Tucked into a bill banning synthetic cannabinoids are new regulations for the manufacture, production, and sale of kratom. Often a substance people use to replace more harmful options, restrictions carry the risk of making kratom harder to come by and more expensive in West Virginia.
Having already passed the House of Delegates and the State Senate, Senate Bill (SB) 220, which also makes delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) illegal, would:
- Establish a licensing framework for all stages of the manufacturing process and criminalize operating outside of this.
- Grant new authority for enforcement and regulation of kratom
- Create a new, 11% tax on kratom products
- Establish punitive frameworks for not following these new laws
While kratom is not without its problems, some see this as an overly-restrictive overreach. Let’s break down the new proposed legislation, what it says, and whether it makes any sense.
How Is West Virginia Regulating Kratom?
SB 220 regulates kratom and establishes an oversight board to observe all moments of manufacture, production, and sale. Businesses will also fall under new regulations and must obtain a license to sell kratom.
Additional taxes and restrictions also flow out of this bill, establishing new hurdles for businesses wishing to maintain legitimacy. Kratom “can be regulated so as not to interfere with the strict regulation of controlled substances in the state,” it states.
While it doesn’t go so far as to regulate the plant as heavily as cannabis — or even delta-8 THC — it does significantly elevate the bar for entry. While still leaving kratom as an option for adults over the age of 21, the different hoops producers must jump through will likely impact production costs and pricing.
For something like kratom — a common replacement for opioids — this runs the danger of people turning to cheaper, less safe options. Let’s break down SB 220 further and discuss the exact changes it hopes to enact:
Key Changes from Senate Bill 220
Should the bill receive a signature from the governor as it’s currently written, it would:
- Require a permit for anyone “manufacturing, processing, distributing, offering for sale, or selling kratom.” The Commissioner of Agriculture or someone they assign to the task will be responsible for overseeing this.
- This commissioner is also responsible for establishing the criteria for obtaining this license.
- They also must supervise and sample production, develop standards for labeling, determine advertising rules, and come up with the rate they will charge for these services.
- Establish a new 11 percent tax on products — 65% of which goes to the Agriculture Fees Fund, 5% to the “Fight Substance Abuse Fund,” and 30% to the Alcohol Beverage Control Enforcement Fund
- Require a non-refundable application fee of $1,500 for anyone wanting a license and a recurring $300 annual fee for license holders
- Empower “any certified law enforcement officer in the state [to] enforce the criminal provisions of this article.”
- Establish penalties for violating this new law starting at a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to a year of jail time and ranging to $10-25k in fines along with 1–5 years in prison.
Should We Regulate Kratom?
In short: potentially, but it’s not quite so simple. As an unregulated product, there are times when kratom items will contain contaminants or may be unreliable in their potency and there’s a solid case for ensuring this doesn’t happen. If regulation becomes too restrictive, however, it only empowers illicit vendors and pushes an even less safe supply.
Many producers already seek out third-party testing to showcase the quality of their products. While a requirement for each company to do this as well would be nice, legislation like SB 220 oversteps and overly constricts the market.
Kratom is a relatively safe drug but the stigma of opioids often transfers over even though it operates very differently from opioids. In actuality, kratom is often keeping people from returning to worse substances and managing their withdrawal symptoms.
Normally, a bill presents its reasonings and the motivation for moving forward. This bill simply states they “can be regulated” and says its purpose is to “allow limited regulated access to kratom” for adults.
While there may be reasons for regulating kratom, “because we can” isn’t one of them.
Regulating a product to ensure the label on the package matches the contents within might be immensely helpful for the industry. Restricting licenses and charging high fees, however, harm the cause of regulation itself.
It only makes legitimately working in the industry harder and raises the cost of production, potentially sending people back to less-safe alternatives.
Differing requirements for West Virginia will also likely result in several national manufacturers not doing business with West Virginia. Often, well-established brands are the best to buy from and offer online stores to help facilitate easy, reliable kratom products.
The Conservative Landscape of West Virginia
West Virginia is one of the most conservative states in the country so this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. With such a stronghold on the political landscape of the state, the conservative party essentially has a license to pass whatever legislation they choose.
The West Virginia State Senate contains just three Democrats out of 34 total seats and the House has 12 Democrats out of 100. With a Republican governor, the conservative trifecta of West Virginia’s government has run for 6 years straight.
Though conservatives often pride themselves on “small government” mentalities, they still bring new regulations, restrictions, and fees. Kratom is not without its problems but these regulations — tacked on to a bill criminalizing an unrelated compound — do nothing to solve them.
Rather, they increase the difficulty of selling, producing, and manufacturing high-quality kratom. It’s unclear who this new regulation is for (again, they don’t explain in the bill) but it’s unlikely it will help anyone but the agencies receiving their percentage of the fees.
One thing that’s clear is they wanted to establish some background of problematic use of these substances when passing the law — why else allocate a percentage to anti-addiction groups? If this was the focus, however, sending just 5% to them seems like an afterthought.
The new authority on the topic may create an easy regulation process and swiftly move quality products into the marketplace. Unfortunately, it seems more likely to force a bottleneck in production, limit supply, and worsen any problem it could conceivably try to solve.
Conclusion: What’s Next After SB 220?
SB 220 is currently waiting for the governor’s signature and it’s likely to receive it. Until the full passage of this legislation into law and the enactment thereof, it’s hard to know exactly how this will pan out.
One thing is for sure, it will present new — likely unnecessary — hurdles for producers and consumers alike. Increasing the pricing of products and the overhead of starting a business makes an obtainable alternative to opiates less obtainable.
This feels like an obvious flex from the government, preventing citizens from doing something nobody had a problem with in the first place.