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Michigan begins recreational marijuana sales

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan’s first legal recreational sales began around 10 a.m. Sunday, 13 months after voters approved a ballot measure allowing it.

Consumers from across Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania lined up outside provisioning centers to kick off what is expected to be one of the largest adult-use markets in the Midwest. The state of Michigan forecasts the sales will total hundreds of millions of dollars in the first year, though access will be limited at first.

Kelly Savage, 25, of Columbus, Ohio, was the first to purchase recreational marijuana from Exclusive Brands LLC’s shop in Ann Arbor. He arrived before the store closed Saturday to be the first in line.

“I wanted to be a part of history,” Savage, a landscaper, said before exchanging $480 in cash for an ounce of Platinum OG, a flower with a high content of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive element in marijuana known as THC. “It was worth it, even if it was just a half an ounce, it was worth it.”

Savage has Type 1 diabetes. He takes insulin as a correction, but the effects are not felt immediately: Marijuana “helps a lot,” he said.

Legal sales of marijuana for recreational use are expected to begin New Year’s Day.

Although the law Michigan voters passed in November 2018 legalized recreational marijuana for people over the age of 21, the state had a year to set up a system before it had to begin accepting business licenses on Dec. 6. It was early: The state issued its first recreational license to Exclusive on Nov. 15.

“I am proud of the hard work our team put in to implement the will of the voters, ahead of deadline,” Andrew Brisbo, executive director of the Marijuana Regulatory Agency, said in a statement.

More than 200 people lined up outside Exclusive ahead of 10 a.m., when retailers could begin transferring some of their medical inventory for recreational sale in the state’s marijuana tracking system.

Consumers likened the historic occasion to the Berlin Wall falling and said it was one step forward to legalizing marijuana nationally.

“I feel broke,” said Gregg Etzel, 67, of Ann Arbor, who arrived at 5 a.m. to purchase $280 of flower and wax, which he expects will last him at least a month. The cost, however, is worth it. “It got me off opioids. The withdrawal was awful. The doctors did that to me. With marijuana, there is no withdrawal.”

Etzel let his medical card expire on Nov. 1 to come Sunday “to be a part of history.”

But recreational marijuana is more expensive than medical marijuana. In addition to Michigan’s 6% sales tax, there is a 10% excise tax. The tax, however, is one of the lowest in the country. Some retailers also charge more for recreational marijuana.

Many in line Sunday said they had been using marijuana since they were teenagers. Many were glad to be able to make their purchases above board.

“I don’t have to go find someone on the street and worry where it’s from,” said Annie Marta, 29, of Detroit, who works in the medical field. “I’m making connections with knowledgeable people and not connections with people maybe I don’t want to be connected with.”

Added Rich Oliver, 31, of Grand Rapids, who arrived at 3 a.m. to buy $120 for eights of skunk berry and platinum sunshine flower: “It’s safe and tested. I know where it’s coming from. The stigma is essentially gone.”

Consumers can purchase up to 2.5 ounces at a time. Marijuana cannot be used in public, on school property or on federal lands. It is illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana. Employers still can fire or refuse to hire people who fail a drug test.

“It’s a historic day,” said Narmin Jarrous, vice president of business development for Exclusive. “This is a big step toward decriminalization within the state, which we support.”

Although businesses can transfer medical marijuana for recreational sale, Jarrous said access for patients to medical marijuana is a top concern for the company.

“If there are shortages with the recreational, people might be disappointed,” Jarrous said. “Access for our patients is our No. 1 priority.”

For now, though, Exclusive has stocked its shelves with marijuana available for adult-use sales.

Mo Orr, 46, of Pontiac was enthusiastic: “It’s like Christmas came early.”

White House says it won’t participate in impeachment hearing

WASHINGTON — The White House declared Sunday it would not participate in the first impeachment hearings before the House Judiciary Committee as Democrats prepared to approve their report Tuesday making the case for President Donald Trump’s removal from office.

The Democratic majority on the House Intelligence Committee says its report will speak for itself in laying out possible charges of bribery or “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional standard for impeachment. After receiving the report, the Judiciary Committee would prepare actual charges.

That committee’s first hearing was already set for Wednesday and was expected to feature four legal experts who will examine questions of constitutional grounds as the committee decides whether to write articles of impeachment against Trump, and if so, what those articles would be.

The White House was invited to attend the Wednesday hearing, but its counsel declined in a fiery letter released Sunday evening.

“This baseless and highly partisan inquiry violates all past historical precedent, basic due process rights, and fundamental fairness,” said White House counsel Pat Cipollone, continuing the West Wing’s attack on the procedural form of the impeachment proceedings. Trump himself was scheduled to attend a summit with NATO allies outside London on Wednesday.

Cipollone’s letter applied only to the Wednesday hearing, and he demanded more information from Democrats on how they intended to conduct further hearings before Trump would decide whether to participate in those hearings. House-passed rules provide the president and his attorneys the right to cross-examine witnesses and review evidence before the committee, but little ability to bring forward witnesses of their own.

Republicans, meanwhile, wanted Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to testify before the Judiciary Committee, though they have no power to compel him to do so, as they joined the White House effort to try to cast the Democratic-led inquiry as skewed against the Republican president.

“If he chooses not to (testify), then I really question his veracity in what he’s putting in his report,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

“It’s easy to hide behind a report,” Collins added. “But it’s going to be another thing to actually get up and have to answer questions.”

Schiff has said “there’s nothing for me to testify about,” that he isn’t a “fact” witness and that Republicans are only trying to “mollify the president, and that’s not a good reason to try to call a member of Congress as a witness.”

Coming after two weeks of public testimony and two months of investigation, the findings of the Intelligence Committee report were not yet publicly known. But the report was expected to focus mostly on whether Trump abused his office by withholding military aid approved by Congress and a White House meeting as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch investigations into Trump’s political rivals.

Democrats also were expected to include an article on obstruction of Congress that outlines Trump’s instructions to officials in his administration to defy subpoenas for documents or testimony.

Democrats were aiming for a final House vote by Christmas, which would set the stage for a likely Senate trial in January.

“I do believe that all evidence certainly will be included in that report so the Judiciary Committee can make the necessary decisions that they need to,” said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

She said Democrats had not yet finalized witnesses for the upcoming Judiciary hearings and were waiting to hear back from Trump on his plans to present a defense.

“If he has not done anything wrong, we’re certainly anxious to hear his explanation of that,” Demings said.

Trump has previously suggested that he might be willing to offer written testimony under certain conditions, though aides suggested they did not anticipate Democrats would ever agree to them.

“The Democrats are holding the most ridiculous Impeachment hearings in history. Read the Transcripts, NOTHING was done or said wrong!” Trump tweeted Saturday.

Democrats had pressed Trump to decide by Friday whether he would take advantage of due process protections afforded to him under House rules adopted in October for follow-up hearings, including the right to request witness testimony and to cross-examine the witnesses called by the House.

“If you are serious about conducting a fair process going forward, and in order to protect the rights and privileges of the President, we may consider participating in future Judiciary Committee proceedings if you afford the Administration the ability to do so meaningfully,” Cipollone said in the Sunday letter.

“Why would they want to participate in just another rerun?” asked Collins, D-Ga., noting that the Judiciary Committee previously heard from constitutional scholars on impeachable offenses during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“This is a complete American waste of time of here,” said Collins, who is calling on the committee chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., to expand the witness list to include those sought by Republicans. “This is why this is a problematic exercise and simply a made-for-TV event coming on Wednesday.”

Still, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California, a Judiciary Committee member, said he believes Trump would benefit if he presents his own defense.

“I think it would be to the president’s advantage to have his attorneys there. That’s his right,” he said.

McClintock said he doesn’t believe Trump did anything wrong in the July 25 call with Zelenskiy that is at the heart of the investigation.

“He didn’t use the delicate language of diplomacy in that conversation, that’s true. He also doesn’t use the smarmy talk of politicians,” McClintock said.

To McClintock, Trump was using “the blunt talk of a Manhattan businessman” and “was entirely within his constitutional authority” in his dealings with Ukraine’s leader.

Collins appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and Demings and McClintock were on ABC’s “This Week.”

Staff photo by Steve Kinderman  

Traffic flows westbound near Exit 59 on Interstate 94 Sunday evening at the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Icy conditions caused some crashes and delays although the immediate Eau Claire area avoided the heavy snowfall that hit the northern part of the region.

U.N. chief: Climate efforts 'utterly inadequate'

MADRID — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Sunday that the world’s efforts to stop climate change have been “utterly inadequate” so far and there is a danger global warming could pass the “point of no return.”

Speaking before the start today of a two-week international climate conference in Madrid, the U.N. chief said the impact of rising temperatures — including more extreme weather — is already being felt around the world, with dramatic consequences for humans and other species.

He noted that the world has the scientific knowledge and the technical means to limit global warming, but “what is lacking is political will.”

“The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” Guterres told reporters in the Spanish capital. “It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”

Delegates from almost 200 countries will try to put the finishing touches on the rules governing the 2015 Paris climate accord at the Dec. 2-13 meeting, including how to create functioning international emissions trading systems and compensate poor countries for losses they suffer from rising sea levels and other consequences of climate change.

Guterres cited mounting scientific evidence for the impact that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are already having on the planet, including record temperatures and melting polar ice.

But he insisted that his message was “one of hope, not of despair. Our war against nature must stop and we know that that is possible.”

Countries agreed in Paris four years ago to limit global warming to well below 3.6 Fahrenheit, ideally 2.7F by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times. Already, average temperatures have increased by about 1C, leaving little room for the more ambitious target to be met.

Guterres said growing demands from citizens, particularly young people, have shown there is widespread desire for climate action.

“What is still lacking is political will,” he said. “Political will to put a price on carbon. Political will to stop subsidies on fossil fuels. Political will to stop building coal power plants from 2020 onwards. Political will to shift taxation from income to carbon. Taxing pollution instead of people.”

Guterres noted that some 70 countries — many of them among the most vulnerable to climate change — have pledged to stop emitting more greenhouse gases by 2050.

“But we also see clearly that the world’s largest emitters are not pulling their weight. And without them, our goal is unreachable,” he said.

The U.N. chief said he hoped the meeting in Madrid would see governments make more ambitious pledges ahead of a deadline to do so next year.

He also said that creating a worldwide market for emissions, which is a key element of the sixth article of the Paris accord, remained one of the most contentious issues for negotiators.

“We are here to find answers for article 6, not to find excuses,” Guterres said.

Guterres also announced that outgoing Bank of England governor Mark Carney will become his new special envoy on “climate action and climate finance” from next year.

Organizers expect around 29,000 visitors, including some 50 heads of state and government for today’s opening, as well as scientists, seasoned negotiators and activists during the two-week meeting.

Some of the world’s largest carbon emitters — the United States, China and India — will be represented by ministers or lower-level officials.

The U.S. administration of President Donald Trump, which has announced the intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement, is represented by Marcia Bernicat, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is leading a delegation of Democratic lawmakers to the talks.

More than 5,000 police officers are charged with keeping the summit safe, Spain’s Interior Ministry said Sunday. Although authorities have stepped-up border controls and cybersecurity measures, authorities have kept the country’s terror alert one level under the highest, where it has been ever since extremist attacks in Tunisia and France in mid-2015.