The Culture of Kratom Threatened by HB 179


Tim Belizaire

Kavatender and FGCU junior, Christopher James Smith pouring a kratom tap at Kava Culture Estero

Tim Belizaire, Staff Writer

FGCU students have been using a controversial substance that may become illegal for students under the age of 21 to purchase starting July 1. Kratom is used by FGCU students as a study aide, a social aide, and even an alternative to alcohol.

Legislators realize this, but want to get a handle on this industry, which has largely been unregulated in Florida. The tea leaf, which is legal in every part of Florida except for Sarasota County, may face one of its biggest pieces of legislation yet. The Kratom Community is split on what this will mean for the future of the substance. 

If passed, the Florida Kratom Consumer Protection Act, also known as HB 179, will make the sale of kratom and kratom products illegal to anyone under the age of 21. There will also be increased regulations. Any kratom distributor will be required to register with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services annually.

If adverse events occur due to a distributor’s kratom products, the distributor must report them to the Food and Drug Administration. Any person or entity who violates HB 179 could be found guilty of a 2nd-degree misdemeanor. 

The bi-partisan bill was introduced by Sen. Joe Gruters. The bill was co-introduced in the Senate by Sen. Keith Perry and Sen. Linda Stewart.

Sen. Gruters represents Sarasota County which banned Kratom in 2014, making it the only county in the state of Florida to do so. While Sen. Gruters wants to ban the sale to anyone under the age of 21, he is not in favor of an all-out ban.

Kavatender and FGCU junior, Christopher James Smith making a kratom cocktail at Kava Culture Estero
(Tim Belizaire)

While speaking to WFSU he touched on the medicinal value of kratom. 

“Kratom solves a lot of issues,” Gruters said. “It helps people get off opioids. It’s used for pain relief. There are many retailers and establishments out there that sell kratom.”

According to the University of Florida Department of Pharmacodynamics, kratom is “both the whole tree Mitragyna Speciosa in the coffee family Rubiaceae as well as the leaves and extracts of the leaves that are used for medicinal and recreational purposes.” 

Kratom is indigenous to Southeast Asia. It is exported to the U.S. for recreational and medicinal use. Kratom has not been approved by the FDA.

Students at FGCU have access to kratom through gas stations and CBD stores. However, the place you will most likely see students consume kratom is at a Kava Bar.

Kava is a root from the South Pacific that has grown in popularity in the United States. Most kava bars in Florida also sell Kratom. Kratom is usually consumed in tea form or on tap through a brewing process. 

There are several Kava Bars in the Estero area for FGCU students to visit. The one closest to campus is the Nectar Lab which is in Gulf Coast Town Center. Kava Culture Estero is in the Miromar Outlets. The third is Burma Kava Bar, which is located at 41 and Alico Rd.

Kava bars are different from traditional bars. Most kava bars are alcohol-free and promote a sober environment. Students may go there for a place to hang out or study. While students will not lose access to the bars, they may lose access to the product they come to consume when entering these establishments.

Christina Maertens, 19 is a freshman at FGCU and occasionally consumes Kratom. She does not support the Kratom Consumer Protection Act. 

“I don’t think it’s necessary. It seems like another way to control an impressionable group of people,” Maertens said.

Nectar Lab is a kava bar located in Gulf Coast Town Center which is two miles away from FGCU, making it a popular location for students. 

Callie Campeggio is a Sophomore at FGCU and a Kavatender at Nectar Lab. She believes it will negatively affect the clientele at Nectar Lab. 

“It’s going to affect a lot of FGCU Students. A lot of them come here during the fall and spring semesters to study, have a drink, and be productive. But, since a lot of FGCU students are under 21, we’re not going to be able to drink kratom here like we used to,” Campeggio said.

While it may seem kratom distributors may be against increased regulation, some are in favor of the bill. Elliot Rusher is the Operations Manager at Kava Culture and supports the Florida Kratom Consumer Protection Act.

“It requires businesses to be a lot safer with their choices when it comes to what products they serve and the quality of products they serve,” Rusher said. 

Kava Culture products are all lab-tested and bought from suppliers that are at the top of the industry. Rusher states that if this bill passes it wouldn’t affect the company because of their high standards. 

The one disagreement Rusher has with the bill is the age limit being 21. As a standard, Kava culture products are 18 and up. Rusher does not claim to be a doctor or have a definitive answer on the safety of kratom, but understands the reservations parents would have about their adult children consuming Kratom.

“Even though their kids are 18, they still care about their kids. It’s their babies. I can’t blame parents for having questions about these things,” Rusher said.

Kavatender and FGCU junior, Christopher James Smith straining a kratom cocktail at Kava Culture Estero

James Jones is the Master Brewer at Botanical Brewing Company, which is a subsidiary of Kava Culture. As Master Brewer, Jones is responsible for producing the kratom on tap that is distributed to over 200 locations. Jones ensures that the kratom brewing process is as safe as possible. 

“Basically, we go through a special preparation process that allows for all of the beneficial alkaloids of kratom to become available during the steeping process, without the presence of 7-hydroxy,” Jones said.

7-Hydroxy is the full agonist in kratom. According to the World Health Organization, opioid agonists “are therapeutic drugs used for the management of opioid dependence. In clinical practice, they are used for opioid agonist maintenance therapy or withdrawal management.”

7-Hydroxy is present in kratom extracts which Botanical Brewing Company does not produce. 

While some in the kratom community are in favor of the Florida Kratom Consumer Protection Act, others are not. 

Kava Luv is a kava bar in Naples which also serves kratom. The company started a petition in opposition to the Florida Kratom Consumer Protection Act. The petition is titled “STOP Kratom Protection Act in Florida.”

“The Kratom Protection Act is a proposed legislation in Florida that seeks to regulate the sale and use of kratom, a natural herb that has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. However, there are concerns that this legislation could harm young adults by setting a 21-plus age limit on kratom,” Kava Luv said. 

Kava Luv believes that kratom is a healthy alternative to alcohol. Kava Luv also believes that the 21-year age limit is too restrictive. They want young adults to have access to kratom so they will not turn to alcohol.

HB 179 has been passed by the House and Senate. It is now awaiting to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.