Supervisor Pete Candland and his wife Robyn are well known for the two Cookies & Cream ice cream shops they own in Haymarket and Bristow. Lesser known is Candland’s other day job – a position that has him on the forefront of the fight to keep controversial herbal supplement kratom legal at the state and federal levels.

Candland, R-Gainesville, has quietly led the American Kratom Association as its executive director since 2016. Kratom, a plant-derived substance that has similar properties to opiates, is legal in the U.S. but has been banned in six states. 

There are currently no laws regulating kratom at the federal level. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recommended kratom’s active ingredient, mitragynine, be classified as a Schedule 1 drug, citing its “high potential for abuse” and morphine-like pharmacological effects. Other Schedule 1 drugs include heroin, marijuana and ecstasy.

In Virginia, there have been 26 fatal overdoses associated with kratom since 2015. All but three, however, have also involved other deadly drugs, including heroin and fentanyl, according to the Virginia Department of Health. 

The American Kratom Association lobbies state and federal officials for the continued legalization and increased regulation of kratom products. The organization has successfully lobbied lawmakers in four states – Utah, Nevada, Georgia and Arizona -- to pass the “Kratom Consumer Protection Act,” which sets regulatory requirements on kratom products while keeping it legal.

Those regulations include increased labeling and manufacturing guidelines; a ban on the sale of adulterated kratom products; and a ban on the sale of kratom to anyone under 18 years old.

Candland said the American Kratom Association’s focus is on keeping kratom uncontaminated and legal. Candland noted, however, in an interview Thursday, Aug. 15, that he does not personally lobby on behalf of the organization as its executive director.

“We don’t represent the vendors in the industry, we represent consumers, and our goal is to protect consumers and protect their right to consume kratom,” Candland said in a recent interview. “We believe that people should have the right to make their own choices about their health and well-being on whether they consume kratom or not.”

Candland was elected supervisor of the Gainesville District in 2011. All eight seats on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors are up for re-election in November. Candland is seeking a third term on the board and faces a challenge from Democrat Danny Funderburk.

Candland: Kratom an option ‘to get off opioids’

The American Kratom Association is funded primarily by individual donors and organizations interested in supporting the group’s mission of keeping kratom legal but regulated. Candland, who began working for the organization in 2016, said he has consumed kratom once and “didn’t feel a thing.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned consumers not to use kratom and said the plant has properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse and dependence. 

Advocates of kratom say it’s an effective pain reliever and can help treat the effects of anxiety and depression. Some kratom users also say it can ease the withdrawal symptoms of more potent opioids. 

Candland said the supplement, which is typically consumed as a powder mixed into a tea-like drink or taken as a capsule, is a safer pain-management alternative to opioids and may help people struggling with opioid addiction kick the habit.

“The American Kratom Association takes the stance that we should be offering people more options over these deadly opioids, and not less options,” Candland said. “People definitely see it as an option for them to get off of opioids.”

Mac Haddow, who is a friend and longtime political associate of Candland’s, serves as American Kratom Association’s senior fellow on public policy. Haddow said it is inaccurate to compare kratom to opiates and notes the vast majority of kratom overdoses were caused by other drugs used in conjunction with the herb. 

“Critics of kratom talk about how it harms people, but the truth is that it saves lives,” Haddow said. “We have one person every 11 minutes who dies of an opioid overdose in the United States. If kratom is helping them to stay off of opioids or ween off of opioids, that’s what we should be encouraging.”

In Virginia, 23 of the 26 overdose fatalities associated with kratom since 2015 were poly-drug-use overdoses primarily involving heroin, fentanyl or benzodiazepines. 

There were 1,241 total drug overdose deaths involving opioids in Virginia in 2017, a rate of 14.8 deaths per 100,000 persons. Most of the fatalities were caused by heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioid overdoses, according to the state health department. 

A consumer health report published by the Mayo Clinic in April stated that kratom products were unsafe for consumers. 

“People who use kratom for relaxation report that because it is plant-based, it is natural and safe. However, the amount of active ingredient in kratom plants can vary greatly, making it difficult to gauge the effect of a given dose,” the report said. “Depending on what is in the plant and the health of the user, taking kratom may be very dangerous.”

Legal in Virginia, banned in six states

States that have banned kratom include Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Vermont and Rhode Island. But it can be purchased over the counter at headshops and tobacco stores in most states, including Virginia.

There are several tobacco shops in Prince William and Manassas that sell kratom. A spokesman for the Prince William County Police Department said the department is treating kratom as a “high-risk substance.”

“We have run into it a little bit,” said Sgt. Jonathan Perok. “It is currently unregulated by the government and is not scheduled by the DEA. However, because it is unregulated, doses and methods for use, as well as lack of clinical testing for effectiveness, make kratom a high-risk substance.”

Pitbull Tobacco & More, a smoke and vape shop with four retail locations in the Virginia Beach area, said kratom sales account for 33% of the stores total sales. Director of Logistics Kelsey Meade said the company sells kratom to “all walks of life,” including active-duty military members. She said the sale of kratom products has increased steadily in the last few years. 

“It’s a staple of our business and we would be devastated if it were to become illegal,” Meade said.

Members of the Prevention Alliance of Greater Prince William County, a coalition of community members who work to prevent addiction and promote treatment, only recently learned about Candland’s position with the American Kratom Association. Heather Martinsen, of Prince William County’s Community Services, said there has been no research to support claims that kratom is an effective alternative to opioid use. 

“In the wake of the opioid crisis Kratom has been touted by some groups to be an alternative to opioid use. There is no scientific evidence, FDA-approved research to support that claim. These claims decrease the perception of harm around the use of Kratom therefore also increasing the risk of use or misuse,” Martinsen said. 

Chrissy Marie Fauls, of the nonprofit Why, Inc. and a member of the group, said she is skeptical about the supplement’s ability to effectively treat opioid addiction. 

“We don’t know enough about it,” Fauls said. “It needs to be regulated and children absolutely should not have their hands on it.”

Candland is arranging for someone from the American Kratom Association to speak to the alliance this fall, Martinsen said.

Clarification: This article has been updated to note that Supervisor Pete Candland says he is not personally involved in the American Kratom Association‘s lobbying efforts as its executive director. 

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that kratom is illegal in Washington D.C. Kratom is no longer illegal in Washington D.C. It was banned in 2016 but the ban was lifted in 2018. We regret the error. 

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(6) comments


Pete Candland looks like a nut! Only an idiot would support a gateway drug.

Kratom been labeled dangerous by law enforcement.

The person in the article,Mac Haddow is a lone liar. Run his name through the background checks.


“We believe that people should have the right to make their own choices about their health and well-being on whether they consume kratom or not...”

If this is so then why even bother with having the Food & Drug Administration, Mayo Clinic, WebMD, family doctors and medical specialists. Just ask your local over the counter super supplements good-stuff dealer for the real facts.


I think that the idea is to treat it like alcohol or tobacco. We’d leave it up to individuals to make the choice whether or not to consume it. Regulating it would be nice though. I know safety is a concern to most people. Kratom has helped me stay off of heroin so personally, I don’t worry about the safety to the extent that others do. I’m more concerned about having access to it. Some people also believe that the pharmaceutical industry is pressuring the government to ban the plant. I don’t know enough to decide for myself whether or not I think that’s what’s going on.


Bryce your thinking is logical and well tempered. I wish you well.

To the issue of government involvement there is zero doubt that bureaucratic careerists and high pressure politics are heavily involved with what the FDA does when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry. There is enormous power and profit to be had.

This is why Pete Candland should decide whether he wants to represent his constituents as their supervisor or sell cookies and kratom from his store. He cannot do both without controversial bias entering the fray.


if you look at the facts: kratom has actually been here since the 90's even though the FDA has not admitted to conducting research on it, they have. There have been tons of science tests performed on and with the substance and there is substantial data they can be provided to the public if they're willing to do their research. I know this from personal experience. The overdoses since the 90's are double digits with less than a handful being purely kratom-based overdoses. In comparison to alcohol,street drugs, and pharmaceuticals, it's absolutely nothing to shake a finger at. The FDA as well as the pharmaceutical companies and government-run organizations want control of it so it can be taxed the way they've done with marijuana. This also increases its retail value because of the benefits. They're willing to provide suboxone and methadone which are synthetic heroin that are just as difficult to even taper off of much less get clean. Both substances leave the person nately able to function even though they're not supposed to be giving out such strong doses. They do that to keep a revolving door in motion and believe me, I have parents, siblings, and friends going through those doors. I consume kratom for fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, etc. It relieves my pain without overpowering nausea and sedation as well as elevated my mood where all other alternatives do none of the above simultaneously. Sure, regulate it, but not for monetary gain. Do it so the public doesn't buy lace kratom, contaminated kratom, don't abuse it or use it to enhance illicit drugs... do it from your heart, no your sticky itching palms or your wallet that wears you on its chain.


As with Bryce your thinking is logical and well tempered.

My issue with Pete Candland is that I do not believe that he can fairly represent the will of most of his constituents at the same time dealing privately with all of the pros and cons of something as controversial as kratom. His reasoning and logic may well be on equal fair par with yours but that would also mean he was going against the will of a large portion of those who elected him considering that kartom is itself an opioid.

To the bulk of your argument. There is absolutely no doubt that the you scratch my back and I will scratch yours interplay of self profit and power aggrandizement between physicians, pharmaceutical industries, insurance companies, government agencies and politicians is huge.

An example with less controversy than kratom would be FDA approved statin drugs prescribed for bad cholesterol. Too often the first thing family physicians do is prescribe statins to their patients with little or no regard of the possible side effects. One of those being that statins destroy the human body's natural production of CoQ10 which can cause severe muscle cramps among other adversities. This is somewhat controllable by taking expensive over the counter CoQ10 supplements. But the FDA refuses to review and/or approve CoQ10 because it is not produced (in China, India or Canada) by one or more of the team players in the aforementioned interplay.

Now ad another one of the most prescribed drugs to the mix. Blood pressure medications which result in side effects in many people that would drop an average farm mule in it's tracks. Over the counter supplements are often the only thing that can enables people to tolerate the pain. Ditto for Parkinson disease and a myriad of post traumatic stress disorders now common to many occupations.

Hence, what kind of conclusion can one come to upon introducing the unbelievably staggering destructive power of the world of drug addictions you've described and experienced? It seems reasonable to me to assume that virtually every person in our country today has a family member, friend or knows someone that has a bad drug addiction problem.

And incredibly the same key players lording over kratom want to throw open our borders and let the entire monstrous machine come into our country.

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