Seminole City Council abandons kava, kratom ban
SEMINOLE – City councilors have decided to abandon a bill that would ban kava and kratom sales in Seminole city limits.
The decision, made in a consensus vote during its March 27 workshop, followed a unanimous vote in favor of the bill, which would have banned kava, kratom, contraband bath salts and synthetic cannabinoid sales if passed, at its March 13 meeting. The second and final vote on the bill was scheduled for April 10.
Since that March 13 meeting, the city received numerous phone calls and emails from Seminole residents and those from outside the area in support of kava and kratom.
During the March 27 meeting that preceded the workshop, several individuals spoke in favor of both substances.
Chris Reynolds, an attorney living in unincorporated Seminole, told the council that the items included in the bill should not be lumped together.
“Bath salts are certainly very different from the other two things on there, the kava and the kratom, and the kava and kratom are very different things,” he said.
He also pointed out that Earth Fare in Seminole City Center carries kava in pill form.
“If we regulate that, it’s going to have a significant impact on the city,” he said.
The council also heard more personal stories.
Diane Fleming, a Seminole resident, said her daughter, who suffers from chronic fatigue and depression, among other ailments, drinks kratom several times a week “to help relieve her symptoms for a few hours.”
She added, “It is the only thing that has helped keep her sanity.”
Brian Snyder, who lives outside the city, but has friends in Seminole, told the council that he recently began taking kratom following a cancer diagnosis. The cancer and pain medications were affecting his daily life – at one point, he was taking 12 Vicodins a day to manage the pain. Since drinking kava and kratom six weeks ago, he has stopped taking pain pills and notices immense physical benefits.
Kathleen Johnson, who doesn’t drink either kava or kratom, spoke about how local kava bars are committed to the community.
“The community aspect of a kava bar is unbelievable. Everybody is so friendly. They’re laidback. They’re sober,” she said. “The thing that’s most important to me is that the kava bar owners are community people. They give back into their communities. It is local people investing into their community, providing a space for camaraderie, friendliness and a space for philanthropy.”
Catherine Enzor, an ambassador for the American Kratom Association, said she’s lost a number of friends to opioid addiction and at one point was “a homeless, jobless addict who lost custody of her oldest daughter.”
By using kratom, she has been able to stay off drugs and has turned her life around, she said. She also knows many others who use kratom to keep sober.
She added that it’s a natural substance, “a whole ground leaf, absolutely nothing synthetic about it,” that acts on opioid receptors in the brain – the same receptors affected by cheese, coffee and chocolate.
Gary Wilder, owner of Lizard Juice in Seminole, said he hears stories like these every day at his job. He has also seen the effects of kratom firsthand when his wife used it five years ago while battling cancer to lessen the effects of the illness.
“I’ve never had a drink, never done drugs. I don’t even eat red meat,” he said. “This natural product changed my life. … These stories that I hear from people – I hear these every day by the hundreds in the stores, and I’m the most anti-drug person that you could meet in your life.”
He added, “This is the greatest exit from opioids that nature’s ever given us. This is an incredible product.”
During the workshop, Mayor Leslie Waters said that since the March 13 meeting, councilors “all had learned a great deal about kava and kratom.”
Councilor Thomas Barnhorn asked why the council hadn’t discussed the bill in a workshop prior to its first reading.
“I want to know why we are here tonight. This workshop should have happened way before we gave a directive, in my opinion, to our attorney to draft something …” he said. “We didn’t really ever have a discussion on what we wanted.”
During the council’s annual retreat Jan. 7, the council briefly discussed regulation of kratom and kava, and directed City Attorney Jay Daigneault to draft an ordinance to regulate or ban the substances.
Councilor Jim Quinn said that after the March 13 meeting, he researched both kratom and kava, and also asked the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office for guidance. The PCSO told him it does “not think it is a priority to pass an ordinance banning it” after efforts by the Florida Legislature to ban them failed.
“I’m going to take the advice of the Pinellas County sheriff,” Quinn said.
Vice Mayor Roger Edelman also spoke of researching the substances by discussing it with local doctors and others who have experience with it.
“I’m a little on edge about some of the things I’ve read,” he said. “I’d say there are some side effects to both of them. Are the side effects more important than the benefits that either one of these two things will give the public?”
Councilor Trish Springer questioned whether the city has the authority to ban “a product from a business that is operating in our city.
“I’m a small business owner. So, I’ve got to look at it from both sides,” she said. “Who are we to advice a business on what to sell and what not to sell when it’s not illegal in this state or in this county at this time?”
Councilor Chris Burke reminded council that the United States Food and Drug Administration has not approved kava or kratom for consumption. But he was hesitant to ban sales of either in the city.
“We’re not fortune tellers. We’re not going to know the effect kava and kratom will have on you,” he said.
Councilor Bob Matthews said, “I’d like to see this whole thing go away.”
Waters said the debate “is an evolving issue,” and she’d rather have a decision on the substances made at a state or federal level.
Following their consensus vote, she said, “This ordinance is dead at this time.”