TIME Congress

Medical-Marijuana Advocates Descend on Capitol Hill

More than 100 marijuana-legalization advocates went to Washington to lobby lawmakers on a subject that has seen little action in Congress despite a rising tide of Americans supporting legalization for medical purposes

Medical-marijuana supporters flocked to Capitol Hill on Monday to push for legislation that would prohibit the federal government from restricting state medical-marijuana laws.

“We’re doing this work,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, a pro-medical-pot group that brought 152 people to Washington to lobby 300 members of Congress. “It’s not just a bunch of potheads [saying], Please let us do this.”

The House bill would offer legal clarity to the growing number of states that are legalizing medical marijuana even as it remains illegal under federal law. New York might become the 21st state to legalize medicinal marijuana this year, but the Drug Enforcement Agency considers marijuana a drug on the same level as heroin, and the Justice Department under the Obama Administration hasn’t always been consistent in its level of prosecutorial restraint and its willingness to defer to state laws.

The bill is a long shot, to say the least, but advocates aren’t letting that dent their enthusiasm. Sherer pointed to groups that have issued scientific standards for quality control in medical-marijuana products as a way of showing its increasingly mainstream status. Sherer uses cannabis daily; she says she can’t get out of bed without it because of a disorder called dystonia, which causes her muscles to contract involuntarily. She called herself one of a million legal medical-cannabis patients in America.

“Once you use this medication and it works for you, or you see it work for a loved one, it really is crazy that we can’t even get a hearing at this point,” Sherer said. “We’re actually regulating this product from seed to consumption.”

But the pro-cannabis message will likely fall on deaf ears. It’s a nonstarter in the Republican-controlled House — Dan Rush, who directs the medical-cannabis department at the United Food and Commercial Workers union, listed California Representative Dana Rohrabacher as the sole exception to what he called an “entire Republican side of the building” opposed to legalization. And Democrats who control the Senate are hardly ready to make it a priority in a midterm-election year. The American public increasingly favors legalization, and for the first time, a CBS poll in January showed a slight majority supporting it.

Medical-marijuana advocates may find more success working through the Executive Branch. On Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama Administration is ready to work with Congress to take marijuana off the federal government’s list of the most dangerous drugs. Obama has said marijuana is “not very different” from cigarettes and less dangerous “on the individual consumer” than alcohol.

Marijuana advocates just want things to change.

“I don’t care who fixes it,” Sherer said. “But it seems like we keep getting ping-ponged around.”

TIME States

Missouri Lawmakers Attempt to Nullify Federal Gun Laws, Again

Missouri Guns
Participants applaud during a rally to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a gun bill on the south lawn of the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City, Mo., Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. Orlin Wagner—AP

Both chambers of the Missouri legislature passed bills, one of which is being referred to as the "Second Amendment Preservation Act," that would nullify federal gun law for infringing on "people's rights to keep and bear arms"

For the second time in as many years, both chambers of the Missouri legislature have passed bills to nullify federal gun laws. The House version of the “Second Amendment Preservation Act” declares all federal laws “invalid” if they “infringe on people’s rights to keep and bear arms” and gives residents the right to sue federal agents who try to enforce federal statutes. The Senate version states that such federal agents could be subject to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Don’t expect either version to hold up under legal scrutiny.

“It’s just grandstanding by state legislators, trying to make a statement about state rights,” says Robert Mikos, a law professor at Vanderbilt University who specializes in the intersection of state and federal laws. “These are non-starters from a legal perspective. A state has no power to nullify federal law.” If such a measure became law, he says, it would likely face immediate legal challenges.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed state lawmakers’ similar effort last year. That legislation was passed at a time when many states were rushing to nullify federal gun laws, afraid that the push for gun control following the the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings could lead to a broader crackdown on gun use and ownership. Then, as now, legal experts pointed to the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which states that federal laws “shall be the supreme law of the land.” Nevertheless, Missouri lawmakers tried, and narrowly failed, to override Nixon’s veto.

Mikos calls the latest Missouri effort “ridiculous,” though he notes that Congress has given state law the right to supersede federal law in a certain areas−which is why people generally don’t have a tough time purchasing drug paraphernalia like bongs, for instance, even though they’re technically illegal on a federal level. Washington is not likely to give states carte blanche on all gun-related issues anytime soon.

TIME Higher Education

Here’s How Many Students Could Save $50,000 on College—But Aren’t

The cost of not getting a college degree is rising, new study finds
The cost of not getting a college degree is rising, new study finds Getty Images

More colleges are allowing students to finish up their four-year degrees in just three years. But only a tiny percentage of students are taking advantage.

In 2012, Wesleyan University, an elite private college in Connecticut, became the highest-profile institution to actively promote an accelerated degree program, in which students could finish up college and get out into the “real world” after as little as three years of higher education. At the time, Wesleyan president Michael S. Roth wrote a guest op-ed for the Washington Post explaining that years prior, he had graduated from Wesleyan in three years, and he felt the benefits of such an option were enormous—among other things, he saved his family around $6,000, which was the cost of a year’s tuition when he was a student in the 1970s.

Because of a pricing model he described as “unsustainable,” Roth wrote that Wesleyan would immediately spread the word that the school’s current students could likewise finish up in three years, if they wanted:

The three-year option isn’t for everyone, but for those students who are prepared to develop their majors a little sooner, shorten their vacations by participating in summer sessions, and take advantage of the wealth of opportunities on campus, this more economical BA might be of genuine interest. In our case, allowing for some summer expenses, families would still save about 20 percent from the total bill for an undergraduate degree. At many private schools that would be around $50,000!

(MORE: After PBR: Will the Next Great Hipster Beer Please Stand Up?)

Over the weekend, the Boston Globe published a story about three-year degree options at Wesleyan and other schools. Roth is still a big fan of the idea, agreeing with the words of a previous Wesleyan president, who told students, “If you look back at your years at Wesleyan and say those were the best four years of your life, we failed you.”

Roth told the Globe that students who are ready to move on after three years of college should do so. “You shouldn’t stay here because this is your time to screw around and have a great time and then it’s going to be bad,” he said. “These should be the years that launch you into the world in a better way.”

The idea makes sense to many students who are seeking the most bang for their buck, and who are terrified with taking on crippling levels of college loans. So it’s understandable that the concept of a three-year degree is increasingly mentioned as a money-saving tactic for college students and their families. And yet very few students are actually graduating three years after starting college.

The Globe pointed to a Wesleyan dean’s estimate, forecasting that only a half-dozen or so of its students will earn their degrees via the three-year route next spring. Why so few? And why aren’t more students around the country jumping on what appears to be a quick, straightforward strategy for trimming college costs?

First off, it’s not necessarily easy to compile enough credits to graduate in three years. For majors such as nursing and engineering, which typically require extensive labs or clinical hours, earning a degree in three years is virtually impossible and often isn’t even allowed. Degrees in seemingly less intensive majors sometimes can’t be earned in three years either. “In majors like the performing arts, those skills can’t be rushed into a three-year format,” said a dean at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, explaining why it wasn’t possible for students in that major to finish in three years, per a Bankrate.com post on the pros and cons of accelerated programs.

(MORE: Student Loans Are Ruining Your Life. Now They’re Ruining the Economy Too)

Generally speaking, students in other majors must use AP credits earned in high school, and/or take summer sessions, and/or sign up for classes above and beyond the usual semester’s workload to try to finish up in three years. Not all students are up for the challenge. Heck, nationwide, less than half of students are able to earn enough credits to graduate in four years, let alone three.

What’s more, the majority of American colleges simply do not offer students the opportunity to graduate in three years. According to data cited in the Globe story, since 2009 only 19 private, nonprofit colleges have introduced three-year degree programs. More colleges are expected to get on board with the concept in the future, but the institutional embrace of the three-year degree will proceed slowly, and may not ever happen on a widespread level for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it obviously trims tuition and fees collected by colleges.

Colleges say that students should be extremely cautious in their pursuit of an accelerated degree. By speeding along through college, students increase the chances that they could pick the wrong major because they’re so hell-bent on graduating. They could also be shortchanged, the argument goes, on developing all-important life skills students are supposed to hone in college, such as critical thinking, teamwork, and problem solving.

Certainly, another factor holding back the three-year degree from becoming a larger trend is some level of disinterest among students. Not all that many students are eager to kill themselves by overloading on courses each semester. They may rather prefer to squeeze every moment of fun they can out of college—to, in fact, “screw around and have a great time” with their friends, as Wesleyan’s Roth put it. Making oneself miserable by rushing through college makes particularly little sense when you’ll graduate into a fairly lackluster jobs market.

(MORE: Student Loans Are Becoming a Drag on the U.S. Economy)

Perhaps most telling, by some account students’ parents, rather than students themselves, seem more interested in the idea of saving money via a three-year degree. “I’ve had parents ask me about the three-year degree with the sort of energy that sometimes the students don’t possess themselves,” Mary Coleman, a dean at Lesley University, in Cambridge, Mass., said to the Globe.

TIME LGBT

Supreme Court Denies Photographer’s Appeal Over Same-Sex Ceremonies

New Mexico's high court said a photographer's refusal to photograph same-sex weddings because it violated her religious beliefs was discriminatory, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday an appeal from a New Mexico photographer who argued that photographing same-sex weddings violates her right to religious freedom.

New Mexico’s Supreme Court previously ruled that Elane Photography violated state anti-discrimination laws by refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Co-owner Elaine Huguenin argued that photographing the ceremony would violate her religious beliefs. Huguenin also said she has a right to artistic expression under the First Amendment that allows her to decide which photos to take, the Associated Press reports.

After losing at New Mexico’s high court, Huguenin appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the justices didn’t bite, instead letting the state’s ruling stand.

[AP]

TIME Disaster

Washington Mudslide Death Toll Hits 34

People leave a funeral service for thirty six year-old Summer Raffo, who was killed in the deadly Oso, Washington mudslide, at the Gleneagle Golf Course on April 5, 2014 in Arlington, Wash.
People leave a funeral service for Summer Raffo, who was killed in the deadly Oso, Wash., mudslide, at the Gleneagle Golf Course in Arlington, Wash., on April 5, 2014 Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Medical examiners in Washington State say they have received another body in the aftermath of the March 22 mudslide that destroyed a residential neighborhood north of Seattle

Updated April 8, 11am EST

Medical examiners in Washington State’s Snohomish County have confirmed another fatality in the Oso mudslide, bringing the disaster’s death toll to 34 as of Tuesday.

Only 30 of the confirmed victims have been identified. The last victim named was Billy L. Spillers, 30, who died of multiple blunt-force injuries, the Associated Press reports. Authorities are still searching for more bodies in the aftermath of the March 22 mudslide that destroyed a residential neighborhood 55 miles (88.5 km) north of Seattle.

Funerals for the dead started over the weekend as the town of Oso mourned school custodian Summer Raffo, 36, and librarian Linda McPherson, 69, the Chicago Tribune reports. Additional services for the missing and the dead are scheduled for later this week.

[NBC News]

This piece was updated to reflect latest death toll

TIME Senate

Scott Brown Set to Announce Senate Campaign This Week

Sen. Scott Brown on Capitol Hill in 2012.
Scott Brown on Capitol Hill in 2012. Alex Brandon—AP

The former Massachusetts Senator, a prolific Republican fundraiser who won the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat in 2010 against Martha Coakley then lost it to Elizabeth Warren in 2012, is expected to officially announce his bid in New Hampshire on Thursday

Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown will officially announce his bid for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire on Thursday, he said in an email sent to supporters Monday.

The announcement-of-the-announcement was long expected for the Republican lawmaker, who will be up against Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

“As I’ve travelled across the state and added miles on my truck, I’ve heard the same concerns at every stop,” Brown wrote in his e-mail. “You’ve told me you want a stronger economy with more good-paying jobs. You want a government that doesn’t spend more than it takes in. Most of all, you want a health care system that works for New Hampshire – not one that leaves you with higher premiums, cancelled policies and fewer medical options.”

Brown won the late Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat in a 2010 upset against Martha Coakley. He then lost the seat to Elizabeth Warren in 2012. Brown is known as one of the most prolific Republican fundraisers, making him an attractive candidate for national Republicans who want to unseat Shaheen.

The first fundraiser for Brown’s Senate campaign is set for Monday night, the Boston Globe reports.

TIME bob filner

Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner Done With House Arrest

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner Entangled In Sexual Harassment Scandal Holds News Conference
San Diego mayor Bob Filner announces his mayoral resignation to the city council on July 26, 2013 in San Diego, Calif. Bill Wechter—Getty Images

Bob Filner's months-long house arrest stint is over, the result of pleading guilty in December to charges of felony false imprisonment and misdemeanor battery regarding claims of sexual harassment, but he now faces three years of probation

Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s house arrest came to an end Sunday after 90 days of home confinement.

The 71-year old former mayor was sentenced in December to house arrest after pleading guilty to felony false imprisonment and two counts of misdemeanor battery involving victims of sexual harassment, the Associated Press reports.

Filner resigned just nine months after he was elected Mayor of San Diego amid a flurry of allegations that he groped and kissed women without their consent. He will serve three years of probation following his release, which will likely make it difficult for him to seek public office anytime soon.

[AP]

TIME Immigration

Most Immigrants Deported Under Obama Had Thin or No Criminal Record

Records show most of the two million immigrants who have been expelled under President Obama since 2008 either had minor traffic violations or no criminal record at all, despite the administration's strategy of going after people hurting their communities

Most of the 2 million people who have been deported under President Barack Obama were expelled after committing minor infractions, despite Obama’s promise that his administration was targeting immigrants who were threats to the community.

The New York Times found in an investigation of government records that two-thirds of immigrants deported from the U.S. since 2008 committed minor traffic violations or had no criminal record at all. Another 20% — about 394,000 people — had a criminal record or faced drug charges.

Obama previously said his administration’s immigration enforcement strategy would go after “criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families.”

Deportations for traffic violations (including driving under the influence) have quadrupled since Obama took office, while deportations for entering (or re-entering) the country illegally have tripled.

In the last year of the George W. Bush administration, immigrants who were deported for nonviolent offenses were returned to their home country but not charged. The Obama administration reversed that policy, filing charges in 90% of such cases. Those charges prevent immigrants from returning to the U.S. for five years under threat of prison time.

[NYT]

TIME Obesity

Here are the Fattest (and Fittest) Cities In the U.S.

A new study by Gallup finds the Huntington-Ashland-Ironton metropolitan area that straddles West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio is the most obese community in the U.S.; Boulder is named the slimmest for the fifth time in six years

A Gallup study has found that the Huntington-Ashland-Ironton metropolitan area is the most obese community in the U.S.

The Gallp-Healthways Well-Being Index found that 39.5% of the adult population of the area, which straddles West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, are overweight. Other problem communities are McAllen-Edinburg-Mission (38.3%), Tx., and the Hagerstown-Martinsburg metropolitan area (36.7%) in Maryland and West Virginia.

Boulder, Colo. remains the city with the lowest obesity rates in the US. Just 12.4% of Boulder’s residents are deemed overweight — the lowest of any community surveyed in the U.S. Also in the top three were Naples-Marco Island (16.5%), Fl., and Fort Collins-Loveland (18.2%), Colo.

Boulder has had the lowest obesity rate in five of the last six surveys conducted since Gallup and Healthways began conducting the study in 2008.

Nationally, the U.S.’s obesity rate jumped to 27.1% last year, the highest Gallup has recorded since tracking began six years ago.

[Gallup]

TIME celebrities

Hollywood Icon Mickey Rooney Dead at 93

The colorful, diminutive actor was known for his consummate performances in more than 200 films across eight decades, making him one of the most successful child actors cum movie stars in the history of cinema

Legendary Hollywood actor Mickey Rooney died at 93 Sunday at his Hollywood home while in the company of his family.

Rooney died of natural causes, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office told the Associated Press.

The colorful, diminutive actor was known for his consummate performances in more than 200 films across eight decades, making him one of the most successful child actors cum movie stars in the history of cinema.

(PHOTOS: Mickey Rooney: A Look Back at His Early Life in Pictures)

Rooney’s notable roles include his portrayal of Andy Hardy in 20 Hardy Boys films. He also acted alongside Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and more recently with Amy Adams and Jason Segel in The Muppets.

Rooney is survived by his eighth wife and his nine children.

[AP]

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