Georgia governor signs law adding regulations for production and sale of herbal supplement kratom

Dana Pope, with her husband John by her side, holds a photo of her son, Ethan, as she speaks at a news conference at the Georgia Capitol on May 2, 2024, after Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill to regulate kratom. Extracted from the leaves of a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, kratom is used to make capsules, powders and liquids. It's often sold in gas stations or smoke shops, marketed as an aid for pain, anxiety and drug dependence.The Popes say their son died after using kratom and that they hope the newly signed legislation will prevent other families from having to go through what they did. (AP Photo/Kate Brumback)

Georgia’s governor on Thursday signed a bill putting new regulations on the production and sale of products containing kratom, a plant-based supplement.

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, prohibits the sale of kratom to anyone under 21 and says it must be kept behind a counter or in a display area that is only accessible to store employees. It also limits the concentration of kratom’s main chemical components in products sold in Georgia, imposes new labeling requirements and adds penalties for violations.

Extracted from the leaves of a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, kratom is used to make capsules, powders and liquids. It’s often sold in gas stations or smoke shops, marketed as an aid for pain, anxiety and drug dependence.

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

It acts as a stimulant in low doses and a sedative at high doses, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which says kratom can be addictive and can 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 hasn’t approved any drug products containing kratom or its main chemical components.

State Rep. Rick Townsend, a Republican from coastal Brunswick, sponsored the legislation after he was contacted by Anne and Larry Rogers, a couple in his district whose son Wes died after using kratom.

“It shook me pretty hard,” he said of that phone call, which prompted him to do research on kratom. His initial plan was to try to ban it, he said, but he eventually settled on adding regulations.

“This is a joyous day, but it’s not a joyous day because we’ve lost loved ones because of it. But at least right now we can try to save some others in the process,” Townsend said at a news conference after the governor signed the bill. He was joined by the Rogerses and two other families who say they lost loved ones who used kratom.

U.S. health officials said in a report released in 2019 that kratom was a cause in 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 using kratom have filed a lawsuit against people, companies and organizations connected to the manufacturing, marketing and sale of kratom. Dana Pope said at the news conference that the product her son took would be illegal under the new law, “so we’re really hoping that his death prevents other families from having to endure the pain and the loss that we have.”

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

Mac Haddow, a senior fellow on public policy for the association, said Thursday that the organization supports regulations to protect consumers. But he said they’re disappointed this law doesn’t designate any state agency to make sure that kratom products are properly formulated and labeled. That could make retailers hesitant to sell kratom products if they’re not sure they comply with the law, he said.

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

The Georgia legislation raises the age to purchase kratom from 18 to 21. It also prohibits the use of kratom with any sort of vaping device or the sale of kratom intended for use in a vaping device.

The law clarifies the definition of kratom and caps the levels of the two main chemical components in kratom, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, allowed in a serving of a kratom product. It also requires labels to include the recommended serving size and a time frame for safe consumption and limits the claims about benefits that can be made on labeling.

Violations of some parts of the law, including selling kratom to an underage person, will be a misdemeanor and carry a fine of up to $250 for a first offense, up to $500 for a second offense and up to $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

Processors and retailers who “knowingly or with criminal negligence” violate other sections of the law having to do with the production or labeling of kratom products can be charged with a felony punishable by one to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $100,000 or both.