American Kratom Association founder and former chairperson Susan Ash recently stepped down as chairperson in the kratom advocacy, activism, and lobbying organization. The new chair chosen to replace Susan Ash has extensive experience in the non-profit industry and has helped manage his wife’s non-profit.
In a recent interview, executive director Pete Candland announced that Dave Herman will serve as the new chairman of the AKA. He comes to the organization with a strong background in leading non-profits. Susan Ash will continue her role as a leading figure in the AKA and is transitioning from more of a day-to-day operational and administrative activities to more of a spokesperson role. Susan helped start the American Kratom Association and has been one of the primary faces of the organization in their efforts to help secure the legality of kratom.
AKA, Botanical Education Alliance, and thousands of dedicated kratom consumers and activists came together in force when the threat of a DEA scheduling raised the risk of the plant being banned. Kratom has been used as a traditional medicine in Southeast Asia for hundreds of years and is used as a pain reliever, a mood lifter, and an energizer, among other things. Pete Candland, American Kratom Association’s executive director, counts the combined voices of thousands of kratom consumers as a large part of what forestalled the potential ban. AKA has been working on the lobbying front in Washington, as well as working with media and scientists like Johns Hopkins Professor Dr. Jack Henningfield, whose eight-factor analysis was instrumental in convincing legislators to support the plant during the ban scare in late 2016.
A large challenge, according to Candland, is reversing misinformation about the plant and noting the opinion of doctors and scientists like kratom researcher Dr. Christopher McCurdy, formerly of Ole Miss. Kratom, which is a natural botanical with benefits as varied as having greater antioxidant potency than green tea in addition to being immunostimulant, anti-cancer, and even slowing the growth of papilloma in lab rodents, has another strike against it in the form of guilt by association. Kratom was originally discovered by many when it was carried at “head shops” and behind the counter of gas stations along with synthetic cannabinoids, bath salts, and other “legal highs.” As a result, kratom is lumped in with synthetics and bath salts, which led directly to its being banned in states like Tennessee, where it is falsely referred to as a “synthetic opiate” when it is actually neither. Despite being neither opiate-derived or opioid in nature, it has been shown to hold some success in weaning people from prescription opiates or other opioid withdrawal.
AKA is currently a tax-exempt but not tax-deductible organization. Currently, they have applied for a 501c4. During the application process, they are acting as a 501c4, but due to lobbying limits for a 501c3, they have opted for that form of organization.
“A lot has to do with c4 being able to do lobbying. We rely heavily on lobbying efforts. We hire some of the best lobbyists in the country, have access to some of the best legal team in this industry due to donations from individuals.”
AKA will be working with their legal and lobbying team to monitor legislation both statewide and on the federal level. Most recently, there is some concern that the Stop Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017 could unfairly target kratom again. AKA has worked with local activists and lobbyists to either stop bills from passing or remove any anti-kratom language from the bill. Not one state banned kratom in the year 2016 despite a few bills being circulated. AKA will also attempt to roll back bans in prohibition states. Candland says the most progress they’ve made so far is in Wisconsin and Alabama, where they are helping educate legislators to learn what kratom is. The key now, according to Candland and the AKA, is focusing on educating lawmakers and law enforcement agencies and officers.
Obviously, the AKA can’t be all places at once, so the priority for now is to monitor states with a year-round legislative session. For the most part, 2017 looks to be clear, and Candland reported that they are “confident they can roll back bans in time.” AKA is making sure their presence is known at the Capitol in Washington as well.
“One of the most compelling arguments we’ve been able to speak to folks about is the danger of creating a health issue. Taking away something that has improved the daily quality of life for at least a million folks in the US.”
In addition, a tremendous black market would be created, with many moving back to prescription drugs or illicit drugs as well as the greater potentiality of kratom being laced with other drugs. AKA hopes to help initiate standards and guidelines that would ensure not only the safety and reliability of the plant but also offer continued accessibility to people.
[Featured image by Susan Ash]