Update 11:30 a.m.
The Montana House rejected Senate amendments to HB 437 to place an immediate ban on kratom.
Kratom is currently legal in Montana, but if HB 437 is passed into law this legislative session, it would list kratom as a Schedule I drug, meaning the state sees no medical use for it.
Kratom users advocate for its ability to boost mood and energy, help with chronic pain and potentially replace opioids.
Mitch Ronshaugen owns Hippy Hut, an antique and kratom store. He is speaking out against the bill, as it could impact his life in multiple ways if it passes.
“If this House Bill 437 passes, it will destroy my business and I’ll end up back on welfare,” Ronshaugen said. “I found kratom because of my aversion to use opiate painkillers. I had a friend that ended up with a heroin addiction that started with prescription medications when the doctor yanked the rug out from under him.”
Ronshaugen said he feared using opiate painkillers and wanted to go a more natural route to manage his rheumatoid arthritis and degenerative disk disease.
“Kratom has not only given me the energy boost and the pain relief that I need to be productive, getting this place cleaned up but it’s given me a revenue stream,” he said.
But that revenue stream could soon be taken away if HB 437 becomes law and kratom is listed as a Schedule I drug in Montana, meaning it would be tightly regulated. Opiates and heroin are both listed as Schedule I drugs.
Chief medical officer of Community Medical Services Dr. Robert Sherrick said there is not much research done on kratom.
“I certainly have run into quite a number of people who have become addicted to kratom and it has pretty much destroyed their lives,” Sherrick said. “We should be using those same efforts (Montana Legislature) on expanding treatment for people who have an addiction to kratom or any other substance.”
Opponents of kratom say it's dangerous, but Ronshaugen argues that almost all people who have overdosed with kratom in their system were also using other drugs.
Ronshaugen sells kratom for $80 a kilogram and said a majority of his customers use the mild opioid-like plant medicinally.
“Realistically I owe the general public an apology for not getting ahead of this legislation and asking for regulation. And that probably would have been the most responsible thing that I could have done as a kratom vendor and a kratom user,” he said.