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Perspectives: The DEA and Schedule I Substances

Being Libertarian Perspectives will serve as a weekly, multi-perspective opinion and analysis piece by members of Being Libertarian’s writing team. Every week the panel, comprised of randomly selected writers, will answer a question based on current events or libertarian philosophy. Managing Editor Dillon Eliassen will moderate and facilitate the discussion.

Dillon Eliassen: On September 16, Reason.com reported:

“Officials at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seem to have been surprised by the negative reaction to the agency’s ‘temporary’ ban on kratom, which it implausibly claimed was necessary ‘to avoid an imminent hazard to public safety.’ That ban, which will last at least two years, can be extended for another year, and during that time the DEA is supposed to go through the motions of justifying the decision it has already made. But according to DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson, the agency may decide not to keep kratom in Schedule I, the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).”

John Engle: It’s just utter madness. A tea that has been used for centuries by some societies and which has been demonstrated to help people get off opioids is to be classified a Schedule 1 substance. Their justification is that a few people have died; meanwhile they expect these people to then switch to highly addictive and frequently lethal opioids. It is a classic example of a bureaucracy choosing to crush a promising alternative treatment because it doesn’t control it, and can’t really control it.

Nathaniel Owen: It seems to me that, like every substance that finds itself banned, the initial assumption about it is that it might be enjoyable. All other reasons cited for the ban are rationalizations that come about after the ban is already in place.

John: I agree. Their statement was that they see no medicinal value. Apparently, all the users are just morons or something.

Nathaniel: Banning it because it might be “abused,” however one defines that, ignores the fact that there is nothing in existence that cannot also be “abused.” Food can be abused by overeating. Is that really so bad? Even if the DEA were afraid that kratom abuse might be lethal, it still isn’t a sufficient reason considering everything can be lethal in one way or another.

John: And considering that it requires vastly more of it to actually reach toxic levels than it does taking a whole range of legal opioids…

Nathaniel: Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol are substances some people find addictive. Those things can be abused too. Are we banning them? It also seems pretentious to assert that it will only be unbanned if it has a medicinal purpose. Does alcohol have a medicinal purpose? Or cigarettes? What about cheese, or bananas? Does it even matter?

Dillon: When John first brought this up I went to the Google machine and read an article about a guy who performed a week long test trying different strands of kratom. He followed the directions on the different packages; more or less, he was using it as his morning and afternoon coffee, but sometimes he would get headaches. I read a few different articles about this substance; people can have different reactions to kratom. Supposedly it’s for pain relief, but a little bit of it can act as a stimulant, but then a lot can make it a narcotic. So I don’t think it’s terrible that the DEA or the FDA would want to know just what exactly it does. I don’t think that’s unreasonable for a government agency to do. I’m sure it’ll take them longer than it should to study it and they’ll have their usual bullshit special interests, but perhaps kratom just needs to be studied more.

John: It probably does need to be studied more. That I agree. But making it Schedule 1, on a par with heroin, you actually reduce the number of labs and groups that can experiment with the active chemicals. It closes off research, slows down the process, and makes a bunch of people criminals who just want to deal with their pain. Schedule it, fine. But Schedule 1? That’s pretty ridiculous.

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