This month, the House Judiciary Committee quietly approved a bill that would amend the Controlled Substance Act and give the Attorney General of the United States unchecked authority to outlaw any substance that meets a broad set of new criteria. As the opioid crisis in the United States rages on, lawmakers and the Trump Administration are eager to pass new legislation they believe will combat the epidemic and reduce the number of Americans that die each year due to an opioid overdose (In 2015, the CDC estimates 33,000 deaths were attributed to opioid overdoses).
The Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017 (SITSA) would create a new scheduling category under the Controlled Substances Act, known as schedule A, for substances that “resemble currently scheduled substances” and have an “actual or predicted stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogenic effect on the central nervous system similar or greater to that of currently scheduled substances.” Under this new schedule, the DEA and the Attorney General will have the authority to circumvent existing procedures required to schedule any new substance.
Under current drug laws, the DEA must provide real and objective evidence to justify the scheduling of a substance. They must consult with Health and Human Services and complete an 8-factor analysis of the substance that evaluates the potential for abuse and the risk to public safety amongst other things. The DEA has complained this is an “arduous and time-consuming process” that hamstrings their ability to crack down on newly created synthetic substances.
Critics of the bill are concerned about the broad powers that would be granted to the Attorney General to escalate the war on drugs and infringe on civil liberties.
Many in the kratom community believe that the passage of this legislation would eventually result in the scheduling of kratom, an unregulated plant from Southeast Asia that is considered by many to be one of the best tools known to ease opiate withdrawal symptoms. The DEA attempted to make kratom a schedule 1 substance in September of last year only to withdraw their plans after huge public backlash of the decision. The independent 8 factor analysis that the DEA had to request from Health and Human Services concluded that kratom should not be scheduled. If the SITSA Act is signed into law, Attorney Jeff Sessions would have the power to outlaw substances like kratom without consulting with Health and Human Services and without performing the due diligence that is required of the DEA today, effectively expanding the power of the federal government and reducing its accountability to science and the public’s wishes.
Andrew Graham is a libertarian and the owner of The Kratom Connection.