Attorney General says kratom, a supplement used as opioid alternative, is legal in Tennessee

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The attorney general for the state of Tennessee published an opinion on the use of pure kratom, stating the botanical supplement is legal in Tennessee.

Confusion surrounding the legality of kratom in Tennessee has existed since the state passed a law in 2014 making it illegal to possess several synthetic substances, including synthetic versions of kratom.

“Possession of the kratom plant in its natural, botanical form should not subject a person to potential criminal prosecution under Tennessee state law,” the opinion reads. “The kratom plant in its natural botanical form is not a prohibited controlled substance under Tennessee law.”

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In response to the opinion, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said it would not pursue people carrying pure kratom.

“The TBI upholds and enforces the law, and will follow the Attorney General’s opinion in accordance with state law,” Michael Jones, a spokesperson for the TBI, said in statement.

As kratom has grown in popularity, it has become a controversial topic of debate among lawmakers, law enforcement, and people who rely on the supplement. Kratom is derived from a plant grown primarily in Asian countries, and it's unregulated in the United States.
In its pure, natural form, kratom users claim the supplement is a safe alterative to opioids. FOX13 interviewed Bethany Cook about her use of the product in November.

“The heroin epidemic is crazy,” Cook said. “I’ve seen it firsthand. Kratom can help people get off of it. I see it every day.”

After Slatery published his opinion, Cook said she is pleased to see the state defining a difference between synthetic drugs and natural kratom.

“I would really love to see the confusion be put to rest,” Cook said, referring to the Attorney General’s public notice. “I’m excited about the letter.”

Cook suffers from fibromyalgia and other illnesses that cause severe pain and anxiety. She said she was hooked on opioids and other dangerous medications until she learned about kratom in a support group on social media.

The growing popularity of the unregulated supplement captured the attention of the Federal Drug Administration, which published a warning about kratom in November.

The FDA said kratom is linked to at least 36 deaths, and added that it will  block imports of the product.

Cook agrees with the FDA and others that synthetic versions of kratom are dangerous. She said synthetics have created confusion, and kratom users are pushing lawmakers to regulate the supplement to make it safe for people like Cook.

“We want it regulated,” Cook said. “Keep it out from anybody under 18, and make sure there’s no synthetics in there. Make sure it’s plain leaf. Have it tested.”

Attorney General Herbert Slatery III published the opinion at the request of State Senator Mark Green, a Republican from Clarksville, Tenn.

It was unclear how lawmakers will react to Slatery’s interpretation of the law that banned synthetic drugs.

FOX13 will continue to follow developments, as the debate about kratom will likely be an issue to follow this year, at the state legislature in Nashville, and in Washington D.C.

Cook said she and other kratom advocates are cautiously optimistic, following Slatery’s review of Tennessee law.

“We’re still fighting the FDA and the DEA,” Cook said. “If they say it’s legal in Tennessee (now), what are they going to do next with the law.”