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Drug War Chronicle #1204 - February 5, 2024

1. East Coast Sees First Certified Regenerative Organic Marijuana Operation [FEATURE]

A movement toward sustainable, regenerative, organic cannabis cultivation that began on the West Coast is now on the East Coast.

2. Chronicle Book Review: The Silver Bullet Solution

Jim Gierach is a former Cook County, Illinois, prosecutor, occasional failed political candidate, and longtime fighter in the trenches taking on the war on drugs. He makes no bones about what he thinks need to happen.

3. VA Legal Marijuana Sales Bill Advances, UK's First Drug Checking Service Opens, More... (1/26/24)

A pair of congressional Democrats file a bill to allow marijuana use in public housing, the mayor of Amsterdam calls for legal cocaine use and sales, and more.

4. High Level US-China Meeting on Fentanyl Precursors Tomorrow, WV Drug Test Strip Bill Advances, More... (1/29/24)

One Canadian province is moving backwards on harm reduction, the West Virginia legislature sends a bill legalizing drug test strips to the governor, and more.

5. A Dozen Senators Call for Descheduling Marijuana, Bolivia Coca Grower Blockades, More... (1/30/24)

Mandatory minimum sentencing remains in fashion in Boise, an Arkansas medical marijuana expansion initiative has been rejected by the state attorney general, and more.

6. Portland Drug Emergency Declared, WA Home Grow Bill Advances, More... (1/31/24)

Marijuana legalization bills get filed in Hawaii and Kentucky, a Czech economic council calls for a legal, regulated market in marijuana, and more.

7. HHS Issues Rule to Ease Methadone Access, Texas AG Sues Pot Reform Cities, More... (2/1/24)

Rhode Island's first safe injection site is likely to be open by this summer, the FDA renews its warning on "gas station heroin," and more.

East Coast Sees First Certified Regenerative Organic Marijuana Operation [FEATURE]

Sun+Earth Certified, a nonprofit third-party certification for regenerative organic cannabis, has just certified its first farm on the East Coast, in the state of Vermont. Nestled among the mountains of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, Rebel Grown is a half-acre marijuana farm on a 200-acre permaculture sanctuary in the Town of Craftsbury. The farm and brand known today as Rebel Grown has produced hemp in Vermont since 2018 and, in 2022, received a license to grow cannabis for adult use.

There is a better way to grow marijuana. Ask Rebel Farm. (
Cannabis certified by Sun+Earth must be sun grown and cultivated on farms that strengthen habitats and build living soil. No chemical fertilizers or toxic pesticides are used to grow cannabis certified by Sun+Earth, whose standards go beyond the USDA Organic Regime. These rigorous standards encourage the planting of cannabis alongside food crops, and the strategic use of cover crops, composting, and reduced soil tillage. Such practices help sequester carbon from the atmosphere, further reducing a farm's carbon footprint.

Sun+Earth was founded in 2019 by cannabis industry leaders, experts, and advocates with a common commitment to the pillars of regenerative organic agriculture, farmer and farmworker protections, and community engagement. Currently, Sun+Earth has certified more than 60 cannabis farms and manufacturers in five states: California, Michigan, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

"There was a meeting in Mendocino in 2018, one of the first grower community meetings, it was small organic farmers from the Emerald Triangle who wanted to create a certification process to protect small, multi-generation farmers and people doing regenerative agriculture," Rebel Grown's Dan Pomerantz told the Chronicle. "There were a bunch of younger farmers trying to get into the program to get exposure, but I felt it should be reserved for old timers, so I stayed out at that time. I didn't want to take someone else's opportunity."

But by May 2022, as he got licensed to grow adult use marijuana in Vermont, Pomerantz decided the time was right. "This was a great opportunity to apply this on the East Coast, and now, whenever you need someone to educate about Sun+Earth, I'm your guy," he said.

"Cannabis grown regeneratively, under the sun and in the soil, without toxic chemicals, is not only high quality, but also the best for the earth," said Pomerantz. "We capture carbon through our plants and sequester it in the ground where it can be recycled through our living soils. Rebel Grown became Sun+Earth Certified to bring high-quality, healthy, ethically-farmed cannabis to the people of Vermont, and to become a model for regenerative organic agriculture everywhere."

Some of Rebel Grown's regenerative organic farming practices include cover cropping with rye grass and clover, mulching with organic alfalfa, and using wood ash and manure from chickens, ducks, geese, steers, goats, sheep, and horses. Rebel Grown generates its own compost, and also inoculates its soil with numerous species of microbes, enzymes, fungi, and beneficial bacteria in order to continually balance the microbiology of its living soil and plants' root zones. Made from trees on the farm, Rebel Grown uses maple syrup as an ingredient in its compost teas.

Sun+Earth is not just a rubber stamp certification.

"It wasn't difficult, but we needed to connect all the dots," said Pomerantz. "There are over 60 different things you need to do, such as having to take soil samples to show there is no pesticide and keeping an accurate journal and log showing all out inputs and sprays. Sun+Earth actually follows through; you have to show them how you run your farm. There is a lot of detail," he said.

"And aside from regenerative cultivation, part of it is how you treat people and where you stand in your community. We have to have conflict resolution protocols in place for staff. You have to take care of your people as much as your plants. And we give what we can to local charities," he added.

"The expansion of Sun+Earth into Vermont and the East Coast, with the certification of Rebel Grown, shows that quality sungrown cannabis can be produced across the entire continent," said Heather Dunbar of Sun+Earth Certified. "Indeed, the cannabis industry has the knowledge of how to shrink its large carbon footprint, and the wherewithal to prioritize regenerative organic farming," continued Dunbar. "Investing in cleaner, healthier, and more ethical cannabis just makes sense."

Rebel Grown, which has its roots in the Palo Verde Appellation of Southern Humboldt in the heart of The Emerald Triangle, is one of the only independently-owned, craft legacy brands now available on the East Coast. With an expertise in breeding and genetics, Rebel Grown's Pomerantz has developed dozens of proprietary cannabis varieties covering a broad spectrum of cannabis diversity. His genetics have won dozens of awards dating back to 2011, most notably The Emerald Cup's coveted Breeders Cup award in 2023, 2022, and 2018.

Last year, Rebel Grown also won first place in the "sun grown" category. Rather than keep his skills and expertise close to his chest, Pomerantz has for years freely shared his knowledge through a variety of cultivation classes and educational workshops, as well as trade media articles.

"I bought 126 acres back in 2012 where the previous owners had an organic farm and community. At the time, I was facing a criminal case and needed a place for my girlfriend to go and for when I got out. Then I acquired another 71 acres above and 12 more down the road," Pomerantz related. "We want to create well over 60 acres of mostly forested land and our goal is to have a working farm that does not just cannabis but a ton of food and animals and teaching farm techniques that were used in the past. The hope is that I can use the cannabis business to build other aspects of the farm."

Even though Rebel Farm has the largest type of outdoor grow license the state offers, allowing to grow on up to a ½ acre or 2500 plants, it is still a relatively small operation, with three full-time employees including Pomerantz and seven part-timers. But it is capable of growing hundreds of pounds a year.

"In these first two years, we couldn't afford much and probably produced 600-700 pounds each year," Pomerantz said, "but now all of our rows are elevate mounds, our soil is nicely developed, we will plow and add amendments and spread cover crops, and we can probably grow about 2,000 pounds."

Each state has its own laws governing legal marijuana production, and they are not always congruent with the interests of growers. Pomerantz pointed to a number of state law obstacles to Rebel Grown's success.

"We have a THC cap where we can sell over 30 percent in flower and 60 percent in concentrates. That's complete nonsense," he said. "And we have weird marketing laws. Our advertising has to be approved by the Cannabis Control Board and we have to prove that less than 15 percent of our advertising will be seen by people under 21."

High taxes don't help either, said Pomerantz.

"Between the cannabis tax and sales tax people are paying 21 percent in taxes," he complained. "Do you want to buy it from a store or from your neighbor? The stores aren't meeting expectations."

Nor does the state allow for deliveries, except for medical marijuana operations. Pomerantz said he would like to have direct to consumer sales, subscription programs, and access to farmers' markets, "but it is challenging legislatively."

Obstacles and hindrances be damned! Rebel Grown is going to keep on farming, and leading the way on the East Coast toward healthier, more environmentally friendly, and more sustainable marijuana-producing practices.

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Chronicle Book Review: The Silver Bullet Solution

The Silver Bullet Solution: Is It Time to End the War on Drugs? by James E. Gierach (2023, Histria Books, 341 pp., $29.99 HB)

Jim Gierach is a former Cook County, Illinois, prosecutor, occasional failed political candidate, and longtime fighter in the trenches taking on the war on drugs. With The Silver Bullet Solution, Gierach presents his vision of a sensible drug policy, and he makes no bones about it: To end the numerous harms of the war on drugs, we need to legalize drugs -- that is, to move to legalized, controlled, and regulated drug markets.

That is his silver bullet solution. For Gierach, that drug prohibition produces harm across a broad spectrum of domains, from gun violence to making criminals obscenely wealthy, from drug overdoses to the corruption of law enforcement (the Drug War Chronicle's "This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories" even gets a shoutout) and other government officials, is achingly evident. He, of course, is not alone in that assessment, but it is still, even after years of drug reform activism, a minority position.

I try to win people over with the argument that we should treat currently prohibited drugs the way we treat alcohol: Keep the cops out of it except to clean up the mess. We don't arrest people for drinking, possessing, or selling alcohol absent harm to themselves or others. We do arrest them for drunk driving, for getting drunk and causing public disorder, or for getting drunk and causing domestic violence, for example. The legal alcohol industry is heavily regulated, taxed, and non-violent -- disputes are handled in court, not with gunbattles on the streets.

That position acknowledges that there can be harms related to drug use and that there is a role for law enforcement in keeping society safe, but also acknowledges that a legal, regulated market in currently prohibited substances will make society -- drug users and non-drug users alike -- safer and criminals poorer.

Gierach makes similar arguments throughout The Silver Bullet Solution. A denizen of the Chicago area, he focuses much attention on the Windy City and the prohibition-related violence it has suffered for decades now. In fact, Gierach was railing against prohibition there back in the 1990s. How many people have been killed since then as the city, state, and federal governments try anything and everything to end the violence except the one thing that would actually end the violence -- ending drug prohibition? Gierach asks. (Okay, it wouldn't end all the violence, especially in the gun-saturated society, but it would dramatically reduce killings related to drug prohibition.)

Gierach is hardcore. He is adamant about ending drug prohibition, even though he calls his decades-long crusade "a lonely, contentious, and disappointing road." Not fond of half-measures, which he accuses too many drug reformers of settling for, "If there must be endless drug war, harm reduction is a good fallback position to address drug use harms," he writes. "But harm elimination is better than harm reduction, and an absence of drug war is the best policy to reduce most drug-war harms." [Emphasis in the original.]

He has a similar take on drug decriminalization, which frees drug users from fear of arrest and prosecution but does nothing to address the harms related to black market drug sales, both in terms of street violence and in terms of enriching violent international criminal enterprises. (But give Gierach extra points for recognizing that drug prohibition doesn't only enrich the likes of El Chapo, but also provides an income for hundreds of thousands of poor families in this country. It is hard to support a policy change when it is going to cost you your livelihood.

Gierach doesn't just walk the mean streets of Chicago; he also treads the halls of power at the UN anti-drug bureaucracies in Vienna, and he doesn't like what he sees there. He identifies the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its two complementary conventions that followed it as the legal backbone of global drug prohibition and demands that they be either repealed or radically amended. In fact, he drafted his own amendment to that effect, one that recognizes recreational drug use, only to find no country willing to pick it up and little support among the drug reform NGOs who cover that beat.

But Gierach is unbroken. Being an anti-prohibitionist absolutist can indeed place on one a "lonely, contentious, and disappointing road," but if the cause is just, you just keep going. And Gierach just keeps going. Let's hope it doesn't take too long for the rest of us to catch up.

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VA Legal Marijuana Sales Bill Advances, UK's First Drug Checking Service Opens, More... (1/26/24)

A pair of congressional Democrats file a bill to allow marijuana use in public housing, the mayor of Amsterdam calls for legal cocaine use and sales, and more.

Eights tons of cocaine seized by Dutch authorities. Amsterdam's mayor says legalize it. (Netherlands Public Prosecutor)
Marijuana Policy

Norton, Booker Introduce Bill to Permit Marijuana Use in Federally Assisted Public Housing. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act Thursday to permit the use of marijuana in federally assisted housing, including public housing and Section 8 housing, in compliance with the marijuana laws of the state (including the District of Columbia) where the property is located.

Under current federal law, users of drugs that are illegal under federal law, including marijuana, are prohibited from being admitted into federally assisted housing. Federal law also allows landlords to evict residents of federally assisted housing for illegal drug use. Adult-use marijuana, medical marijuana or both are currently legal in DC, New Jersey and 37 other states, and over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana.

"Individuals living in federally funded housing should not fear eviction simply for treating their medical conditions or for seeking a substance legal in their state," Norton said. "Increasingly, Americans are changing their views on marijuana, and it is time that Congress caught up with its own constituents. With so many states improving their laws, this issue should have broad bipartisan appeal because it protects states' rights."

For the last several years, Congress has prohibited the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prevent jurisdictions from implementing their medical marijuana laws. This bill would similarly allow individuals to use marijuana in federally assisted housing in compliance with the state's marijuana laws and would require the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to develop regulations that restrict smoking marijuana in federally assisted housing in the same manner and to the same locations as HUD restricts smoking tobacco in federally assisted housing.

The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Virginia Bill to Allow Recreational Marijuana Sales Advances. The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee has approved one of a pair of competing bills that would pave the way for adult use marijuana sales in the state. The committee approved Senate Bill 448, introduced by Sen. Aaron Rouse (D-Virginia Beach), favoring it over Senate Bill 423, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, (D-Alexandria).

The Rouse bill would allow retail marijuana sales to begin in up to 400 stores starting January 1, 2025, while the Ebbins bill would have had a staggered opening, with medical marijuana producers allowed to begin selling recreationally in July while allowing others to open up only in January.

"My bill is certainly one to provide a framework for Virginians, and small business owners, and those who want to start a business in the cannabis industry -- without being drowned out by the big guys," Rouse said.

The bill now heads to the Senate Rules Committee before it can go for a Senate floor vote.

Asset Forfeiture

West Virginia Bill Reform State Asset Forfeiture Process, Take Step to Opt State Out of Federal Program. Del. Mike Pushkin (D) has filed House Bill 4531, which would reform the state's asset forfeiture process to require a conviction in most cases. The enactment of this bill would also take a step to opt the state out of a program that allows police to circumvent more strict state forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the feds.

The passage of HB4531 would also take a step toward opting West Virginia out of a federal program that allows state and local police to get around more strict state asset forfeiture laws. This is particularly important in light of a policy directive issued in July 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the Department of Justice (DOJ) that remains in effect today.

The bill would address the "policing for profit" motive inherent in the asset forfeiture process by requiring all forfeiture proceeds to go into the general fund after reimbursement of allowable expenses. Under current law, police departments in West Virginia can keep up to 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds.


United Kingdom's First Regular Drug Checking Service to Open in Bristol. The harm reduction group The Loop is set to open the United Kingdom's first officially sanctioned drug checking service in Bristol before the month ends. The service, operating with a license from the Home Office, will offer free drug checking and health advice in a bid to reduce overdoses, drug-related medical incidents, and hospital admissions.

The Loop is working closely with health professionals, the Bristol Drugs Project (BDP), and the universities of Liverpool and Bath to provide the services, which will only be available on the last weekend of each month for now.

Clients will hand over a small amount of the drugs to be tested at BDP headquarters where a mobile lab will check them for contents and potency, and an hour later, the client will receive the results, along with a tailored harm reduction conversation with health professionals.

"This is a landmark moment for harm reduction," said The Loop founder Professor Fiona Measham, Chair of the Criminology Department at the University of Liverpool. "After 12 years of preparations, evaluations and negotiations, it is fantastic news that The Loop can start the UK's first regular drug checking service. With more cities due to follow soon, this launch represents the start of a new era for drug checking and it could not come at a more important time. The risks from adulteration of the illegal drug market have never been greater."

Amsterdam Mayor Calls for Legal Cocaine Use and Sales. Mayor Femke Halsema is calling for the legal, regulated sale and use of cocaine in a bid to undermine organized crime.

"Let us conclude that hundreds of years of discouragement and repression have achieved very little," Ms. Halsema said, calling the war on drugs "perverse and counterproductive."

Authorities in the Netherlands seized a record 60 metric tons of cocaine last year, compared to only nine tons the year before, reflecting an upward trend with no end in sight.

"About 80 percent of our police capacity is spent on drug-related crime. In the Netherlands and Belgium, street prices for coke have been exactly the same for years. So you can only conclude that the incredible amount of efforts have no effect on the market," she said. "I am part of a growing group of scientists and administrators who say that the international war on drugs has such perverse effects that it causes more suffering than the drugs themselves."

Halsema is a member of Groenlinks, a green leftist political party formed in 1989 from a merger of the Netherlands Communist Party, the Pacifist Socialist Party, the Political Party of Radicals, and the Evangelical People's Party.

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High Level US-China Meeting on Fentanyl Precursors Tomorrow, WV Drug Test Strip Bill Advances, More... (1/29/24)

One Canadian province is moving backwards on harm reduction, the West Virginia legislature sends a bill legalizing drug test strips to the governor, and more.

All drug test strips could be legal in West Virginia if Gov. Justice signs a bill on his desk. (Creative Commons)
Harm Reduction

West Virginia Legislature Approves Bill Legalizing Drug Test Strips. With a yes vote in the House on Friday, the legislature has given final approval to a bill that would legalize the use and possession of drug testing strips, Senate Bill 269. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice (R).

Under current state law, drug testing strips are considered drug paraphernalia, possession of which is a criminal offense.

Lawmakers in 2022 passed a bill legalizing fentanyl test strips, but this bill legalizes the possession of any drug test strips.

"The most immediate thing that this legislation would allow is for us to distribute xylazine test strips, which many people have asked me about here at the clinic as part of our Harm Reduction Program. People are interested in them," said Iris Sidikman, Harm Reduction Program Coordinator at the Women's Health Center.

Foreign Policy

US, Chinese Officials to Meet Tomorrow on Fentanyl. A delegation of US officials, including officials from the DEA and the Justice, Homeland Security, State, and Treasury departments will meet in Beijing Tuesday with high-ranking Chinese officials to convene a working group aimed at cracking down on the flow of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs into he United States.

It is the first such high-level meeting between high-ranking US and Chinese officials since President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet in San Francisco in November, pledging to restart counternarcotics cooperation.

China is believed to be the largest manufacturer of fentanyl analogs and precursors, and even for the Chinese Communist Party, cracking down on the country's 400,000 chemical companies is a daunting challenge.

China banned the sale of fentanyl in 2019, but Chinese precursor chemical manufacturers are still shipping the chemicals to third-party markets, including Mexico, where they are used to make synthetic drugs then smuggled into the US.

It is a "really critical and pivotal moment for our direct committee implementation on this issue," said a senior White House administration official on Sunday. "It is a platform for ongoing coordination to support concrete enforcement actions with the goal of countering the evolving threat of synthetic drugs," the official said.


Canada's Saskatchewan Goes Ahead with Cuts to Harm Reduction Programs Despite Concerns. Taking a decidedly different tack from British Columbia, where drug possession is at least temporarily decriminalized, the province of Saskatchewan is moving ahead with cuts to harm reduction programs despite the mounting concern of health professionals.

The provincial government is tightening needle exchange supplies so that clients will now have to present their needles to a pharmacist in order to get new ones. And the province will quit funding drug use paraphernalia, such as crack pipes and associated supplies.

Addictions Minister Tim McLeod of the conservative Saskatchewan Party said sending pipes and instructions on how to use illicit drugs sends the wrong message. "Instead, the message coming from the health care system should be that there is hope for recovery, and help is available through treatment," he said.

But the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses says this is a regressive move. "It takes us back decades in helping people who are finding their way forward with their addictions and mental health issues," said union president Tracy Zambory. "It really is a scary time for people."

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A Dozen Senators Call for Descheduling Marijuana, Bolivia Coca Grower Blockades, More... (1/30/24)

Mandatory minimum sentencing remains in fashion in Boise, an Arkansas medical marijuana expansion initiative has been rejected by the state attorney general, and more.

Evo Morales. He's back and wants to run for president again. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

A Dozen Senate Democrats Urge Biden Administration to Deschedule Marijuana. Twelve Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York have sent a letter to the DEA as it considers rescheduling marijuana, calling on the agency to go a step further and completely deschedule it, effectively ending federal marijuana prohibition.

The Department of Health and Human Services has formally recommended that DEA move marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to the less tightly controlled Schedule III.

"The case for removing marijuana from Schedule I is overwhelming. The DEA should do so by removing cannabis from the CSA altogether, rather than simply placing it in a lower schedule," the senators wrote. "While rescheduling to Schedule III would mark a significant step forward, it would not resolve the worst harms of the current system. Thus, the DEA should deschedule marijuana altogether. Marijuana's placement in the CSA has had a devastating impact on our communities and is increasingly out of step with state law and public opinion."

"The Biden Administration has a window of opportunity to deschedule marijuana that has not existed in decades and should reach the right conclusion -- consistent with the clear scientific and public health rationale for removing marijuana from Schedule I, and with the imperative to relieve the burden of current federal marijuana policy on ordinary people and small businesses," they wrote.

The letter was authored by Sens. Jon Fetterman (D-PA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The other signers are Sens. Cory Booker (N-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Ron Wyden (R-OR).

Dallas Campaign Gathering Signatures to Put Pot Decriminalization on the Municipal Ballot. Activists are circulating petitions in a bid to put marijuana decriminalization on the November ballot for city voters. They are calling the measure the Dallas Freedom Act.

"Our jail is full of people arrested for misdemeanor arrests," said Changa Higgins, with the Dallas Action coalition, at a rally Monday. "And when you look at misdemeanor possession of marijuana, it's no different."

"To amend the city of Dallas charter so that police do not give folks citations or arrest folks for misdemeanor marijuana possession," said Julie Oliver, executive director of Ground Game Texas, which is organizing this campaign after similar successful campaigns in Austin, Denton, Killeen, and San Marcos.

Beyond decriminalizing pot possession, the measure from spending money for THC concentration tests, which is the only confirmed way to test whether a substance is legal hemp or illegal marijuana.

Organizers need 20,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Initial Version of Expanded Medical Marijuana Access Initiative. State Attorney General Tim Griffin (R) has rejected the language for a proposed ballot initiative that aims to improve access for medical marijuana patients. He determined that the ballot title for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Amendment of 2024 was improperly formatted and contained ambiguities about how it would affect existing state laws and rules.

Campaigners said they would make revisions and resubmit the initiative: "Arkansans for Patient Access is reviewing Attorney General Tim Griffin's ballot proposal opinion. We intend to address the issues raised and resubmit," said Erika Gee, an attorney for the group. "We are confident ballot language will be presented that ultimately gains approval."

The measure would allow patients to grow their own medicine -- up to seven mature and seven immature plants -- and expand who can certify patients to include physician assistants, nurse practitioners and pharmacists. It would also allow providers to certify patients based on any medical condition rather than a list of specified qualifying conditions, and it would allow health care providers to make patient assessments via telemedicine.

The initiative also contains language that would trigger the legalization of up to an ounce of marijuana if the federal government deschedules marijuana or if marijuana possession is no longer a federal crime.

Drug Policy

Idaho House Passes Bill Imposing Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Fentanyl. The Republican-dominated House on Monday voted 53-14 to approve a bill that would set mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted of selling fentanyl, House Bill 406. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Anyone convicted of trafficking up to 13 grams or less than 250 pills would face a three-year mandatory minimum sentence. Anyone convicted of trafficking 14 to 27 grams or 250-499 pills would face five years, and anyone convicted of trafficking more than that would face a 10-year mandatory minimum.

"We have always taken a tough stance on crime," bill cosponsor Rep. Chris Allgood (R) said. "We have heard arguments that Idaho's tough drug laws do not work. I beg to differ -- look at any of our neighboring states and see how successful soft drug laws are."

Opponents of the bill said ending fentanyl deaths in Idaho is a priority, but many said the legislation needs to make a better distinction between fentanyl manufacturers, dealers, traffickers and users.

But House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D) disagreed.

"We have very tough judges who are very tough on crime. They are very capable of knowing a bad guy and handing out a really serious sentence. The only thing that this bill does is force that judge to lock up a person that they don't think should be locked up," she said. "I am not soft on fentanyl, and I support the police," she said. "But I want to see us do things that actually work, and I think this bill reeks of injustice without any genuine benefit to shutting down the fentanyl crisis."


Bolivia Blockades over Morales Are Causing Food and Fuel Shortages. After more than a week of blockades led by coca growers and other workers supporting former president Evo Morales and protesting his disqualification from the 2025 elections, the country is beginning to suffer from food and fuel shortages.

"Today we have 25 blockade points in the country, generating a nationwide shortage of food and petrol," said Jhonny Aguilera, an interior ministry official.

Thirty-two police officers have been injured, 11 people have been arrested, and two people have died while stranded behind blockades.

Morales, a former coca growers union leader and the country's first indigenous president was first elected president in 2006 and was extremely popular before he was overthrown after disputes about whether he actually won a fourth term in 2019. Morales had to sidestep to constitution to run that yet, and that energized opposition against him.

But his Movement to Socialism (MAS) won the presidency again in 2020, with his lieutenant Luis Arce becoming the president. Arce and Morales have now split over the issue of whether he could and should run next year, leading to the current conflict.

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Portland Drug Emergency Declared, WA Home Grow Bill Advances, More... (1/31/24)

Marijuana legalization bills get filed in Hawaii and Kentucky, a Czech economic council calls for a legal, regulated market in marijuana, and more.

Street scene in Portland, Oregon, where officials have declared a drug emergency. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Attorney General's Marijuana Legalization Bill Formally Filed. A marijuana legalization bill grudgingly drafted last year by Attorney General Anne Lopez (D) has now been formally filed at the legislature. In the House, Rep. David Tarnas (D) filed House Bill 2600, and in the Senate, Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole (D) filed the identical Senate Bill 3335. Lopez said her office did not support legalization but drafted the bill at the behest of the legislature.

Earlier this month, the Senate's majority Democratic leadership listed legalization as one of its top legislative priorities (it has passed legalization bills twice before, only to see them die in the House), but advocates say the attorney general's bill needs a lot of work.

"Generally speaking, the bill provides a sound floorplan for adult-use legalization but erects a structure that is still far too punitive in its approach," said Nikos Leverenz, of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai'i and the Hawai'i Health and Harm Reduction Center. "Placing a velvet glove of legalization on law enforcement's iron hand is not what is called for."

The bill would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of weed and grow up to six plants, keeping up to 10 ounces of the resulting harvest. It would also create the Hawaii Cannabis Authority to license and regulate commercial production and sales.

But the measure would impose new criminal laws that would affect minors, as well as allowing for the odor of marijuana to be still be used to justify police searches.

The bill as introduced "might actually do more harm than good to the cause of cannabis justice," said Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for Marijuana Policy Project. "Legalization should mean fewer cannabis arrests, not more," and policy change "should include the clearing of criminal records for cannabis and reinvestment in hard hit communities. Instead, these bills ramp up cannabis-specific law enforcement and impose jail time for innocuous behavior that harms no one, including driving long after impairment wears off and having a previously opened jar of edibles in the passenger area of a car."

Kentucky HB 420 Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Rachel Roberts (D) filed a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 420, on Tuesday. The bill has a single cosponsor and is not expected to go far in the Republican-controlled legislature.

The bill would legalize the possession, growth, processing, marketing, sale and use of marijuana for adults and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

It would also allow for the expungement of past marijuana misdemeanors.

The bill would impose a double tax of nine percent on the sale from grower to distributor and another 9 percent on sale from retailers to individual customers.

Washington Bill to Allow Home Grows Advances. A bill that would allow adults to grow up to four plants (10 plants per household), House Bill 2194, has advanced out of the House Committee on Regulated Substances and Gaming on a 7-4 vote.

Despite having been one of the first two states to initially legalize the adult use marijuana market, Washington is one of only five legalization states that disallows home cultivation.

The bill must still get past the House Appropriations Committee before heading for a House floor vote.

Drug Policy

Oregon Leaders Declare Drug Emergency in Portland. Gov. Tina Kotek (D) on Tuesday issued a declaration formally declaring a drug emergency in Portland, the state's largest city, as part of a broader effort to confront the effects of fentanyl on city streets. The move is part of a broader plan announced last year by Kotek to curb public drug use and crime in the city and reestablish a sense of safety and security in the city.

In the order, Kotek cited the "economic and reputational harm" that the fentanyl problem was inflicting on Portland and the state.

"Our country and our state have never seen a drug this deadly addictive, and all are grappling with how to respond," the governor said in a statement.

As part of the emergency plan, officials will set up a "command center" in central Portland where various city, county, and state agencies can coordinate their responses to fentanyl.

Joining Kotek in making the declaration were Portland's mayor, Ted Wheeler; and the Multnomah County chair, Jessica Vega Pederson -- all Democrats. Democrats in the legislature are currently proposing rolling back the voter-approved Measure 110, which decriminalized drug possession in 2020 as a response to the fentanyl and public drug use crisis.


Czech Economic Council Calls for Regulated Marijuana Market. The National Economic Council (NERV), an independent advisory body that makes recommendations regarding economic reforms, is recommending that the government establish a legal marijuana market to spur economic growth.

"Criminal rates and sentencing principles should be adjusted. In the area of drug policy, a legal regulated cannabis market should be introduced," the NERV noted in its recommendation.

That measure was one of 37 recommendations NERV made for boosting economic growth in the Czech Republic.

Last month, the government presented a draft legalization bill, but one without a legal market. Instead, the bill would legalize possession, home cultivation, and marijuana social clubs -- an approach similar to those being undertaken in Germany and Malta.

Negotiations between parties in the government, who range from liberal to conservative, are still ongoing.

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HHS Issues Rule to Ease Methadone Access, Texas AG Sues Pot Reform Cities, More... (2/1/24)

Rhode Island's first safe injection site is likely to be open by this summer, the FDA renews its warning on "gas station heroin," and more.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton doesn't want any pot leaves in the Lone Star State.
Marijuana Policy

Texas Attorney General Sues Cities That Relaxed Marijuana Laws, Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) on Wednesday sued five cities that have moved in recent years to soften laws against small-time marijuana possession.

"I will not stand idly by as cities run by pro-crime extremists deliberately violate Texas law and promote the use of illicit drugs that harm our communities," the hard-right Republican who's facing trial in April for securities fraud said Wednesday. He also accused those cities of trying to "create anarchy by picking and choosing the laws they enforce."

The cities being sued are the state capital, Austin, along with Denton, Elgin, Killeen, and San Marcos. In 2022, those cities passed ordinances restricting the prosecution of minor marijuana offenses at the municipal level.

Paxton argues that the municipal ordinances are preempted by state law, and he wants the courts to overturn those ordinances and force those cities to "fully enforce the drug laws" of the state.

The state has increasingly warmed to marijuana despite Paxton. A December poll from the Texas Policy Project at the University of Austin found that just 17 percent of Texas think marijuana should be illegal, and only 23 percent of Texas Republicans think so.

Drug Policy

FDA Renews Warning on "Gas Station Heroin." The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday renewed an earlier warning about a substance called tianeptine, commonly known as "gas station heroin" because it is commonly sold at gas stations and convenience stores.

Tianeptine is not a controlled substance and is mixed into pills and liquid products. Vendors often claim it improves brain function and treats anxiety and depression. But FDA says there are numerous adverse event reports around it, with some people having seizures or losing consciousness.

Late last year, the FDA sent a letter to gas stations, convenience stores, and other vendors urging retailers to stop selling the products. But that has not stopped them.

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Nonprofits Announce Location of First State-Regulated Safe Injection Site. A state-regulated safe injection site should be open as soon as this summer after a pair of nonprofits announced Wednesday that they had signed a lease agreement for the site at a building next to the campus of Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.

Project Weber/RENEW, a peer-led harm reduction and recovery group, and its partner, the clinical services provider VICTA, plan to open the "overdose prevention center" as renters until they raise the rest of the $3 million it will cost to buy the building. The state has already allocated $2.6 million in opioid settlement funds to open the site, including money for salaries.

The opening needs approval from the Providence City Council, which has signaled that it supports the project. A resolution to authorize the site is today's council meeting agenda.

The 20,500-square-foot building will have space for medical, clinical and social support services. The center will allow people to use their own drugs under the supervision of trained professionals. The clients also will be able to test their drugs for fentanyl and other substances and be supervised by people who can administer naloxone, known as Narcan, in case of an overdose.

Rhode Island became the first state to authorize safe injection site, approving them in 2020. The only other safe injection sites operating with official sanction are in New York City, where the city government approved them. Their legality remains questionable under federal law. Other safe injection sites in major American cities operate underground.

HHS Updates Opioid Treatment Program Regulations for First Time in 20 Years, Eases Access to Methadone. On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) marked two years of its Overdose Prevention Strategy by announcing new actions to combat overdoses. These actions include finalizing a rule that will dramatically expand access to life-saving medications for opioid use disorder, announcing that certain grant funds may now be used to purchase xylazine test strips (XTS), and releasing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) updated Overdose Prevention and Response Toolkit.

"Drug overdoses reach every corner of our society, taking lives and causing immeasurable pain to families and communities. That's exactly why President "With these announcements, we are dramatically expanding access to life-saving medications and continuing our efforts to meet people where they are in their recovery journeys. The Biden-Harris Administration continues to take action to lower barriers to treatment and increase support for individuals and communities affected by opioids," said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.

HHS, through SAMHSA, published a final rule to comprehensively update regulations governing Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs), the only programs where people can access methadone treatment for opioid use disorder. The final rule seeks to dramatically expand access to life-saving medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) and to reduce stigma. Today's updates are the first substantial changes to these regulations in more than two decades.

"This final rule represents a historic modernization of OTP regulations to help connect more Americans with effective treatment for opioid use disorders," said Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, PhD, the HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, and the leader of SAMHSA. "While this rule change will help anyone needing treatment, it will be particularly impactful for those in rural areas or with low income for whom reliable transportation can be a challenge, if not impossible. In short, this update will help those most in need."

The final rule incorporates critical feedback submitted by treatment providers, advocates, and patients. Major provisions of the final rule that will expand access to medications for opioid use disorder while ensuring high-quality care include:

  • Making permanent COVID-19 era flexibilities that expand eligibility for patients to receive take-home doses of methadone. This will help reduce the burden of transportation for frequent clinic visits. Research has shown that patients receiving take-home doses are more likely to remain in treatment and less likely to use illicit opioids.
  • Allowing initiation of treatment via telehealth, including methadone via audio-visual telehealth technology and buprenorphine via audio-only technology, to remove transportation barriers.
  • Expanding provider eligibility to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to order medications in OTPs, where state law allows, to reduce the burden on OTP operations and increase patient access to medications.
  • Breaking down barriers to entry for treatment by removing the stringent admission criteria that had previously required patients to have a history of addiction for a full year before being eligible for treatment. This will help open more doors to treatment for more people when they need it and ensure that everyone can get the care they need.
  • .Expanding access to interim treatment, allowing patients to initiate medication treatment while awaiting further services to ensure people have access to care as soon as they are ready and reduce the barriers of treatment waitlists.
  • .Promoting patient-centered models of care that are aligned with management approaches for other chronic conditions.


California Assembly Approves Psychedelic Workgroup Bill. On a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Assembly approved a bill to create a workgroup to explore a regulatory framework to provide therapeutic access to psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and ibogaine, Assembly Bill 941.

"These therapies have the potential to save countless lives," bill sponsor Assemblymember Marie Waldron (R) said during debate. "As we know, California is experiencing a severe mental health crisis with rising rates of anxiety, depression, substance use, PTSD, suicide and other debilitating conditions. AB 941 proposes a solution to this crisis through the exploration of the therapeutic possibilities of psychedelic-assisted therapy."

The bill envisions the state Health and Human Services agency as a regulator and would also allow health practitioners to lawfully administer psychedelics in a therapeutic setting.

"We need the data, the research and the recommendations of experts in this promising field of therapeutics," Waldron said. "Above all, AB 941 is a proactive and forward-thinking approach to the mental health crisis in California -- and key to unlocking the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for use in clinical settings. We must prioritize the accessibility of innovative treatments for our frontline heroes, veterans and first responders who urgently need these transformative interventions."

The bill has now gone to the Senate.

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