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The #WhatNow of #MeToo for the #COLeg

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AP Photo/David Zalubowski

When several lawmakers, lobbyists and staff at the state Legislature came forward this fall to allege they were victims of sexual harassment by lawmakers, two big questions followed: how often does this happen? What can be done to prevent more cases?

Reporters have asked state officials the first question repeatedly, returning to readers with little response from the state. The latter prompted a conversation from leadership, but as for what’s next—how the allegations, formal complaints, and legislature’s response—will impact politics under the gold dome and whether women will feel any safer is to be determined.

So far, top state lawmakers have decided to hire a human resources officer—who would be independent from the legislature—to be a contact person when incidents involving sexual harassment are brought forward. Now, leadership is tasked with handling and investigating such claims.

The group also decided to hire an independent consultant to review the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, and lawmakers, staff, and aides will undergo another round of sexual harassment training this year. Typically, those working at the Legislature are only required to go through training every two years.

Those changes are a good start, said Erin Hottenstein, executive director of Colorado 50/50, an organization that aims to get more women in public office. But the legislature stopped short of changing any current policies. And Colorado 50/50 called for an entire overhaul.

“I’m very pleased that there was a recognition that the policy needs to be improved,” Hottenstein said.

But there weren’t any specific recommendations regarding transparency, which Hottenstein said is significant in looking at what happens next.

Lawmakers and staff said they couldn’t disclose how many sexual harassment claims that leadership in each chamber have received because they were personnel issues.

“I think there’s a way to be transparent and safe,” Hottenstein said. “There should be a high- level summary document that shows on a certain date a sexual harassment complaint was made and who it was against and a date of a deposition and what the result was.”

Hottenstein said transparency becomes crucial in these cases because it leads to accountability and the public’s right to know what actions the people elected to office are taking.

In October, Pueblo Rep. Daneya Esgar broke her silence posting on Facebook that she was no stranger to sexual harassment and experienced it just a week earlier with a colleague she works with regularly as a lawmaker. The post was part of the #MeToo movement after a New York Times expose highlighted the stories of several women who said they’d been sexually harassed or assaulted by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Then, a flood of other allegations were brought to the surface in Colorado politics. Rep. Faith Winter said fellow House member Steve Lebsock had harassed her at a legislative party in 2016. Winter and a lobbyist say they filed formal complaints against Lebsock.

An intern said Sen. Randy Baumgardner harassed her with sexually suggestive comments. The same went for Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial, who was accused of telling an intern that if she wanted to get ahead in her career, he could help.

Rep. Paul Rosenthal, who is openly gay, allegedly groped a man and used his seat to try and get a date with another.

But the case between Lebsock and Winter gained the most attention, even prompting Lebsock to take a polygraph test, which the administrator says he passed, to prove his innocence. Lebsock has hinted that the entire incident may be a case of dirty politics, alleging that Winter is the one lying.

When several lawmakers were asked if the case would mean a splintered Democratic party in the House, they were unsure, but optimistic about the session.

Still, there haven’t been any resignations over the allegations, though several, including leadership and editorial boards from across the state, said these legislators should step down from their seat. Some even called for House Speaker Crisanta Duran to step down from her position because she promoted Lebsock to a chairmanship despite knowing there was an incident between him and Winter.

The transparency piece has yet to be addressed by state lawmakers, and it’s unclear whether any policy or legislative changes will address that in the coming months. But for what it’s worth, the women who have broken their silence about sexual harassment in the Legislature are supportive of the changes leadership has discussed.

“I’m encouraged to see the direction leadership is taking when it comes to developing new and independent methods of dealing with complaints of sexual harassment at the Capitol,” said Esgar, who still hasn’t named the colleague she said grabbed her thigh at a legislative event earlier this year. “I’m hopeful that new ideas are still being formulated and considered, when it comes to ways to change the culture itself.”

The lawmaker added that a new session will certainly mean new ideas will come to light, “it’s our responsibility to lead the state in changing cultures to help make work environments safe and productive for all employees on every level.”

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Colorado’s unaffiliated voters get to join in on primary politics

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Colorado is joining a growing list of states that allow unaffiliated voters — the state’s largest voting bloc — to participate in the major party primaries, thanks to a voter-passed initiative that coincided with disenchantment with the polarization of the 2016 election.

The 2016 initiative allows Colorado’s 1.2 million active independent voters to cast ballots Tuesday in either the Democratic or Republican party primaries on Tuesday. The initiative passed in a year that saw presidential candidate Bernie Sanders defeat Hillary Clinton in Colorado caucuses and yet a strong vote for Donald Trump in the general election, though he lost the state.

Early mail and drop-off ballot returns suggest that more independents are voting Democratic in a tight gubernatorial primary to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. It’s too early to predict independents’ turnout or impact on the campaigns, advocates said.

“What this means for the races will take time to see,” said Josh Penry, a political consultant and former Republican state Senate minority leader who campaigned for the initiative. “As the parties self-immolate and people flee them, it’s important that they can vote in the semi-finals.”

“The reality is the GOP and the Democrats should be thinking about how to appeal to the people in this enormous bloc,” Penry said.

But there’s little sign that the major party gubernatorial candidates are reaching out in this swing state where Democrats and Republicans each have roughly 1 million registered voters.

Presumed Democratic front-runners U.S. Rep. Jared Polis and former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy espouse universal health care, their public schools credentials, protecting public lands and promoting renewable energy. Republicans, including Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a cousin of President George W. Bush, generally embrace President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown and income tax cuts and promote Colorado’s oil and gas industry.

It’s that polar opposite, take-it-or-leave-it campaign buffet that prompted Alex Leith, a Denver civil engineer, to abandon the Democratic Party and become an unaffiliated voter two years ago.

He saw the Sanders and Trump rebellions as signs that traditional party politics weren’t working for people like himself, a self-described fiscal conservative and social liberal.

“I was seeing a lot of hypocrisy coming from Republicans and Democrats,” Leith said. “I wanted to see a return to a common sense ability to actually govern and work across party lines.”

The 27-year-old cast his gubernatorial primary ballot this year for Republican businessman and former state Rep. Victor Mitchell. “He’s willing to not totally align himself with Republican dogma,” Leith said, citing Mitchell’s support for a “red flag” law that would allow the seizure of firearms from those who pose a danger to themselves or others.

“I’m also encouraged by the fact that he’s willing to admit when he isn’t knowledgeable about certain topics — but is willing to study them,” Leith said.

Supporters of the semi-open primary argue that independent voters like Leith pay for the party primaries and should have a say in them.

Whether that generates higher turnout or moderate candidate positions could take several election cycles to determine. Arizona, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and West Virginia also allow independents to vote in primaries.

As of early Thursday, nearly 540,000 Coloradans had voted — including nearly 123,000 independents. Democrats and Republicans had returned about 208,000 ballots for each party.

In 2016, 21 percent of active voters participated in the primary.

“Our data and our experience points to how philosophically diverse Colorado is. There is no such thing as a generic independent,” said Kent Thiry, the CEO of Denver-based dialysis firm DaVita Inc., who spearheaded the 2016 initiative.

“I’ve been an independent most of my adult life,” Thiry said. “To not have a voice until the final election in a country where the primary has become the final election … that is very frustrating to me.”

Thiry’s group released a poll this week suggesting that education, health care, jobs and the economy are the top issues for Colorado’s unaffiliated voters.

Seth Masket, director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver, is skeptical that the new system will produce an immediate impact.

“A lot of states allow some version of this, and honestly the research suggests it doesn’t make that much of a difference whether (the primary) is open or closed,” Masket said. “The nominees end up looking like the one the parties would choose themselves.”

Also running to succeed Hickenlooper are former Democratic state Sen. Mike Johnston and Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne. Republican businessman Greg Lopez and investment banker Doug Robinson, a nephew of Utah senate candidate Mitt Romney, want their party’s nomination.

Colorado hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1998.

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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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Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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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.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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