Mises Wire

Feds to Ban Leaf Used in Herbal Teas

On September 30 the DEA plans to ban kratom in the United States. In the process the DEA will be using their “emergency powers” to make kratom a Schedule I controlled substance thus classifying it alongside marijuana, cocaine, opium, heroin, and LSD.

Kratom, also known as mitragyna speciosa, is a tropical deciduous and evergreen tree, which belongs to the Rubiaceae botanical family and is therefore related to the coffee tree. The kratom tree grows native to Southeast Asia where it has a long history of uses including being a traditional medicine for the treatment of a variety of physical and mental ailments.

It seems preposterous that kratom, a plant that has been used for a thousand years in Thailand and Southeast Asia, a plant that is related to coffee in its genetic makeup; is now being compared to heroin and other hard drugs by the DEA. It has a history of uses by indigenous populations of Southeast Asia that goes back far longer then the DEA has been around.

This is hardly surprising, however, since every year the government gains more and more control over our bodies. The fact of the matter is, if you control healthcare, you control the people; and the healthcare noose has been tightening for years now. Everything from how much soda we consume to whether we can smoke a plant (tobacco or otherwise). The question remains, where do we draw the line? Ron Paul once wrote:

Freedom over one’s physical person is the most basic freedom of all, and people in a free society should be sovereign over their own bodies. When we give government the power to make medical decisions for us, we in essence accept that the state owns our bodies. 

Over the past couple decades, kratom has grown in popularity within the United States where it is used both recreationally, and as a form of herbal self-medication. Contemporary users of kratom are not limited to those seeking a legal high — far from it. Users include veterans, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and the elderly. To say that the people using it received a shock when they heard the news of the DEA’s plans, is an understatement. Many people are outraged over the ban and rightly so.

Kratom users report benefits ranging from relief of chronic pain, as an alternative to prescription pain relievers, to treating psychological disorders such as anxiety, and it also helps with opiate withdraw. The people who use it often compare it to the stimulation of a cup of coffee in low doses.

So why all the fuss? According to the August 30, 2016 statement released by the DEA, there have been 660 calls to poison control from January 2010 to December 2015 involving kratom use.

As a point of comparison, according to the Centers for Disease Control:

In 2007, approximately 27,000 unintentional drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States, one death every 19 minutes. Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States. The increase in unintentional drug overdose death rates in recent years (Figure 1) has been driven by increased use of a class of prescription drugs called opioid analgesics (1). Since 2003, more overdose deaths have involved opioid analgesics than heroin and cocaine combined (Figure 2) (1).

Compared to other drugs on the DEA’s naughty list, including both street and pharmaceutical drugs, logic might suggest that kratom ought to be low on the list of the DEA’s concerns.

Consequences, Intended and Unintended, Seen and Unseen

The DEA may succeed in their purpose of reducing perceived public health concerns as a consequence of their planned ban, but in doing so they will inevitably introduce numerous unintended consequences.

Mark Thornton writes:

The marginal cost of prohibition of one unit of a product is the cost of the law enforcement necessary to bring about this result. Every dollar spent on prohibition enforcement means one less dollar that can be spent on alternative public policies such as national defense, shelters for the homeless, … etc.

Not only that, but prohibition is known to lead to the formation of black markets, which will call into question the potency, purity, and safety of the product. Prohibition can also result in consumers shifting into substitutes. Not to mention the people going back to opioids and other street drugs after the ban of kratom, which has apparently already happened in one such state that has banned it. According to the We the People petition on the Whitehouse.gov website:

In states that banned Kratom, Alabama specifically, opiate usage and deaths went up after Kratom was banned in the state.

Besides the further degradation of free will, there are other unintended consequences that will happen if kratom is banned. How many people will end up in jail whose only crime was a wish to have relief of chronic pain? This is hardly shocking however since America has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. This is a direct result of the government’s paternalistic policies.

Ludwig von Mises once explained:

Once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments.

It follows that if you give the government an inch, they will take 500 miles. The first step in regaining freedom over your own body is to not give an inch. It is likely that the government won’t stop at just kratom, and it is not a far stretch to say that banning one thing leads down a slippery slope to other prohibitions. If one can ban a tea, why not a food? A book? An opinion? As Ludwig von Mises pointed out:

It is a fact that no paternal government, whether ancient or modern, ever shrank from regimenting its subjects’ minds, beliefs, and opinions. If one abolishes man’s freedom to determine his own consumption, one takes all freedoms away. The naïve advocates of government interference with consumption delude themselves when they neglect what they disdainfully call the philosophical aspect of the problem. They unwittingly support the case of censorship, inquisition, religious intolerance, and the persecution of dissenters.

Today, the federal government is trying to ban a product used as an herbal tea, kratom, under the guise of protecting people from themselves. However, every individual has a natural right to control what they consume provided they do not interfere with the rights of others. The time has come for us to stop slavishly supporting the government and taking our freedom back from the hands of tea tyrants.

Natalie F. Danelishen is a graphic designer living in Ohio.

Image Source: Kratom plant / Wikimedia
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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