery from addictions to other drugs.
“Everyone talks about all the benefits that help them. It’s caused them to be able to eliminate cravings for alcohol and other drugs,” said Neal, a Democrat from Jonesboro. “I wonder if it’s just jumping the gun or just overstepping to ban something and criminalize something that hasn’t been properly studied.”