Pete Candland American Kratom Association

Pete Candland Interview: A Force To Be Reckoned With in the Kratom Advocacy

Pete Candland is not only a family man whose passion for people shines, but also a true warrior in the fight to keep kratom legal. He serves as the Executive Director for the American Kratom Association (AKA), where he is constantly rooting for the herb, and especially the people who reap its benefits. 

Politics are nothing new for Candland, who has been serving constituents in his own community of Gainesville, Virginia, as a District Supervisor since 2011. So when the opportunity arose for him to serve the kratom community, he jumped on it, not realizing just how much of a passion it would become. 

The first topic I asked Candland to expand on is the news that kratom warriors have been waiting for; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to rescind the intent to schedule kratom as a Schedule 1 drug. For those who aren’t familiar, scheduling the herb as such would put it into the same category as heroin. Not to mention it took over two years for the FDA to come clean on the decision to rescind the scheduling intent, and only because two congressmen took it upon themselves to find out. On January 28, the AKA announced:

Congressman Mark Pocan (WI) and Congressman Morgan Griffith, in exercising their oversight responsibilities over the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), discovered that on August 16, 2018 HHS had rescinded the request for the kratom to be classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

While Candland agrees that this is definitely a huge step in the right direction, he believes it will take time to really sink in at levels that it needs to. He stated:

I think it’s going to take time for it to filter down into the consciousness of folks out there. We were just dealing with this in South Dakota. There was a proposed ban of kratom in South Dakota, and both Mac Haddow and I spoke there during the committee public hearing…and the sponsor of the ban repeated much of what the FDA were saying, and even brought up that ‘the DEA is looking to schedule this.’ When we told them about and provided them with the HHS letter, and described what the letter was, they still didn’t quite get it. I think it just shows that this is going to take time for it to sink in.”

Candland went on to say that he believes “this was part of the FDA’s strategy from the beginning.” “Tell folks to keep this letter under wraps and you have two years sinking into national consciousness that kratom is about to be banned any minute…and that’s what people will remember.” 

Because of the time it will likely take for the latest news to trickle down to the right lawmakers, Candland anticipates still having to fight proposed bans. 

“I think we’ll continue to have these proposed state and local bans on kratom,” Candland said. “While I believe we’ve got a pretty good footing on the federal level, I think we’ll still be having these issues moving forward. And these are well-meaning legislators, who are stumbling upon this misinformation by the FDA.”

Candland emphasized that the AKA, along with kratom consumers, will continually have to make the case of why this plant shouldn’t face a ban. 

A Passion Is Born

Mitragyna Speciosa Korth (aka Kratom).

The truth of the matter is, the kratom community has come a very long way since the proposed ban came out in 2016. At that point in time, most believed it was only a matter of time before the plant was banned nationally, including Candland:

I started in October of 2016 with the AKA, and I was brought on with a three-month contract, because they felt that kratom was going to be scheduled at any moment. That was nearly five years ago, and now we have a great advocacy foundation with the kratom fight. It has allowed us to hire the right people, to activate a loud voice in a particular state, or a particular city. I think 20 years from now they’ll be writing a very interesting case study on the fight to keep kratom legal, and how this small group of grassroots advocates pushed back on the FDA, pushed back on the big pharmaceutical companies, and kept a product legal.

As Executive Director for the AKA, Candland “manages the books and makes sure that the bills are paid.” But it goes a lot further than that. As he got further into the advocacy, his passion for the people behind trying to keep kratom legal only grew:

“It really became more than just a job to me. I saw how kratom is really helping to save people’s lives. And I hear those testimonies all the time. My cell phone number is on our website, so people call me and want to share their very personal kratom story. So I hear how kratom has become so important in their life, and how it helps get them their jobs back, or their families back. And then on the other side, I’ve seen the FDA be very misleading on what kratom is.”

Candland is just as frustrated as every kratom advocate when it comes to misleading stories involving the herb, especially when it comes to supposed “kratom related deaths.” 

“One person had fallen out of a window and died of those injuries, but since they had kratom in their system, they called it a kratom related death,” Candland stated. He continued: 

And I saw the FDA being misleading, and maybe it’s the public service side of me, but that has really driven me to to try and work as hard as I can to get the truth out there, and to make sure the kratom consumers are protected from what I think is an out of control government agency. For them to say kratom needs to be banned, or is on par with a Schedule 1 such as heroin and cocaine is absolutely absurd!

Why Is the Government Obsessed With Kratom?

While it may seem up to this point that Candland would prefer the government to stay out of the way when it comes to kratom, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, he believes quite the opposite, knowing it’s the only way that the herb will survive legally in the marketplace. It’s all about going about it the right way, Candland says:

I think the FDA wants every product out there to go through them. They’ve already tried it in the 80’s and 90’s by attempting to ban vitamins and dietary supplements. They used much of the same false reasoning back then of dietary supplements as they have with kratom…saying, ‘This is killing people, there’s dietary supplement related deaths, they’re unapproved drugs!’ It’s almost the exame same playbook that they’re using with kratom. And it took Congress stepping in, saying ‘No FDA, you’re not going to ban them or treat them like drugs, and you’re going to allow people the opportunity to make their own choices about their health and well being.’

Candland said he feels the FDA believes it’s their job to control and regulate the marketplace. With kratom being unregulated at the moment, it leaves them feeling threatened. 

“As a food, kratom falls outside of the requirements and restrictions of a drug, and the FDA doesn’t like it,” he continued. 

If you’re a kratom consumer, you realize that the herb doesn’t get one high or live up to the standards of any drug out there. So what gives, why has the FDA been so steadfast in their approach to try and make it out to be something it’s not? 

“Some folks think Big Pharma is behind it,” Candland stated. “And it could be, but I think sometimes the simplest explanations are probably the most likely to be true. The FDA is a government body that just wants to have direct control of every product out there.” 

Kratom Consumer Protection Act Is Essential to the Herb’s Legality

Candland emphasizes that the AKA’s mission is to keep kratom legal, however, with “guardrails around the marketplace” in order to ensure the safety of consumers: 

It is illegal to adulterate kratom with harmful products, but it also should be illegal to alter the alkaloids within kratom to dangerous levels. That’s one of the other components of the Kratom Consumer Protection Act (KCPA). Adulteration doesn’t just mean mixing it with cocaine or fentanyl, of course that should be illegal and it is right now. But it’s also about taking kratom and artificially enhancing those alkaloids to pump them up, to create a high that’s not found in the natural plant. Nature got it right, and if you have a vendor who wants to artificially enhance the alkaloids to give a high to make a profit, they should be held accountable.

Seems simple enough. Kratom is a cherished plant in its pure form, but some still like to try and make it something that it’s not in order to boost sales.

On a ‘Mission to Protect Consumers’

With the number of kratom consumers literally climbing by the day, it seems obvious that there has to be a level of governmental oversight to ensure the herb’s safety (for example, making sure all vendors are using an accredited lab to test their product). Unfortunately if not, there will undoubtedly be those vendors who want to capitalize in the wrong ways, i.e. adulterating kratom for the sake of profit. 

I asked Candland what the AKA is or anticipates doing about the “bad actors,” those who are not conducting business in an ethical or responsible way, are weeded out.

“Our sole mission at the American Kratom Association is to protect consumers,” Candland said of the AKA. “We are a consumer advocacy organization. So if we see a vendor who is making medical claims, if we hear of a vendor who is adulterating those products, we’re going to do everything within our power to hold them accountable to either stop, or be forced out of the marketplace. Last year, the AKA launched our Truth in Labeling Program which allows consumers to report any improper claims being made by vendors. If we verify those claims are being made, we give the vendor a chance to fix it, but if they don’t, we will report them to the FDA. And almost all of the vendors who we’ve reached out to with issues have corrected them.” Candland expanded on this highly integral topic:

When you have bad actors like that, it not only hurts the people who are taking the product, it hurts the whole industry. It hurts those good actors. We have the AKA Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) Standards Program, for vendors that highlights those who are doing it the right way. We’ve laid out good manufacturing standards for vendors to follow. It does take some investment to get your facility up to that point where you pass the third party audit that we have for the program. But there are a lot of vendors who spend the money to do it, because they believe in doing it the right way. They believe this industry needs to be protected from the bad actors. They’re willing to put themselves out there, to spend the additional funds to get their facilities and their processes where they need to be. Most vendors out there don’t want the industry to be tarnished.

Candland also emphasized that most vendors who they have approached who’ve, for example, made medical claims or were selling products that weren’t up to par, did so without realizing it. Once they learned why what they were doing or saying was wrong, they in fact wanted to make things right. However, he also warns those who still, even after warnings, don’t want to conduct business in the right fashion, or worse. 

“If you want to give the FDA an excuse to ban kratom, even with this letter (rescinding the scheduling intent), you start by having people die from adulterated kratom,” Candland said. “And then this conversation of kratom legality becomes much different.”

The Future of Kratom

Luckily Candland doesn’t anticipate the world of kratom to crash due to bad practices, and believes most vendors want to do business using GMP standards.

Asked where he expects kratom to be from a legal standpoint in the next five years, Candland said his hope is that “it will be legal in every state.” However, he stressed that education surrounding the herb needs to be continual.

 “We’ll still have to be working to educate people, and lawmakers on kratom,” he said. He also anticipates still having to fight proposed bans due to misinformation surrounding the plant. “I’m not sure if that will ever go away, at least in the near term future.” 

Candland’s positive outlook shines when he speaks about kratom, and hearing what he believes the future of the herb is refreshing:

“We’ll start to see a much more mature marketplace that has proper labeling, proper sourcing and testing. Where we’ve come in the last four years is absolutely remarkable, and I’m very excited about the next four years!”

Why Funding Is So Important to the Kratom Advocacy

 

Being a newer herb to the United States and other parts of the world, Candland emphasized that more research will also be key to kratom’s legality. 

“Our estimate is that 13-15 million people consume kratom each year in the United States alone,” Candland stated. 

Even if the handful of cases the FDA has highlighted in the past in terms of adverse reactions to kratom were true, it’s an extremely low percentage. To put this into perspective, the National Library of Medicine estimates over 450 people die each year due to Acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) overdoses

“If we’re talking about making public policy off of one or two or a handful of (adverse) cases, that’s not good public policy,” said Candland. “But we absolutely need more research to be done on kratom…including human trials and see the data and numbers behind them.”   

Funding is an integral force when it comes to kratom. Candland stressed that the “vast majority of donations” to the AKA come from individuals, which has kept the movement alive. He explained: 

We’re fighting an entity, the FDA, who is funded by the government who can literally print their own money. We have to hire a certain baseline of resources. As I mentioned before, I pay the bills for the AKA, I see firsthand what they are. I’m the one who sees those invoices come in, when we’re paying up to $10,000 for a lobbying team, for one state. Now you add that for multiple states, and then you have a situation, for example, where we need to get a legal opinion on this language for legislation in Ohio, well now you have to hire a legal firm to come in and to look at that. And then you’re trying to get the word out on kratom, so then you need to hire a social media firm, and a public relations firm. If we want to continue the fight, if we want to be able to continue to pushback on the FDA, it’s just one of the aspects of being a non-profit…we rely on donations from individuals and vendors. We have to ask every single month for donations. It’s one of those situations where, if we take off one month, we’d be out of money pretty quickly. We believe that it’s so important, so vital, to throw everything at this fight right now, so we can’t afford to put money aside, or to stop fundraising or stop hiring the necessary experts. Because if we take a break for one second, we’re going to lose that ground that we’ve been able to make up.

Candland emphasized how generous individuals have been with donations, even during the current pandemic, which speaks volumes about the advocacy. In turn, he makes sure that every single dollar goes to the right resources, in order to educate, lift bans, and keep kratom legal where it already is. He plays a vital role within the kratom advocacy, and we’re so thankful for all that he has and continues to do. When he’s not educating or advocating for the herb, you can find him spending time with family, or talking to those in his community, where he co-owns an ice cream shop with his wife.

You can make a donation to the American Kratom Association here.  

Mac Haddow interview, Mac Haddow American Kratom Association, Mac Haddow AKA
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1 thought on “Pete Candland Interview: A Force To Be Reckoned With in the Kratom Advocacy”

  1. Awesome article! It’s great to hear the organization is taking a stand. I know lots of people that benefit from this!! Hope they continue to chip away at the state’s that have a current ban.

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