CLEARWATER ― This is a news story about nothing happening.
Earlier this month, when dozens showed up to urge the Clearwater City Council not to ban kratom, there were no plans for the city to do so.
Monday, the City Council confirmed that it does not believe it is the city’s place to regulate the popular herbal supplement.
“This is not in our wheelhouse,” said Council Member Hoyt Hamilton, who put the kratom discussion on Monday’s agenda. “This is not something we need to take a position on in any way, shape or form. This needs to be handled at either the state or federal level."
Hamilton urged city staff to stop whatever research it was doing into the substance, which is sold legally at dozens of local establishments. Kratom is somewhat controversial. Some rely on it for critical pain relief; others argue it has harmed or killed their loved ones.
Read more about kratom here: Hundreds told Clearwater not to ban kratom. Officials were baffled.
Ironically enough, staff, led by Chief Daniel Slaughter’s police department, had essentially already finished looking into the substance, which is a relative of the coffee plant. They never came close to recommending a ban.
At the work session, Slaughter gave an impromptu briefing to the council about kratom. He said Clearwater Police had seen the substance show up in some DUI arrests and in two death investigations. Slaughter noted that 26 stores sold kratom in the city, and that those businesses may offer better quality controls than the online retailers that some residents have used. (Kratom is frequently imported from Southeast Asia, where it is grown.)
"Our recommendation right now is, we don’t think there’s a need to regulate it,” Slaughter said.
Earlier this month, the city’s research initiative ― and some online misinformation ― led some kratom fans to believe that Clearwater was poised to ban the substance. They showed up in droves to the Nov. 7 City Council meeting, with many believing that kratom was on that night’s agenda. It was not.
After the Nov. 7 meeting, kratom supporters flooded the city’s email inboxes with hundreds of messages urging the council not to ban the drug. (In the months prior, the City Council had heard from a few detractors who claimed the drug is at times unethically sold to children in kava bars.)
That outpouring was part of the reason Hamilton put kratom on the city’s agenda for Monday. He wanted to make it clear that the city had no plans to issue a ban that would do nothing to stop a resident from getting kratom in the next town over.
Mayor George Cretekos, Hamilton’s colleague on the council, said he believed the city’s position was clear well before Monday’s discussion. Cretekos contended that his colleague’s call for state or federal regulation could make the city less credible when it argues for local rule on things like short term rentals in the future.
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“I would have preferred that we just let staff do what it was doing,” Cretekos said. “It was going to come back to us with nothing, and that would have been the end of the conversation."