The Drug Enforcement Agency Targets Yet Another Plant - Kratom - in its Continuing War on Drugs

Paul Cienfuegos’ September 13th, 2016 Commentary on KBOO Evening News


(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at,, or subscribe via ITunes. Listen to this one HERE.)


Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos.


Have you heard about a tree that grows across Asia that's named kratom? Until this past week, I had never heard of it. The story about this tree is making headlines and you're not going to like it one bit. Kratom is a tree in the coffee family. It's indigenous to Thailand, and has been used in that area of the world by farmers and indigenous people for generations. The raw leaf is chewed, and it provides a pleasant mood and energy lift.


In recent years, a growing number of people in the US have been buying this herbal supplement in capsules or in a crushed leaf form that they brew into tea. There are stories of people using it as an alternative to prescription drugs for things like chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. Or for dealing with withdrawal symptoms coming off of opiates.


At the end of September however, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (or DEA) will be enacting an emergency ban on kratom, claiming that their action is urgently needed “in order to avoid an imminent hazard to public safety”. Kratom is due to be added to the existing list of Schedule 1 Narcotics, alongside heroin, LSD, and marijuana, for a period of at least two years, during which time even simple possession will be a criminal offense. As will, of course, the act of growing or selling it.


The DEA made this draconian decision with zero public input, and based on very questionable evidence. What’s going on here? Is this yet another case of the pharmaceutical industry feeling threatened by a plant, that appears to be a safe alternative to many prescription drugs, and working behind the scenes to ensure that their market share is protected?


We've been down this path before -- in the 1950’s, for example, with a manufactured terror campaign against marijuana, and an outright ban that still exists today, at least as far as the DEA is concerned. Marijuana has been listed as a Schedule 1 drug since 1971.


Many Americans have no idea that the state ballot initiatives passed by voters to legalize medical marijuana, in 25 states and the District of Columbia, are all considered illegal under federal preemption laws. That knowledge might encourage us. We the people do not have to passively accept the legal reality that federal laws trump state laws, and that state laws trump local laws. (Gosh, I love using that word “trump”!) It’s true -- tens of millions of Americans have successfully passed dozens of state laws that seem to simply ignore the reality of federal preemption. Which begs the question - who's really in charge here?


Is it conceivable that We the People are actually more powerful than we dare to believe, when we stand together -- not as consumers who vote with our dollars, but as citizens, as the sovereign people? Too often, we act from a place of powerlessness, as victims, as subordinates to our elected and appointed so-called leaders. We beg, we plead, we demand, we protest, we picket, we march, we rally.


Earlier today in Washington D.C., a rally took place in front of the White House, demanding that the President stop the DEA from labeling kratom as a Schedule 1 Narcotic. Those who couldn't attend the rally in person are being urged to sign an online petition to the President. There have been over 121,000 signatures so far. But then what? Wait for our so-called leaders to do the right thing? What most worries me is the assumption that the federal government is the only legitimate decision-making point for this entire issue.


Imagine if We instead chose to step forward into our collective power, if We instead chose to take some long deep breaths together, and envisioned what strategies and tactics would support our effort to see ourselves as We the People, governing ourselves, taking direct responsibility for protecting the health and welfare of our communities, and of the natural world that we all depend on for our very breaths.


The movement to legalize medical marijuana won this battle against their own intransigent and unresponsive federal government because we exercised our self-governing authority through the ballot box, in state after state, violating federal preemption laws to this very day. If the DEA continues this outrageous course of action, I would urge the pro-kratom campaign to rapidly transition to running state ballot initiatives wherever feasible. What other creative tactics and strategies can we dream up, that places us in our rightful position of authority?


This is our nation. Our government is constitutionally required to serve us. It has duties and responsibilities to us. What do we want? And what are we waiting for?


To learn more about kratom, and the existing activism surrounding the campaign to stop the DEA from criminalizing its use, visit


You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon, and on a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.


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