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City in Pinellas County looking to ban Kava and Kratom

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Posted at 6:05 PM, Mar 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-22 20:00:03-04

SEMINOLE, Fla. — The city of Seminole in Pinellas County is considering a ban on Kava and Kratom and the idea has created a firestorm in Pinellas County, dividing people on both sides.

Crystal Clyburn can say with 100 percent certainty: Kratom saved her life. “If I’m being honest, I’ve multiple times ended up in the hospital because I overdosed on pills. I either got them through a doctor or on the street, and a few times I scared my family and friends by ending up in the hospital,” Clyburn explained. “It saved my life, it definitely did.”

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No longer hooked on pain pills, Clyburn says she adds Kratom to her orange juice every morning, and it’s made a big difference. “The biggest part of my sobriety is because I found Kratom. I don’t crave anymore the actual pills. I don’t want to get high,” Clyburn added.

Kratom is a substance of dried up leaves from a plant common in Asia. 

Andrew Apted, who opened the Kava and Kratom bar called Dharma Hookah Lounge, says he hears stories like Clyburn’s daily as he whips up Kava and Kratom teas. 

“I’ve watched this place save people’s lives,” he explained.

Yet, leaders in Seminole say the substances are dangerous, risky, and often without labels.

Marvin Coleman, the spokesperson for the drug treatment center Operation PAR, has concerns as well. “These substances can pose a tremendous danger,” he explained, “Not having an idea of what they are, the long term and short term impacts, I think it is smart to look at it.”

The FDA says Kratom is loosely linked to 44 deaths, including one last year in Hillsborough County. Kratom supporters say that doesn’t take into account how many lives are saved by getting people off opioids.

“I don’t see the logic behind it. It’s a natural substance used in a natural form and many people say that makes them feel safer about taking it,” Anthony Marzola explained. Marzola owned the Psychodelic Jester Smoke Shop in Seminole and says he would lose a large amount of business if Kava and Kratom are banned.

Seminole leaders plan to make a final decision on April 10. If leaders approve the ban, it will be only the second community in Tampa Bay to ban Kratom. Sarasota County already has a ban on Kratom, making it illegal to sell. Seminole’s ordinance would also ban contraband bath salts and synthetic cannabinoids.

Councilor Chris Burke, who works for the Largo Police Department, also wants spice to be added to the ban list because he says it “causes the most trouble for law enforcement.”