Over 75% of Tennessee residents support legalizing kratom. Yet it remains in murky legal territory. So what gives? Let’s take a closer look at kratom’s current legal status in the Volunteer State.
A Brief History of Kratom Bans in Tennessee
The leaves of the tropical tree Mitragyna speciosa, which is related to coffee, are the source of kratom. Indigenous peoples in Southeast Asia have used kratom leaves for centuries as an herbal remedy and stimulant.
In recent years kratom has grown in popularity in the US. Many people take it to self-treat chronic pain, anxiety, and opioid withdrawal. However, some officials have moved to ban it out of concern over safety and potential for abuse.
Tennessee first banned kratom in 2013. Lawmakers designated two of kratom’s active compounds as Schedule I controlled substances. This effectively made kratom illegal to sell or possess.
But in 2016 legislators repealed the kratom ban due to public outcry. Kratom advocates argued it was a safe herbal supplement. Banning it would deprive many Tennesseans of an effective alternative to opioids.
The Current Murky Legal Status of Kratom in Tennessee
When Tennessee lifted the statewide kratom ban in 2016, that left its legal status uncertain. Currently, there is no law prohibiting kratom at the state level.
However, some individual cities and counties in Tennessee have enacted local kratom bans. These include Nashville, Knoxville, Franklin, and others. So kratom remains illegal within those specific jurisdictions.
This patchwork of local laws makes kratom’s status confusing. What’s legal in one place may be banned just across city or county lines.
Tennessee kratom supporters urge lawmakers to enact consistent statewide regulations. But so far no new legislation has passed.
Why the Push to Re-Ban Kratom Continues
In 2020, Tennessee legislators proposed another statewide kratom ban. The bill ultimately failed. But some officials continue pushing to make kratom illegal.
Their concerns include:
- Kratom overdoses – Between 2011-2017, the CDC reported 91 kratom-related deaths in the US. Critics say this shows it’s dangerously addictive.
- Side effects – In rare cases, kratom may cause seizures, psychosis, liver damage, and other serious side effects.
- Regulatory issues – There are no current federal guidelines for kratom. Products lack quality controls and may be contaminated or falsely marketed.
However, kratom advocates argue these concerns are overblown. They say coffee and prescription drugs also cause rare deaths and side effects, yet remain legal and regulated.
Benefits and Uses of Kratom
Kratom supporters point to its many legitimate uses as a reason to keep it legal. The main benefits include:
- Chronic pain relief – Kratom activates opioid receptors similar to pain medications. But it’s not as addictive or prone to abuse.
- Mood enhancement – At low doses, kratom has a gentle stimulant effect. It can boost energy and motivation levels.
- Opioid withdrawal – Kratom eases symptoms of opioid addiction and withdrawal. This helps recovering addicts avoid relapse.
- Anxiety and depression – Many users report kratom lifts mood and eases anxiety. It may have anti-anxiety properties similar to benzodiazepines, but with lower addiction risk.
These benefits have made kratom popular. A 2021 survey found up to 5 million Americans use kratom regularly.
The Debate Over How to Regulate Kratom
Rather than ban kratom outright, many experts favor responsible regulation. Possible approaches include:
- Mandatory testing and labeling standards to ensure product purity and accurate dosing.
- Limiting potency to reduce abuse potential.
- Age restrictions, similar to alcohol.
- Prescription requirements, similar to medical marijuana in some states.
- Public education on safe kratom use.
- Funding more research to fully understand risks and benefits.
Proper oversight and controls could allow access for responsible adult use while preventing abuse.
Public Opinion Supports Legal, Regulated Access to Kratom
Despite the ongoing controversy, most Tennessee residents support legal kratom access:
- A 2021 Tennessee Tech University poll found 75% of state residents believe kratom should be legal for adults.
- A similar 2020 Vanderbilt University poll showed 70% support for legal regulated kratom.
This strong public consensus may influence future policy changes. Most Tennesseans agree responsible kratom use should remain legal. They want fair regulation to ensure safety, not ineffective bans.
What the Future Holds for Kratom Legality
Will Tennessee once again ban kratom statewide? Or enact thoughtful regulations to control its risks? For now, the unpredictable legal status will continue.
Yet the public’s strong pro-kratom sentiment makes a total ban unlikely. Policymakers cannot ignore the needs of chronic pain patients, recovering addicts, and other legal kratom users.
With reasonable oversight, kratom could remain safely accessible for those who benefit from it. Tennessee lawmakers should follow voters’ lead and craft a balanced, health-focused kratom policy.
The path forward remains uncertain. But one thing is clear – the people have spoken. And they say legal, regulated kratom makes sense for Tennessee.