I interviewed this Mississippi kratom activist who wished to remain anonymous for Episode 8 of the Kratom Science Podcast . This text version of the interview was edited for clarity, with relevant links added.
Since the podcast was released, Senator Chuck Younger has introduced a kratom ban bill in Mississippi for the 2020 session. SB2084 was introduced on January 17 to add kratom to the list of Schedule 1 substances.
Kratom Science: Why do you want to be anonymous?
Anonymous: Well, just for safety reasons, mainly. I mean, I don’t want to be anonymous. I would love nothing more than to say what I want. I guess you would just have to be from around here to fully understand. I just don’t want to pick a fight with a newly-elected sheriff, and, you know, people like that.
KS: So it’s dangerous? Do you think they’ll come after you?
ANON: I have no idea. I really don’t put anything past them at this point, you know?
KS: What is different about Mississippi from other states?
ANON: It’s probably just something that you would have to be here to really understand. Mississippi gets a lot of bad press, and, deservedly, ok? But what people don’t know, is there’s a lot of truly good people here.
The thing is, people are just rural, and it’s poor, and it’s spread out, so it’s not easy to connect with like-minded people. And it’s even harder to get anybody to talk about stuff.
There was an article in the Clarion Ledger or one of the Jackson papers did in 2018 about the Monroe County Sheriff he did this round up and arrested a bunch of people. They did this whole story on it, and they went to Aberdeen, and they were trying to interview people, just normal citizens. Just asking them about Aberdeen. And none of them would talk. None of them wanted to say anything.
So that’s another thing that’s hard here. Surely it’s not like that everywhere. That’s got to be unique to Mississippi. The not talking. People just want to be left alone. Don’t make any problems and they won’t mess with you. You’ll kinda get to live in peace, is the mentality.
It’s a deeply religious state. And so, everybody’s grown up to not question God or religion in any way. So if somebody wants to come and spew propaganda, and they use, somehow, the church, or religion, or something like that, then the people are sold on it. They automatically believe them, and wouldn’t question it.
KS: That’s just a shame that you feel like you can’t exercise your First Amendment rights without feeling as though you could get retribution for it.
KS: There’s a task force called the Lowndes County Crime and Addiction Task Force. They have been spreading anti-kratom propaganda around and working to get it banned. They meet with county councils and town councils. They’ve been successful in getting many bans there, especially in Northeast Mississippi. Why do you think they’re doing this?
ANON: I personally think, just because of the timing and everything, it has something to do with medical marijuana down here. It just so happens that in 2019 when the task force started doing this, was the year that the medical marijuana ballot initiative needed signatures to try to get on the ballot in 2020. And when I looked into the two legislatures in Lowndes County that actually sponsored the kratom bill to get it banned, they were on the steering committee of the Medical Marijuana Initiative. So I thought that was really, really weird how they could be against one plant but support another. It was really weird to me and the timing of it all. I really think that was the reason behind the aggressiveness.
KS: That’s very interesting. Do you think there are people with money who want to ban one and control the other? Or is it just because drug enforcement wants to justify their existence, in a sense?
ANON: A lot of people probably have motives in this. The medical marijuana would be prescription-only, which would be doctor-prescribed, which benefits that industry. And it would take away from the incarcerations, because people with the medical marijuana card wouldn’t get in trouble. Nothing would really change on that. With all the states outright legalizing marijuana, Mississippi decided they better get control on this. With the medical marijuana, Mississippi is gonna allow a free market on who can grow it. It can only be dispensed in certain places, but they’re letting a free market on who can grow it.
So it seems to benefit a lot of people, but some of the not-well-connected people will not be able to get involved with that.
KS: What do you know about the backgrounds of the members of the Lowndes County Crime and Addiction Task Force?
ANON: Well, the Lowndes Community Foundation members all met in 2018, and they all came up with these task forces based on the needs of the community. And I read, I think it was in the Columbus Dispatch, that their biggest concern was education. But, you know, I don’t see an “education task force” going around, aggressive, like the crime and addiction one.
The Lowndes Foundation co-chair is the Vice President of the Dutch Oil Company [Matt Bogue]. They have a Shell gas station on one side of the building, and on the other side, it’s pharmacies. So that’s weird too.
One of them is a retired orthopedic surgeon, and he prescribed opiates. It just seems like they all have something to gain from this.
Captain [Tammy] Reynolds, she is the head of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics (MBN) of, I don’t know how many counties. Her and the MBN state director, or former, I think he just retired or resigned, John Dowdy. Her and John Dowdy were appointed to Governor Bryant’s “Heroin and Opioid Task Force”. John Dowdy is another one who’s very outspoken about wanting kratom to be banned as well.
KS: It’s really striking that law enforcement is going around Mississippi trying to outlaw something so that they could haul people into jail. It’s really out in the open. The video from Oktibbeha County, for anyone who studies kratom, is a bunch of silly propaganda. But the people on the council don’t know any better. It’s really kind of a striking, out-in-the-open corruption for a law enforcement group to go around and say, “You should make it illegal in your county so we can arrest people.” It’s really kind of evil what they’re doing in Mississippi.
ANON: It is, it is.
KS: And I think anyone reading from elsewhere should really pay attention to what’s going on in Mississippi.
ANON: Yeah, that’s another reason why I have to be anonymous. If you see the video, then you get it. It’s crazy.
They have this outrageous story. The dollar amount changes every time you hear it. In the thousands, somewhere around twenty thousand or something.
At the Lee County meeting, Captain Reynolds said something about a Lee County gas station that got busted for selling opioids, and kratom on the books, and pawning TVs. She even went so far to say that women customers were sleeping with the owner to get kratom. It was insane. So my jaw was on the floor.
I went and I tried to find this store. And it was somewhat true, the guy was selling opioids out of the store. It wasn’t kratom. Around here you don’t really hear too much about kratom.
They started out with “11 deaths”, and two from “kratom alone”. That’s what they started with. Of course now the number is at 13. I believe that the other two deaths.. one of them was from Oxford. News reports were talking about a lady in her 60s who died in her house, and they found kratom at her house. So they suspected kratom was involved. So then you don’t hear anything for a while, and then, “confirmed kratom overdose death”. Interesting the assistant police chief that basically got kratom banned in Oxford, got promoted, so now he’s the police chief.
KS: What does ALEC stand for?
ANON: American Legislative Exchange Council.
KS: Are trying to ban kratom through that?
ANON: Our Mississippi Speaker of the House was just announced National Chairman for ALEC. They’re nonprofit, and it consists of a lot of corporations including pharmaceutical companies, and basically they have these back-room meetings with legislators. Mississippi has a lot of members. They have the corporations sit down with legislators behind closed doors and they basically write these bills that would be corporation friendly, and they get the legislators to pass them through the state. Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company, are a known ALEC member.
One of the co-sponsors of the kratom bill in 2018, the one Chuck Younger submitted, was Senator Hob Bryan. He basically admitted he used model legislation and kratom was one of them.
Through the Center for Public Integrity, I searched the keyword “kratom”. The results matched the exact language with other bills and it was crazy. All the kratom ones that were submitted in other states were identical with the ones submitted here. There were also hemp bills and medical marijuana bills. The language was the exact same, or very similar to the kratom bill. So basically they’re saying that those were written by ALEC.
I do wanna say this. I think Mississippi, especially in the Northeast part, it’s getting a bad rap when it comes to drugs. The drug problem is a bit over-exaggerated.
Northeast Mississippi is part of the Appalachian Regional Commission. Tammy Reynolds is actually the government-appointed Rep that’s on the substance abuse council there. I came across something that compared all the counties with the rest of Appalachia. And surprisingly, Northeast Mississippi was considered a bright spot. Five counties were doing better than expected given the circumstances. “Poisoning deaths”, or overdoses, were 7% lower than the national rate, and 21% lower than non-Appalachian Mississippi.
KS: If kratom gets banned, what are you going to do?
ANON: What people will have to do is just move. I’ve spoken to other people who have said that’s what they’ll do, and that’s what we’ll do.
KS: Well thank you for doing what you’re doing and being a good citizen. We need people like you everywhere.
ANON: I’ve seen what kratom does for people. It helps people. And when you hear the task force, it’s sad. It makes me sick. It makes me mad. I don’t know how anybody could know the truth, and then hear that, and not say something.