Daily Archives: December 27, 2018

US Legal Marijuana Industry Had Banner Year in 2018

PORTLAND, OREGON The last year was a 12-month champagne toast for the legal marijuana industry as the global market exploded and cannabis pushed its way further into the financial and cultural mainstream.

Liberal California became the largest legal U.S. marketplace, while conservative Utah and Oklahoma embraced medical marijuana. Canada ushered in broad legalization , and Mexico’s Supreme Court set the stage for that country to follow.

U.S. drug regulators approved the first marijuana-based pharmaceutical to treat kids with a form of epilepsy, and billions of investment dollars poured into cannabis companies. Even main street brands like Coca-Cola said they are considering joining the party.

I have been working on this for decades, and this was the year that the movement crested, said U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat working to overturn the federal ban on pot. It’s clear that this is all coming to a head.

With buzz building across the globe, the momentum will continue into 2019.

Luxembourg is poised to become the first European country to legalize recreational marijuana, and South Africa is moving in that direction. Thailand legalized medicinal use of marijuana on Tuesday, and other Southeastern Asian countries may follow South Korea’s lead in legalizing cannabidiol, or CBD. It’s a non-psychoactive compound found in marijuana and hemp plants and used for treatment of certain medical problems.

It’s not just the U.S. now. It’s spreading, said Ben Curren, CEO of Green Bits, a San Jose, California, company that develops software for marijuana retailers and businesses.

Curren’s firm is one of many that blossomed as the industry grew. He started the company in 2014 with two friends. Now, he has 85 employees, and the company’s software processes $2.5 billion in sales transactions a year for more than 1,000 U.S. retail stores and dispensaries.

Green Bits raised $17 million in April, pulling in money from investment firms including Snoop Dogg’s Casa Verde Capital. Curren hopes to expand internationally by 2020.

A lot of the problem is keeping up with growth, he said.

Legal marijuana was a $10.4 billion industry in the U.S. in 2018 with a quarter-million jobs devoted just to the handling of marijuana plants, said Beau Whitney, vice president and senior economist at New Frontier Data, a leading cannabis market research and data analysis firm. There are many other jobs that don’t involve direct work with the plants but they are harder to quantify, Whitney said.

Investors poured $10 billion into cannabis in North America in 2018, twice what was invested in the last three years combined, he said, and the combined North American market is expected to reach more than $16 billion in 2019.

Investors are getting much savvier when it comes to this space because even just a couple of years ago, you’d throw money at it and hope that something would stick, he said. But now investors are much more discerning.

Increasingly, U.S. lawmakers see that success and want it for their states.

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. states now have legalized some form of medical marijuana.

Voters in November made Michigan the 10th state � and first in the Midwest � to legalize recreational marijuana. Governors in New York and New Jersey are pushing for a similar law in their states next year, and momentum for broad legalization is building in Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week.

State lawmakers in Nebraska just formed a campaign committee to put a medical cannabis initiative to voters in 2020. Nebraska shares a border with Colorado, one of the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana, and Iowa, which recently started a limited medical marijuana program.

Attitudes have been rapidly evolving and changing. I know that my attitude toward it has also changed, said Nebraska state Sen. Adam Morfeld, a Democrat. Seeing the medical benefits and seeing other states implement it … has convinced me that it’s not the dangerous drug it’s made out to be.

With all its success, the U.S. marijuana industry continues to be undercut by a robust black market and federal law that treats marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin. Financial institutions are skittish about cannabis businesses, even in U.S. states where they are legal, and investors until recently have been reluctant to put their money behind pot.

Marijuana businesses can’t deduct their business expenses on their federal taxes and face huge challenges getting insurance and finding real estate for their brick-and-mortar operations.

Until you have complete federal legalization, you’re going to be living with that structure, said Marc Press, a New Jersey attorney who advises cannabis businesses.

At the start of the year, the industry was chilled when then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a policy shielding state-licensed medical marijuana operators from federal drug prosecutions. Ultimately the move had minimal impact because federal prosecutors showed little interest in going after legal operators.

Sessions, a staunch marijuana opponent, later lost his job while President Donald Trump said he was inclined to support an effort by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, to relax the federal prohibition.

In November, Democrats won control of the U.S. House and want to use it next year to pass legislation that eases federal restrictions on the legal marijuana industry without removing it from the controlled substances list.

Gardner and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren have proposed legislation allowing state-approved commercial cannabis activity under federal law. The bill also would let states and Indian tribes determine how best to regulate marijuana commerce within their boundaries without fear of federal intervention.

If those provisions become law, they could open up banking for the marijuana industry nationwide and make it easier for cannabis companies to secure capital.

Blumenauer’s blueprint to legalize marijuana also calls for the federal government to provide medical marijuana for veterans, more equitable taxation for marijuana businesses and rolling back federal prohibitions on marijuana research, among other things.

We have elected the most pro-cannabis Congress in history and more important, some of the people who were roadblocks to our work … are gone, Blumenauer said. If we’re able to jump-start it in the House, I think there will be support in the Senate, particularly if we deal with things that are important, like veterans’ access and banking.

Source: Voice of America

Nigerian Couples Cautiously Turn to Surrogacy to Ease Fertility Woes

Ada became a surrogate mother after her landlord threatened to evict her family from their apartment in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, two years ago.

But her husband wasn’t open to the idea when she first brought it up.

“He was like, ‘What’s that? Why on earth would you think of something like that? Please don’t even go there’,” she recalled.

Ada became intrigued about surrogacy when she heard about it on a US reality television show, but thought it was only for Westerners. Then a colleague revealed that she had done it.

But in a religiously conservative nation, many Christians and Muslims alike are skeptical of surrogacy — even though the practice has historic roots.

Some polygamous ethnic Igbo or Yoruba clans used surrogates when a wife was unable to conceive.

In some Igbo villages, certain women could “marry” another woman. Any child born from the marriage would take the name of the “female husband” and the male donor’s identity was never divulged.

Social pressure

But as years pass, traditions fade. In their place, a relatively lucrative but murky and secretive system has developed.

Ada, for example, was paid two million naira (more than $5,500, nearly 5,000 euros) to be a surrogate.

Key to her involvement was the surrogacy agency’s provision of decent accommodation for her, her husband and their own two children while she was pregnant.

“That was what attracted me to the project,” she told AFP.

“We had a pressing need to move out of our place and when I showed (my husband) the accommodation fee, he started looking at it differently, even though he was scared.”

Her husband’s fears were justified even if he finally relented: Nigeria is the fourth most dangerous country in the world to give birth.

According to the World Bank, 814 women die for every 100,000 births — four times more than the global average and 100 times more than in the European Union.

Ada eventually gave birth to twins. So as not to arouse suspicion and to avoid the stigma attached to surrogacy, Ada told her friends she lost the babies.

Huge taboo

The taboo surrounding surrogacy is even greater for the women who have to turn to it.

Infertility is sometimes seen as divine punishment and most often the woman is blamed when couples are unable to conceive.

“When you go to church and you see couples praising God for giving them a child after 15 or 20 years, they say it’s a miracle but often it’s IVF (in-vitro fertilization) or surrogacy,” said a surrogacy agent, who gave his name as Chike.

“Most people in Nigeria can’t afford the cost of IVF or a surrogate mother, so there is not an extensive market for it in Nigeria.

“There are a lot of stereotypes around surrogacy because of the ‘baby factories’. People don’t know the difference.”

“Baby factories” are illegal maternity units where many young women and girls give birth anonymously after getting pregnant accidentally — sometimes as a result of rape — or go there to sell the newborn.

Huge social and religious pressure forces many infertile couples without means to go in desperation to these units, which are prevalent in southeast Nigeria and are often raided by police.

Surrogacy abroad

Toyin Lolu-Ogunmade knows the pain of not being able to have children but didn’t want to use a surrogate. “I wanted to carry a baby myself,” she said.

“My thinking was, ‘If you can’t carry a pregnancy, then how are you a woman?’ That is the essence of femininity and it’s being taken from me.”

“Most people want to have children that are from their own genes, adopted children are not biologically linked to you,” she explained, “with surrogacy, they are related.”

Lolu-Ogunmade’s 12-year struggle with infertility was due to uterine fibroids and post-surgery complications.

Doctors told her the only chance of becoming a mother was by using a surrogate.

“I didn’t know where to start,” she recalled.

After discussing the matter with her husband and their pastor, the couple travelled to India where surrogacy is legal.

They eventually returned to Nigeria in 2012 with twins and the idea of setting up an agency to help women with fertility problems.

Risky business

In Nigeria, there are no laws governing surrogacy.

Lack of legislation leaves parents and the surrogate vulnerable to inadequate medical screening, a lack of psychological support and excessive use of Caesarean sections.

Ayo Sogunro, a human rights lawyer, said Nigerian courts were likely to follow common law precedents recognizing the rights of both parties in a surrogacy contract.

For Chike, the lack of proper legislation was too much of a risk and last month he closed his online agency after five years.

“We will not respond to any surrogacy requests. We thank you very much for your support,” a message reads on the firm’s Facebook page.

Chike said his involvement in commercial surrogacy has left him facing possible legal action for human trafficking — and it was not worth the risk.

“Nigeria is not ripe enough (for surrogacy) until there’s legislation in place,” he added.

Source: Voice of America

Sudan Journalists Call for Strike in Support of Protests

CAIRO A Sudanese journalists’ network and a number of labor and trade unions issued calls Thursday for a day of peaceful protests against the government.

They say the protests are aimed at drawing attention to what the groups consider an excessive use of force against people who have taken to the streets to condemn a rise in food and fuel prices.

Protesters this week called for the resignation of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who on Thursday accused “large Western states” of provoking the economic crisis which now embroils the country.

The government says that eight protesters have been killed during clashes between protesters and security forces, while some opposition groups say more than two dozen people have died.

Meanwhile, the head of Sudan’s parliament has summoned Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Othman for questions about the casualties.

Suleiman Idriss, secretary general of the Islamic Party, a component of the governing coalition in Sudan, told journalists that peaceful protests are protected by the constitution and that spilling blood is unacceptable.

Idriss said that he opposes killing and the use of violence and that citizens anywhere in the country have the right to protest in accordance with the constitution and all international human rights declarations. He called on the government to conduct an inquiry into the death of protesters, since the people’s blood is sacred and must not be spilled.

However, Youssef Jalal, a spokesman for the journalists’ network, told Arab media that journalists are not satisfied.

Jalal said that the journalists’ network is calling for a work stoppage and its members will be covering only essential news, along with what he called the repression taking place in the streets (by security forces). He said that parliament’s decision to question the interior minister over the use of force is not a convincing move, since most members of parliament belong to the ruling party.

In a speech to graduating military cadets Thursday, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir blamed Western nations for causing the current economic crisis that has hit his country.

He said that Arab and Islamic states are subject to both political and economic blackmail by the large nations to force them to submit to their dictates, because they still harbor long-lost dreams of controlling natural resources.

The United States lifted economic sanctions on Sudan in October, but the Sudanese pound has continued to lose much of its value against the dollar, prompting shortages of bread, fuel and currency across the country.

President Bashir came to power in a 1989 coup. He is wanted on an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for human rights violations in the country’s Darfur state.

Lawmakers recently amended the constitution to allow him to run for another term in 2020.

Source: Voice of America

Umalusi briefs media on approval of matric results, 28 Dec

Invitation to Umalusi media briefing on approval of results

You are cordially invited to Umalusi’s annual media briefing for the approval of national examination results.

Date: Friday, 28 December 2018

Time: 09:30 for 10h00

Venue: Umalusi House, 37 General Van Ryneveld Street, Persequor Techno Park, Pretoria � directions attached.

RSVP:

Kindly RSVP by Thursday, 27 December 2018 to Kgaugelo Sekokotla at kgaugelo.sekokotla@umalusi.org.za

NB: A light lunch will be served immediately after the media briefing. Hope to see you!

Source: Government of South Africa

Israel Vows to Block Palestinian Bid to Become Full UN Member

UNITED NATIONS Israel has vowed to work with the United States to block a bid by the Palestinians for full membership in the United Nations, a move that would confer international recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said Wednesday that he will submit a request next month to the Security Council for full UN membership, according to the official Wafa Palestinian news agency.

“We are preparing to stop the initiative,” said Israel’s UN ambassador Danny Danon in a statement. “The Palestinians pay terrorists and encourage violence yet seek to become a member state of the United Nations.”

Danon accused Palestinian leaders of engaging in “destructive policies that have encouraged recent terror attacks” and said he was gearing up to block the initiative “in cooperation with the United States delegation.”

Any move by the Palestinians to seek full UN membership will face a veto from the United States at the Security Council, diplomats said.

Under UN rules the General Assembly must approve any request to become a UN member-state, but it must first be submitted to the Security Council.

To win the council’s approval, the Palestinians would have to secure nine votes from the 15 members and no veto from any of the five permanent members: Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States.

The Palestinian foreign minister said he plans to travel to New York next month to personally submit the request. It remains unclear whether the application would quickly be put to a vote at the Security Council.

New council members back Palestine

UN diplomats said the Palestinian move to seek full UN membership comes as South Africa and Indonesia, two strong supporters of the Palestinians, are set to take their seats as non-permanent Security Council members.

The council is tentatively scheduled to hold its monthly meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on January 22.

The Palestinians were granted the status of UN non-member observer state in 2012, a decision taken by the General Assembly where no member-state holds veto power.

The United States voted against that resolution, in line with its long-standing view that there should be no international recognition for the Palestinians until progress is made in peace efforts with Israel.

That view has hardened under President Donald Trump’s administration, which has cut off aid to the Palestinians and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, overriding Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem.

Asked for a comment, the US mission to the United Nations said it was unable to respond due to the US government shutdown.

The Trump administration is preparing to roll out, possibly in early 2019, its much-awaited peace proposals for the Middle East — although Israeli elections scheduled for April could once again delay that plan.

About 137 countries out the UN’s 193 member-states recognize some form of Palestinian statehood.

Source: Voice of America