“The forces behind the drug war seem to be achieving their desired outcome. The pharmaceutical industry is winning, the prison industrial complex is winning, the anti-hemp industries are winning, and the Drug Enforcement Agency’s budget explodes every year as it conducts more operations and seizes more assets,” marijuana advocate and former governor Jesse Ventura agreed with sentiments expressed in a recent interview with Vox.
Ventura is very passionate about ending the drug war, and he has put complete legalization of marijuana atop his bucket list of things to do before the end of his life. He was not surprised by the DEA’s August decision to maintain official classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug.
“Since when can a law enforcement agency decide a legislative question or a scientific question? They have a huge conflict of interest,” he said. “They make money by keeping it illegal. … They’re not going to give up their cash cow.”
That cash cow is an asset seizure program the DEA has exploited under the cover of the drug war. The DEA and other law enforcement agencies have reportedly seized billions of dollars’ worth of property from citizens who, in many cases, are never charged with a crime. Law enforcement agencies have also reportedly seized $2.5 billion in cash from people who were subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.
This week, the DEA made a move that will likely reinforce the perception held by Ventura and many others. The agency is moving to place the herbal supplement kratom on its list of Schedule I drugs, effectively banning a naturally occurring psychoactive substance some say holds promise as a therapy for opioid addiction.
Kratom is made from leaves of a Southeast Asian tree related to coffee, and has been consumed in Asia for millennia as a tea or powder. The herb contains alkaloids that appear to activate opioid receptors in the brain and reduce pain. Although most opioids have sedative qualities, low to moderate doses of kratom serve as a mild stimulant. These characteristics have led advocates and some researchers to claim that kratom can be used as a step-down treatment to help recovering opioid addicts.
“Kratom does not have an approved medical use in the United States and has not been studied as a treatment agent in the United States,” the DEA notice states. “Especially concerning, reports note users have turned to kratom as a replacement for other opioids, such as heroin.”
The DEA notice shows that prohibition remains a favorite tool of drug warriors, despite ample evidence that it doesn’t work. The DEA did not respond to a request for comment.
“We really believed that because of the progress medical marijuana has made through the states, that the federal government was going to leave kratom alone and leave it to the states to decide whether it was appropriate to be legal,” Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association, told Huffington Post.
Even as President Barack Obama and other government leaders increasingly come around to a more treatment-centric vision of drug policy, the DEA is showing old habits die hard. The kratom scheduling move would last for two years, with a possible extension of an additional year, and would go into effect at the end of September.