Gainesville’s kratom community weighs in on state legislation to raise the minimum age to 21


The Florida Legislature’s second recent endeavor in regulating kratom, an herbal extract that creates effects similar to stimulants and sedatives, won unanimous approval in the House of Representatives on Thursday and is on its way to the Senate.

HB 179, named the “Florida Kratom Consumer Protection Act,” will establish the minimum age to purchase kratom at 21 years old where there isn’t already a set legal age.

Supporters of the bill argue that kratom has the potential to be addictive, while opponents say it is a healthier alternative to most recreational drugs. With no federal legislation on the substance, as more research emerges states are left to draft their own regulations.

Kratom refers to both the powdered leaf extract as well as the Mitragyna Speciosa tree from Southeast Asia, usually consumed in a tea or dietary supplement.

Created by Marcus Rojas. Photo Courtesy of Laryssa Suaid from

Mac Haddow, a public policy expert for the American Kratom Association, said kratom is described as a food rather than a controlled substance, which is why the DEA was unsuccessful in labeling it a Schedule 1 drug in 2016. However, the FDA labeled it an “adulterating ingredient” in 2015, allowing it to seize tons of dietary supplements that contained the substance.

“The FDA is all out of their lane on this issue, because they have this inherent bias against all dietary supplements and botanical supplements,” he said.

The AKA is an advocacy group that works with various state governments to lobby for kratom regulation. Although the organization advocates for the minimum drinking age to be 18, Haddow said he respects the bill’s decision to establish it at 21.

He said the kratom market is expanding in the U.S. so the products should be regulated to promote its medicinal properties.

“You have a product that helps people with managing pain, and also for alertness and increasing focus in low doses,” he said. “Kratom that’s properly manufactured, labeled properly and restricted to minors is a safe product.”

David Chambers, 40, consumed kratom to help him stop drinking alcohol. However, he found that the substance gradually turned into a habit.

“I went to the truck to grab a tool and found myself with [kratom] powder in one hand and a water bottle in the other, completely unintentionally” he said.

About six months into drinking kratom, his therapist urged him into rehab to quit the substance, he said.

He said he supports the bill because younger people are more prone to forming addictions with substances.

“You can increase the likelihood of somebody becoming an addict by exposing them early enough in life,” he said.

Daniel Perea has served kratom behind the bar of Mai Kai for nearly four years. He said the kratom community in Gainesville has grown throughout his time, where more people come regularly to hang out or do work on their laptops.

“It’s like a coffee shop kind of vibe,” he said.

The kratom bar does not serve drinks to minors, and he discourages them from consuming kratom. However, the new bill would likely increase ID checks and turn away more customers.

“We don’t want to turn anyone away, because we think it’s a good place for the Gainesville community to come get to know each other, swap ideas, create collaborations,” he said.

He said he’s been sober for six years and enjoys kratom for its mild effects. He compared kratom to coffee where it’s possible to build bad habits, but it doesn’t change one’s personality like alcohol abuse does, he said.

“It doesn’t affect your balance. It doesn’t poison the organs in your body. It’s not nearly as damaging as some of the other stuff that is FDA approved.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify statements from Mai Kai to show they do not serve kratom to minors.

About Marcus Rojas

Marcus is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

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