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Breaking: Denver to Lift Hold on Kratom

The city's Department of Environmental Health is following the DEA's lead on the southeast Asian substance. 

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The Denver Department of Environmental Health has decided to lift its consumer safety advisory on kratom products, following the Drug Enforcement Administration’s decision to withdraw its proposal to classify the plant as a schedule 1 drug.

Bob McDonald, public health administrator and executive director of the Department of Environmental Health, told 5280 on Friday afternoon that staffers from the department’s Public Health Inspections Division will visit kratom retailers in person over the next few days to deliver documentation effectively lifting the city’s ban on the product. Retailers can resume sales once they receive the notice. McDonald said the documentation is intended in part to ensure that retailers have complied with the DEH directive to hold their product.

The department issued a consumer safety advisory banning kratom sales on September 6, a week after the DEA announced its intent to classify the active compounds in the southeast Asian plant as a schedule I controlled substance. Until then, retailers in Denver and across the country had sold the botanical drug legally with “not for human consumption” labels, per Food and Drug Administration requirements. McDonald said his department took the DEA’s reversal into account in considering to lift their hold on kratom.

The DEA saw a massive onslaught of opposition to their initial move to ban kratom, including a rally in a Denver last month and a letter signed by 51 members of Congress asking the Obama administration to reconsider their decision.

Kratom advocates say the plant possesses valuable medicinal properties, particularly when it comes to opiate addiction recovery. Research is scant on kratom, however, and the plant is not regulated by the FDA. A schedule I categorization would have made progress on either of these fronts all but impossible. McDonald says he’ll keep an eye on FDA research in considering the status of kratom in Denver moving forward.

At the time the DEH issued a city-wide hold on kratom, DEH director Danica Lee told 5280 that lack of existing research and regulation alone was enough to justify a ban. The agency has since dramatically changed its position, falling in line with the DEA’s stark and surprising reversal.

“In the absence of having any more information about the possible public health risk of this product, I think [lifting the hold] is the appropriate thing to do at this point,” McDonald says.

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