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Marijuana Backers Look for Midwest Breakthrough in Nov. Election

Backers of broad marijuana legalization are looking to break through a geographic barrier in November and get their first foothold in the Midwest after a string of election victories in Northeastern and Western states.

Michigan and North Dakota, where voters previously authorized medical marijuana, will decide if the drug should be legal for any adult 21 and older. They would become the 10th and 11th states to legalize so-called recreational marijuana since 2012, lightning speed in political terms.

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Washington, DC, United States (VOA) – Backers of broad marijuana legalization are looking to break through a geographic barrier in November and get their first foothold in the Midwest after a string of election victories in Northeastern and Western states.

Michigan and North Dakota, where voters previously authorized medical marijuana, will decide if the drug should be legal for any adult 21 and older. They would become the 10th and 11th states to legalize so-called recreational marijuana since 2012, lightning speed in political terms.

Meantime, Missouri and Utah will weigh medical marijuana, which is permitted in 31 states after voters in conservative Oklahoma approved such use in June. Even if Utah’s initiative is defeated, a compromise reached last week between advocates and opponents including the Mormon church would have the Legislature legalize medical marijuana.

“We’ve kind of reached a critical mass of acceptance,” said Rebecca Haffajee, a University of Michigan assistant professor of health management and policy. She said the country may be at a “breaking point” where change is inevitable at the federal level because so many states are in conflict with U.S. policy that treats marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin.

“Generally, people either find a therapeutic benefit or enjoy the substance and want to do so without the fear of being a criminal for using it,” Haffajee said.

Two years ago voters in California approved a ballot measure creating the world’s largest legal marijuana market. Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Colorado and Nevada are other Western states with legal marijuana for medical and personal uses. On the other side of the country, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana, and every other Northeastern state has approved medical marijuana.

In Michigan, surveys show the public’s receptiveness to marijuana legalization tracks similarly with nationwide polling that finds about 60 percent support, according to Gallup and the Pew Research Center.

The Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project was the driving force behind successful legalization initiatives in other states and has given at least $444,000 for the Michigan ballot drive.

“The electorate is recognizing that prohibition doesn’t work. There’s also a growing societal acceptance of marijuana use on a personal level,” said Matthew Schweich, the project’s deputy director.

“Our culture has already legalized marijuana. Now it’s a question of, ‘How quickly will the laws catch up?”‘ added Schweich, also the campaign director for the Michigan legalization effort, known as the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Midwest voters have considered recreational legalization just once before, in 2015, when Ohio overwhelmingly rejected it. Supporters said the result was more back lash against allowing only certain private investors to control growing facilities than opposition to marijuana.

Proponents of Michigan’s measure say it would align with a new, strong regulatory system for medical marijuana businesses and add roughly $130 million annually in tax revenue, specifically for road repairs, schools and municipalities.

Critics say the Michigan measure is out of step and cite provisions allowing a possession limit of 2.5 ounces (71 grams) that is higher than many other states and a 16 percent tax rate that is lower. Opponents include chambers of commerce and law enforcement groups along with doctors, the Catholic Church and organizations fighting substance abuse.

Randy Richardville, a former Republican legislative leader and spokesman for the opposition group Healthy and Productive Michigan, said adults – even those without serious health problems – already can easily obtain pot under the state’s lax medical marijuana law. The ballot proposal, he said, would lead to a more “stoned” workforce, car crashes and crimes, and increased health risks for teens.

“This has nothing to do with a citizens’ initiative with a whole bunch of people out there that said they would like to smoke marijuana recreationally and responsibly,” Richardville said. “This is a special interest group that put up a lot of dollars so that they can sacrifice our kids’ futures to make more money.”

Dr. Donald Condit, an orthopedic surgeon in Grand Rapids who is helping lead physicians’ opposition, said few doctors see a problem with, for example, terminal cancer patients using marijuana to ease their pain.

But people should think harder about full legalization because marijuana is becoming “very, very potent” and “this stuff could hit the teenage developing brain like a ton of bricks,” he said.

Backers counter that teens’ use of marijuana has not increased in states that already have approved recreational use and point to the drug’s other benefits, like as a safer substitute for painkillers amid the deadly opioid epidemic.

“It’ll take the scourge of the old days when drug dealers sold heroin and crack and methamphetamines and marijuana – it was all lumped together” said Stu Carter, who owns Utopia Gardens, a medical marijuana shop in Detroit. “Now we can pull that away from that illegal drug world and make it much safer for the consumer.”

In North Dakota, legalization faces an uphill battle. No significant outside supporters have financed the effort, which comes as the state still is setting up a medical marijuana system voters approved by a wide margin two years ago.

The medical marijuana campaign in predominantly Mormon Utah, which has received $293,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project, was jolted last week when Gov. Gary Herbert said he will call lawmakers into a special post-election session to pass a compromise deal into law regardless of how the public vote goes.

Medical marijuana also is on the ballot in Missouri and while the concept has significant support, voters may be confused by its ballot presentation.

Supporters gathered enough signatures to place three initiatives before voters. Two would change the state constitution; the third would amend state law. If all three pass, constitutional amendments take precedence over state law, and whichever amendment receives the most votes would overrule the other.

An organizer of one amendment, Brad Bradshaw, said it is unclear if having three initiatives could split supporters so much that some or all of the proposals fail.

“A lot of people don’t really even have this on the radar at this point,” he said. “They’re going to walk into the booth to vote and they’re going to see all three of these and say, ‘What the heck?’ You just don’t know how it’s going to play out.”

– Provided by VOA

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Politics

US Budget Deficit Hits Record $204.9B for November

The federal budget deficit surged to a record for the month of November of $204.9 billion, but a big part of the increase reflected a calendar quirk.

In its monthly budget report, the Treasury Department said Thursday that the deficit for November was $66.4 billion higher than the imbalance in November 2017.

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Washington, DC, United States (VOA) – The federal budget deficit surged to a record for the month of November of $204.9 billion, but a big part of the increase reflected a calendar quirk.

In its monthly budget report, the Treasury Department said Thursday that the deficit for November was $66.4 billion higher than the imbalance in November 2017.

But $44 billion of that figure reflected the fact that December benefits in many government entitlement programs were paid in November this year because Dec. 1 fell on a Saturday.

For the first two months of this budget year, the deficit totals $305.4 billion, up 51.4 percent from the same period last year. The Trump administration is projecting that this year’s deficit will top $1 trillion, reflecting increased government spending and the loss of revenue from a big tax cut.

The new report showed that the higher tariffs from President Donald Trump’s get-tough trade policies are showing up in the budget totals. Customs duties totaled $6 billion in November, up 99 percent from November 2017.

Trump has imposed penalty tariffs on steel and aluminum imports froma number ofcountries and on $250billionof Chinese imports as the administration seeks to apply pressure to other countries to reduce their barriers to American exports. However, China and other nations have retaliated by imposing penalty tariffs on U.S. exports, sparking a tit-for-tat trade war.

The administration still believes it will prevail and is currently in talks with China over trade practices the administration feels are unfair to American companies and workers.

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Criminal Probe Launched into Trump’s Inaugural Spending

Federal prosecutors based in Manhattan have launched a criminal probe to determine if $107 million in donations to then President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural committee were illegally spent.

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Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor

Manhattan, NY, United States (4E) – Federal prosecutors based in Manhattan have launched a criminal probe to determine if $107 million in donations to then President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural committee were illegally spent.

Investigators are also looking into whether some of the committee’s top spenders traded money for access to the incoming Trump administration. They also want to know if Trump’s people sought money in exchange for “policy concessions or to influence official administration positions.”

Giving money in exchange for political favors can run afoul of federal corruption laws. Diverting funds from Trump’s inaugural committee, which is a registered nonprofit, also violates federal law.

More specifically, Trump’s inaugural committee is being probed for accepting cash-for-access from Middle Eastern nations like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Secret recordings made by Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen revealed these cash-for-access transactions.

Investigators are focusing on Middle Eastern donors like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They’re trying to determine if these nations used straw donors to disguise their donations to Trump’s inaugural committee and the pro-Trump super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, in hopes of buying influence.

Foreign nations are banned from contributing to federal campaigns, PACs and inaugural funds by law.

Federal prosecutors have questioned Richard Gates, ex-partner of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. In February, Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying charges lodged by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Gates served as deputy chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee. He’s cooperated with investigators in Mueller’s probe of Russian interference during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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China Beginning to Feel the Pain from Trump’s Trade War

China said its retail sales and industrial output growth for November badly missed their targets, confirming that China’s economy continues to slow down amid Trump’s trade war.

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Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor

Beijing, China (4E) – China said its retail sales and industrial output growth for November badly missed their targets, confirming that China’s economy continues to slow down amid Trump’s trade war.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported that industrial output grew 5.4 percent year-on-year, the slowest pace in almost three years. This growth was also lower than the 5.9 percent analysts had predicted.

On the other hand, retail sales rose 8.1 percent, which is the weakest pace since 2003. This pace is also lower than the 8.8 percent analysts expected. November retail sales growth was down from 8.6 percent in October.

Fixed asset investment rose 5.9 percent from January to November, marginally higher than the 5.8 percent forecast by economists. FAI rose 5.7 percent from January to October.

Despite Trump’s trade war, data from China unexpectedly shows its economy on the upside for much of 2018. Manufacturing benefited from front-loading, or rushing to ship as much goods as possible, before tariff deadlines hit on Jan. 1, 2019.

The weaker Chinese data in November shows the positive impact of front-loading is beginning to vanish and that downward pressure on the Chinese economy is increasing, said RBC Capital Markets in Hong Kong. Industrial output and retail sales data released on Friday were ugly, said the firm.

NBS said after the release of the data that the impact from bilateral trade tensions with the U.S. was not yet obvious. So, the worst is yet to come and policymakers will be very worried, particularly with consumption growth falling off a cliff.

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