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Congressional ballgame carries on, uniting parties with spirited rivalry

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WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats joined in a spirited, friendly rivalry Thursday at their annual Congressional Baseball game, many fresh from the penetrating horror of the ballfield shooting rampage a day earlier and all playing in honor of their grievously wounded colleague.

The game at Nationals Park carried on a century-old bipartisan ritual, this one tinged with worry about Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise and their determination to answer the attack by coming together in sport. Democrats won in an 11-2 blowout.

Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, prays as both teams kneel, before the Congressional baseball game, Thursday, June 15, 2017, in Washington. The annual GOP-Democrats baseball game raises money for charity. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

In a final flourish of bipartisan camaraderie for the night, Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, his team’s manager, accepted the trophy, then gave it to his GOP counterpart, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, to put in Scalise’s office on behalf of the Democrats. After accepting it gracefully, Barton cracked, “Next year we won’t be so nice.”

A huge ovation came from the crowd, which swelled to a record 24,959, when Special Agent David Bailey, one of the Capitol Police officers injured in the attack on Republicans at their ball practice in Virginia, threw out the first pitch. “ONE FAMILY,” proclaimed a sign in the crowd. The announcer’s mention of Scalise, the House majority whip who was critically wounded in the attack Wednesday, brought the masses to their feet.

Scalise remained listed in critical condition Thursday night after multiple surgeries, though word came from the hospital during the game that he had improved.

“By playing tonight we are showing the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence or assaults on our democracy,” said President Donald Trump, appearing on the park’s giant screen but not attending. “The game will go on.”

A message from President Donald Trump is shown on the video board before the Congressional baseball game, Thursday, June 15, 2017, in Washington. The annual GOP-Democrats baseball game raises money for charity. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

When the president intoned three words he said have brought Americans together for generations — “Let’s play ball” — cheers rang out. But despite the unifying nature of the event, there were boos for the president, too, from the section for Democratic fans on the third base side.

Before the event, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters, “Tonight we will go to the game, play our hardest, but we will all be Team Scalise.”

Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee scored in the first inning, enjoying a different sort of adrenaline than the one he experienced Wednesday when he passed by the shooter over bloodied ground to take shelter in a dugout — confessing later that “the fear factor was horrific.”

Rep. Roger Williams of Texas, taken away in a stretcher with an injured ankle from the chaos in Virginia, hobbled around the third-base box Thursday night, coaching the GOP team as planned, with his crutches set aside. He wore a purple boot. His aide, Zack Barth, who was shot by the Virginia assailant, walked across the field on crutches. Both had appeared on the House floor earlier Thursday.

Injured Capitol Hill Police officer David Bailey throws out a ceremonial first pitch with Joe Torre, MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, right, watching, before the Congressional baseball game, Thursday, June 15, 2017, in Washington. The annual GOP-Democrats baseball game raises money for charity. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

There was plenty of amateur-hour baseball in the event, but also some breakout play.

As in the past several years, Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, a close friend of his wounded Republican colleague and a player in his college days, dominated much of the night, from the mound and the plate. Democrats opened an 11-2 lead in the fifth inning on the strength of his pitching, and by then he had scored every time he was up. That lasted until the end of the seven-inning game.

Despite the bipartisan motivation behind the game, especially this year, partisanship was hardly abandoned as Democrats and Republicans faced off, each side seriously itching for a win. Republicans and Democrats sat in different parts of the park — fans could state their party preference when buying tickets. Baseball cards handed out as fans entered the park identified the players’ partisan voting percentages.

And even as the fans rose as one to cheer Scalise’s name and the Capitol Police, there was no mistaking the lusty cheers for their own side as the game progressed. Still, the divide was good-natured, for once.

From the stands, Vince Wetzel, a resident of Sacramento, California, who is visiting Washington and decided to take in the game, said, “It’s just a good call to put aside political differences and just play some baseball.”

Lucee Laursen of La Crosse, Wisconsin, interning in the capital for a nonprofit, said, “It’s showing that we might have differences in political spheres but we come together for a good cause.”

Scalise was fielding balls at second base during the practice Wednesday when he was shot in the hip, and sustained serious injuries as the bullet traveled through his pelvis and injured internal organs.

Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., left, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., applaud a message by President Donald Trump on the video board, before the Congressional baseball game, Thursday, June 15, 2017, in Washington. The annual GOP-Democrats baseball game raises money for charity. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The congressional game, which dates to 1909 and is a summertime tradition on Capitol Hill, is a rare example of bipartisanship in an increasingly polarized Washington. Long-ago Little Leaguers now in Congress don their spikes and dust off their gloves in a game played for claiming top dog status and to benefit several charities.

The charities are the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington, Washington Literacy Center, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and, after Wednesday’s shooting, the Capitol Police Memorial Fund.

Once a relatively cozy affair, played at a minor league ballpark in Maryland, the game has gone big time in recent years and has been played at Nationals Park, just a few blocks from the Capitol.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred offered his thoughts and prayers after the shooting and endorsed the decision to play ball. He said he hoped the game would help heal emotional wounds.

With Thursday’s game, Democrats have won 40 of the contests over the years. Republicans have won 39, and they tied once.Democrats bounced back from a loss last year, when the game was played the night after they held an all-night session on the House floor to protest Republican inaction on gun legislation.
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Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

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US & World

Here’s how the Canadian legalization of marijuana is so much different from the United States

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Mail-order weed? You betcha!

With marijuana legalization across Canada on the horizon, the industry is shaping up to look different from the way it does in nine U.S. states that have legalized adult recreational use of the drug. Age limits, government involvement in distribution and sales, and access to banking are some big discrepancies.

And yes, Canadians will be able to order cannabis online and have it delivered through the mail — something that’s illegal in the United States.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday that marijuana will be legal nationwide on Oct. 17. In the meantime, Canada’s provinces and cities are working out issues concerning how cannabis will be regulated.

Here’s what to expect:

GOVERNMENT-RUN STORES

It’s up to the provinces and territories to determine how to handle distribution, and they’re taking a variety of approaches.

Ontario plans to open up to 150 stores run by its Liquor Control Board — a model of public ownership that is unusual in the U.S. The tiny Washington state town of North Bonneville has one city-owned pot shop.

British Columbia is planning for a mix of public and privately owned stores, while Newfoundland and Saskatchewan will have only private pot shops. In some remote areas where stand-alone marijuana stores might not be economically feasible, including in the Northwest Territories, cannabis could be sold at existing liquor stores.

Just like U.S. states with legal pot, the provinces also differ on home-growing, with many allowing up to four plants and others, including Quebec, barring it.

And rather than a minimum age of 21, as U.S. states have set, Canada’s federal minimum age to use marijuana will be 18, with most provinces adding an additional year.

The varying approaches make the provinces something of a laboratory for determining the best ways to legalize, said Matt Gray, founder and chief executive of Herb, a Toronto-based news and social media platform for the pot industry.

“It’s this amazing case study for countries globally to see the amazing benefits that legalizing cannabis can have on things like the economy, eradicating the black market and getting cannabis out of the hands of minors,” he said.

PRICING AND TAXES

Whether run by the government or private entities, the stores will obtain their marijuana from federally licensed growers. Officials also will set a minimum price.

Canada’s finance ministers have pegged it at about $10 per gram, but the Yukon minister in charge of marijuana says the government hopes to displace more of the illegal market by setting the base at $8.

The government wants to tax legal marijuana at either $1 per gram or one-tenth of a product’s price, whichever is greater, plus federal and provincial sales taxes. It’s likely to be less than the taxes imposed in the states.

Washington state’s tax rate is 37 percent, plus state and local sales taxes. In California, licensed pot businesses are blaming total tax rates that can approach 50 percent for driving people back into the black market.

The Canadian government agreed to give provinces and territories 75 percent of the tax revenue.

BANKING

Canada’s cannabis businesses have a massive advantage over their American counterparts: access to banks.

Because the drug is still illegal under U.S. law, major banks have been loath to do business with the industry, even in legal marijuana states.

U.S. Treasury Department data show a slow increase in the number of banks and credit unions maintaining accounts for marijuana businesses, with 411 reporting such accounts last spring.

But many of those institutions don’t provide full-service banking, making it tough for businesses to get loans.

“The major Canadian banks were slow to warm to this,” said Chris Barry, a Seattle-based marijuana business attorney who handles industry transactions in both countries for the law firm Dorsey and Whitney.

He said smaller independent banks, investment banks and brokerage firms got the work started.

“That has pretty much dissolved as a problem,” Barry said. “The majors are coming around to participate in the market.”

THE PRODUCTS

Some consumers are disappointed that store shelves will only stock dried flower, oils and seeds when sales begin — no edibles. The government has said it needs about another year to develop regulations for edibles.

There’s also a labeling issue: Health Canada has dictated large warning labels on otherwise plain packages, with strict restrictions on font sizes, styles and colors. The idea is to discourage misuse and to avoid appealing to youths, but it also leaves very little room for company logos or branding.

“It looks like each bag is housing radioactive waste,” said Chris Clay, owner of Warmland Cannabis Centre, a medical marijuana dispensary on Vancouver Island. “It’s a tiny logo with this huge warning label. It doesn’t leave much room for craft growers that want to differentiate themselves.”

And that, Clay said, is one of many things that will make it difficult for mom-and-pop growers to thrive. Giant cannabis companies have been entering deals to supply marijuana to the provinces.

While micro-producers are allowed, Clay is worried that by the time rules are released, “all the contracts are going to be scooped up.”

POT BY POST

While getting marijuana by mail may be a novel concept in the U.S., it’s nothing new in Canada. Its postal service has been shipping medical marijuana to authorized patients since 2013.

“Many of our processes are in place today for medicinal cannabis and will continue for any regulated product sent through Canada Post from licensed distributors,” Canada Post said in a written statement.

The agency requires proof of age upon delivery and won’t leave the package in your mailbox or on your doorstep if you’re not home.

___

Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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Colorado

Some parents worry new drug approval could shift States’ attitudes on medicinal cannabis

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Some American parents who for years have used cannabis to treat severe forms of epilepsy in their children are feeling more cautious than celebratory as U.S. regulators near a decision on whether to approve the first drug derived from the marijuana plant.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue a decision by the end of the month on the drug Epidiolex, made by GW Pharmaceuticals. It’s a purified form of cannabidiol — a component of cannabis that doesn’t get users high — to treat Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes in kids. Both forms of epilepsy are rare.

Cannabidiol’s effect on a variety of health conditions is frequently touted, but there is still little evidence to back up advocates’ personal experiences. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has long categorized cannabis as a Schedule I drug, a category with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” That strictly limits research on potential medical uses for cannabis or the chemicals in it, including cannabidiol, or CBD.

But for years, parents desperate to find anything to help their children have turned to the marijuana-based products made legal by a growing number of states.

Meagan Patrick is among the parents using CBD to treat symptoms in their children. She moved from Maine to Colorado in 2014 so she could legally get CBD for her now-5-year-old daughter, Addelyn, who was born with a brain malformation that causes seizures.

“My child was dying, and we needed to do something,” Patrick said.

As for the potential approval of a pharmaceutical based on CBD, she said fear is her first reaction.

“I want to make sure that her right to continue using what works for her is protected, first and foremost. That’s my job as her mom,” Patrick said.

Advocates like Patrick became particularly concerned when GW Pharmaceuticals’ U.S. commercial business, Greenwich Biosciences, began quietly lobbying to change states’ legal definition of marijuana, beginning in 2017 with proposals in Nebraska and South Dakota.

Some worried the company’s attempt to ensure its product could be legally prescribed and sold by pharmacies would have a side effect: curtailing medical marijuana programs already operating in more than two dozen states.

The proposals generally sought to remove CBD from states’ legal definition of marijuana, allowing it to be prescribed by doctors and supplied by pharmacies. But the change only applies to products that have FDA approval.

Neither Nebraska nor South Dakota allows medical use of marijuana, and activists accused the company of trying to shut down future access to products containing cannabidiol but lacking FDA approval.

Britain-based GW Pharmaceuticals never intended for the changes to affect other marijuana products, but they are necessary to allow Epidiolex to be sold in pharmacies if approved, spokesman Stephen Schultz said.

He would not discuss other places where the company will seek changes to state law. The Associated Press confirmed that lobbyists representing Greenwich Biosciences backed legislation in California and Colorado this year.

“As a company, we understand there’s a significant business building up,” Schultz said. “All we want to do is make sure our product is accessible.”

Industry lobbyists in those states said they take company officials at their word, but they still insisted on protective language ensuring that recreational or medical marijuana, cannabidiol, hemp and other products derived from cannabis plants won’t be affected by the changes sought by GW Pharmaceuticals.

Patrick Goggin, an attorney who focuses on industrial hemp issues in California, said the company would run into trouble if it tried to “lock up access” to marijuana-derived products beyond FDA-approved drugs.

“People need to have options and choices,” he said. “That’s the battle here.”

Legal experts say the changes are logical. Some states’ laws specifically prohibit any product derived from the marijuana plant from being sold in pharmacies. The FDA has approved synthetic versions of another cannabis ingredient for medical purposes but has never approved marijuana or hemp for any medical use.

A panel of FDA advisers in April unanimously recommended the agency approve Epidiolex for the treatment of severe seizures in children with epilepsy, conditions that are otherwise difficult to treat. It’s not clear why CBD reduces seizures in some patients, but the panel based its recommendation on three studies showing significant reduction in children with two forms of epilepsy.

Denver-based attorney Christian Sederberg, who worked on the GW Pharmaceuticals-backed legislation in Colorado on behalf of the marijuana industry, said all forms of marijuana can exist together.

“The future of the industry is showing itself here,” Sederberg said. “There’s going to be the pharmaceutical lane, the nutraceutical (food-as-medicine) lane, the adult-use lane. This shows how that’s all coming together.”

Alex and Jenny Inman said they won’t switch to Epidiolex if it becomes available, though their son Lukas has Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

Alex, an information technology professional, and Jenny, a preschool teacher, said it took some at-home experimentation to find the right combination of doctor-prescribed medication, CBD and THC — the component that gives marijuana users a high — that seemed to help Lukas with his seizures.

“What makes me a little bit nervous about this is that there’s sort of a psyche amongst patients that, ‘Here’s this pill, and this pill will solve things,’ right? It works differently for different people,” Alex Inman said.

The Inmans moved from Maryland to Colorado in 2015 after doctors recommended a second brain surgery for Lukas’ seizures. The couple and other parents and advocates for CBD said children respond differently to a variety of strains.

The Realm of Caring Foundation, an organization co-founded by Paige Figi, whose daughter Charlotte’s name is attached to the CBD oil Charlotte’s Web, said it maintains a registry of about 46,000 people worldwide who use CBD.

For Heather Jackson, who said her son Zaki, now 15, benefited from CBD and who co-founded the foundation, Epidiolex’s approval means insurers will begin paying for treatment with a cannabis-derived product.

“That might be a nice option for some families who, you know, really want to receive a prescription who are going to only listen to the person in the white coat,” Jackson said.

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News

Mass uncertainty – White House unclear how it plans to reunite separated children

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Trump administration officials say they have no clear plan yet on how to reunite the thousands of children separated from their families at the border since the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy in which anyone caught entering the U.S. illegally is criminally prosecuted.

“This policy is relatively new,” said Steven Wagner, an acting assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services “We’re still working through the experience of reunifying kids with their parents after adjudication.”

Federal officials say there are some methods parents can use to try to find their children: hotlines to call and an email address for those seeking information. But advocates say it’s not that simple.

In a courtroom near the Rio Grande, lawyer Efren Olivares and his team with the Texas Civil Rights Project frantically scribble down children’s names, birthdates and other details from handcuffed men and women waiting for court to begin. There are sometimes 80 of them in the same hearing.

The Texas Civil Rights Project works to document the separations in the hopes of helping them reunite with the children.

They have one hour to collect as much information as they can before the hearing begins. The immigrants plead guilty to illegally entering the U.S., and they are typically sent either to jail or directly to an immigration detention center. At this point, lawyers with the civil rights group often lose access to the detainees.

“If we don’t get that information, then there’s no way of knowing that child was separated,” Olivares said. “No one else but the government will know that the separation happened if we don’t document it there.”

Olivares has documented more than 300 cases of adults who have been separated from a child. Most are parents, but some are older siblings, aunts, uncles or grandparents. Some are illiterate and don’t know how to spell the children’s names.

More than 2,000 minors have been separated from their families since early May. The children are put into the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with the aim of keeping them as close to their parents as possible and reuniting the family after the case goes through the courts, said Wagner.

But it’s not clear that’s working.

According to Olivares, the agency is generally “very willing to help,” often helping to find a child even if there’s a misspelling in the group’s records. But if a child has been transferred out of a government shelter — including if the child has been deported — agency representatives won’t give any information.

“Sometimes the parent gives us contact information for a relative,” Olivares said. “If they have the phone number right and the phone number is working … we call that number and sometimes we’re able to locate that relative and ask them what they know.”

In May, the Department of Justice adopted the zero-tolerance policy in which anyone caught entering the U.S. illegally is criminally prosecuted. Children can’t be jailed with their parents. Instead, after the adult is charged, children are held briefly by Homeland Security officials before being transferred to Health and Human Services, which operates more than 100 shelters for minors in 17 states.

The department has set up new facilities to manage the influx of children, and Wagner said they were prepared to expand as more children come into custody.

The children are classified as unaccompanied minors, a legal term generally used for children who cross the border alone and have a possible sponsor in the U.S. willing to care for them. Most of the more than 10,000 children in shelters under HHS care came to the U.S. alone and are waiting to be placed with family members living in the U.S.

But these children are different — they arrived with their families.

“They should just give the kids back to their parents. This isn’t difficult,” said Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Gelernt represents a Brazilian asylum seeker in a closely watched lawsuit that seeks a nationwide halt to family separation. The woman, identified as Mrs. C in court documents, was split from her son for nearly a year after entering the country illegally in August near Santa Teresa, New Mexico.

On Tuesday, Olivares’ team had seven people left to interview with five minutes left. They took down just the names, dates of birth, and countries of origin of the children.

“One woman (said), ‘What about me, what about me?'” Olivares said a few hours later. “She wanted to give us information because she realized what we were trying to do.”

___

Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat contributed to this report.

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