TAMPA, Fla. — On July 1, a new Florida law banning the sale of the herb kratom to anyone under 21 will go into effect, and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd had strong words for anyone found violating the new regulation.
“I think it's a problem," Judd said. "It’s dangerous — you shouldn’t put this in your system. It is legal, but if you sell it to those under 21, you are not only subject to arrest, but in Polk County you will be arrested and taken to the county jail. We don't want our children with this.”
According to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, the herb can produce "opioid and stimulant-like effects" when taken.
Business owner Rick Evans says he has been selling different forms of kratom for 6 years — even quitting a job in IT that he'd worked for 30 years because the profit from the herb was so great.
Now he owns three stores, including one in Bradenton.
“Powder form, chewable tablets, gummy form and liquid form,” Evans said of the forms kratom can come in.
“Kratom is a leaf off of a tree native to Indonesia and typically what they do is grind it up into a powder,” he said.
He says customers give several reasons for buying the herbal substance.
“One strain is going to help with pain — it's going to help you with sleep disorders at night," Evans said. "One strain it's going to help you with energy.”
He says this plant has helped restore people's lives because it contains an ingredient called mitragynine, which has psychoactive properties including opium-like effects which is believed by some to help people overcome opioid addiction.
"I have story after story of people coming in that tell me they got their life back from taking kratom, from being able to get their family life back because not all their money goes to that opioid drug that they are getting,” he said.
While kratom is legal to sell, the Food and Drug Administration lists it as a "drug of chemical concern" due to its addictive properties. Experts say the herb can be dangerous in high doses leading to seizures, confusion, tremors, and heart and lung problems.
The Florida Legislature recently passed a new law — House Bill 179, or the Florida Kratom Consumer Protection Act — to prohibit the sale of kratom to anyone under the age of 21.
Evans said he supported the bill, but had mixed feelings about the age requirement being set at 21.
“I think if you can go serve your country and die for your country and you are considered an adult at that point, then you can do adult things at that point," he said. "If you are going to increase it to 21, then everything should be bumped up to 21."
Evans said the new law won't have much impact on his business because the majority of his customers are already over 21.