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Medical marijuana bills challenge Bible Belt politics



Facing a potentially historic vote on whether to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky, Republican lawmaker John Schickel is conflicted.

A retired law enforcement officer, Schickel once steadfastly opposed medical cannabis, but his stance has softened. Now he says he’s approaching the question with an open mind.

“One side of me says that with all the drug abuse we have right now, why are we opening up another avenue of abuse?” the state senator said in an interview. “But the flip side of it is, if there are people who need medical attention and truly believe that it will help them, who are we to say they can’t have it?”

Schickel’s dilemma stands as yet another sign that views about marijuana are changing across the South, where efforts to legalize it have long been stymied by Bible Belt politics. While medical cannabis is legal now in 33 states, including Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida, other Southern states remain among the holdouts.

Whether wavering resistance will lead to legalization remains unclear. After years of setbacks, the Kentucky bill’s supporters cleared a historic hurdle when the House passed the measure. The Senate appears more skeptical.

Lawmakers in other Southern states are also cautiously eyeing changes, though there’s reason for hope among advocates.

In Alabama, a medical marijuana bill won approval in the Alabama Senate as advocates make headway after years of setbacks. The legislation moves to the state House next.

And in Mississippi, voters will decide for themselves whether to legalize medical marijuana in November, after a group submitted more than enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot. But that ballot question might have competition.

The Mississippi House voted to put a second medical marijuana proposal on the statewide ballot this year. People who petitioned to get the first one there say the second is designed to split the vote and kill both proposals. The alternative proposal would go on the ballot only if it is also approved by the state Senate.

The Kentucky bill would allow doctors to prescribe cannabis that patients could obtain at approved dispensaries in forms such as pills and oils. Smoking medical cannabis would not be permitted. A regulatory board would determine what conditions would qualify for prescriptions. The House-passed version would ensure that approved conditions would include chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and nausea or vomiting.

Opposition has come from socially conservative lawmakers who warn that legalizing medical cannabis would push Kentucky off a slippery slope leading to recreational use of the drug.

“Marijuana isn’t just a carefree, happy-go-lucky kind of thing you just do on a whim,” Republican Rep. Stan Lee said. “It’s a drug. And I don’t think it’s good for our society. I don’t think it’s good for our people. And I fear that’s where we’re going — step by step.”

Looking to defuse that argument, the bill’s leading supporter said he too is opposed to recreational marijuana.

“This is not about fun,” Republican Rep. Jason Nemes said after House vote. “This is about healing. This is about health.”

Other opponents are uneasy about Kentucky getting ahead of federal marijuana policy. Despite increasing legalization in the states, marijuana remains federally classified as a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin and LSD.

Others warn of aggressive marketing by the cannabis industry: “It’s an addiction-for-profit business model,” said Garth Van Meter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an alliance that says it promotes a health-first approach to marijuana policy.

And some say more research is needed on marijuana’s medicinal value before it’s prescribed.

“If it’s a drug, we’ll have the FDA deem it a drug and then allow our pharmacists to distribute it,” said Kentucky prosecutor Chris Cohron.

Supporters see these arguments as misdirection meant to keep Kentucky out of step with most states.

“The research has been done, and Kentucky is … behind on cannabis legislation,” said Jaime Montalvo, executive director of Kentuckians for Medicinal Marijuana.

Now the bill’s fate is in the hands of the Senate, with just a few weeks left in this year’s session.

Republican Sen. Wil Schroder is among the undecideds. He said he’s always told voters he would be open-minded, and that hasn’t changed. But he said “there’s a lot of hesitancy from members, myself included, when the federal government hasn’t acted on this.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers are hearing an outpouring of support from medical marijuana advocates who want cannabis prescriptions for their medical conditions.

Choking with emotion, Schickel said a lunch conversation with a constituent battling brain cancer reinforced his willingess to take another look. “He was very passionate that it would help him,” Schickel said.

Among the more prominent advocates is Eric Crawford, who has become a fixture at the Kentucky Capitol.

Crawford has told lawmakers he already uses medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids to deal with pain and muscle spasms, the legacy of spinal cord injuries he suffered in a vehicle crash decades ago.

“I just want to be comfortable,” Crawford said in an interview. “Medical cannabis just makes me comfortable … and takes care of my pain and spasms better than the pharmaceuticals can.”


Associated Press Writers Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, and Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama, contributed to this report. Edited by

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The pandemic is breaking down political barriers between provincial and federal governments –



While Canadians are being asked to keep their distance from one another to slow the spread of COVID-19, the pandemic is bringing Canada’s leaders closer together.

On Thursday night, there was a tangible spirit of goodwill around the virtual table when the prime minister and Canada’s premiers took part in a teleconference on the novel coronavirus outbreak. Sources tell CBC News that gratitude and appreciation was expressed at both ends for the collaborative work the two levels of government have been doing.

Meetings of first ministers can be acrimonious but there was no troublemaker at the table this time. One source said that “everyone [was] very sympathetic to Quebec,” the province that has been hit the hardest by the outbreak. In the past, the province has butted heads with other premiers on everything from pipelines to face veil bans.

Speaking on background, a federal Liberal source told CBC News that some premiers were willing to divert deliveries of personal protective equipment (PPE) from their own province to provinces with greater needs.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, normally an inveterate foe of Trudeau, tweeted during the call how he was “impressed by how [Canada] is coming together to fight this invisible enemy” and “moved by strong solidarity for Alberta’s double whammy: the COVID recession [and] the energy price crash.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, another regular sparring partner of Trudeau’s, said in a news conference earlier on Thursday that he would “never break ranks” with the prime minister or his fellow premiers in the midst of a crisis. In an interview with the Toronto Star, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland called Ford her “therapist” and the Ontario premier reciprocated her praise.

It is the kind of unity of purpose among Canada’s first ministers that is almost without precedent.

There are, of course, some obvious incentives for provincial premiers to stay onside with the federal government at a time like this. Ottawa has the fiscal capacity and the jurisdiction to do some things the provinces can’t — such as subsidize wages and restrict movement across international borders.

When Newfoundland and Labrador could no longer find buyers for its provincial bonds, the Bank of Canada swooped in with a program to buy short-term provincial securities. It allowed Newfoundland and Labrador to “make payroll.” It might not be the last province to find itself in such dire straits.

Trudeau has few friends around the table

The political map across the country is not one that should make this kind of collaboration between provincial and federal governments easy.

Only two of the 10 provinces are headed up by Liberals — Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. The other eight have conservative premiers of various stripes or, as in British Columbia, a New Democrat.

Little more than a year ago, Ford and Kenney were featured on a cover of Maclean’s magazine standing beside Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Together, they were dubbed “the resistance” and Trudeau’s “worst nightmare.”

Now, Ford says they are all part of “Team Canada.”

Politics didn’t always disappear in past crises

Past prime ministers have had more friends around the premier’s table when facing national crises than Trudeau does today. When Stephen Harper led the country through the Great Recession that began in 2008, he had fewer opponents among the premiers than Trudeau had at the beginning of this year.

Robert Borden, who led Canada into the First World War, had more fellow Conservatives in provincial capitals than opposing Liberals in 1914.

In the early stages of the Great Depression, W.L. Mackenzie King was reluctant to assist the four provinces led by Conservative premiers (there were five led by Liberals or Progressives). He told the House of Commons in 1930 that, while he might work with some friendly premiers, he would “not give a single cent to any Tory government.”

It was a statement that contributed to his defeat in the election he called later that year.

Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King (right) with (from left to right) the Earl of Athlone, Governor General of Canada, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Quebec Conference in 1944. (Canadian Press)

Back in office when the Second World War began in September 1939, King again had plenty of provincial allies. All but two provinces had Liberal premiers.

But even that didn’t lead to the kind of united front we’re seeing today. Maurice Duplessis, who led a conservative Union Nationale government in Quebec, bristled at restrictions imposed by the War Measures Act and called an election for that October. He campaigned against the federal government’s encroaching power and on fears that conscription would be imposed.

With the assistance of the King government, the Liberals under Adelard Godbout defeated Duplessis.

In Ontario, the premier might have been a Liberal but Mitchell Hepburn didn’t see the prime minister as an ally. He instead teamed up with the leader of the Ontario Conservatives and together they criticized King’s early prosecution of the war in both the press and on the floor of the Ontario legislature. It was enough to spur King into calling a federal election in 1940 as a show of strength against his provincial critics.

At the moment, that kind of partisan jockeying between the different levels of government seems unthinkable. But it wasn’t long ago that the kind of cooperation we have seen between premiers and between them and the prime minister would have been just as unthinkable.

It’s one of the many ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. It’s also a good reason for confidence.

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Governors warn of dire ventilator shortages as virus pandemic rages. Trump says some are playing 'politics' – USA TODAY



WASHINGTON – Governors’ warnings of life-threatening shortages of ventilators have emerged as a flashpoint between President Donald Trump and the states as the coronavirus crisis deepens.

“Some states have more ventilators than they need,” Trump told a news briefing Saturday. “They don’t even like to admit it. They’ll admit it when everything’s over but that doesn’t help us very much.“

Governors in hard-hit states like New York, Michigan and Louisiana say doctors could be forced to make life or death decisions about who will get ventilators and who won’t if hospitals starting running out of the machines when the peak of the crisis hits.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has said his state is expected to exhaust its supply of ventilators by April 6. Though Louisiana has received some ventilators from the national stockpile, Edwards said his state still needs thousands more.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has estimated his state will need as many as 30,000 ventilators and could start facing shortages by the middle of next week.

Cuomo dismissed the suggestion that he was overstating the needs. He said New York was prepared to pay for 17,000 ventilators it had ordered on its own but didn’t get them because of competing demands.

“We were not looking to spend a penny that we didn’t have to spend,” Cuomo said.

Wartime powers: Trump hasn’t ordered any ventilators from GM, despite saying he was using his authority to force production

US coronavirus map: Tracking the outbreak 

The tensions between the governors and the Trump administration grew this week when Jared Kushner, a senior White House adviser and the president’s son-in-law, referred to the federal stockpile of medical supplies as “our stockpile.”

“It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use,” he said.

Trump has said the federal government is ready to help the states but needs the “flexibility of moving the ventilators” to virus hot spots. He and his aides say the administration will mobilize the equipment to areas where it’s most needed days in advance but they’re also urging states to tap their own stockpiles and do what they can to obtain their own supplies.

Several governors want the federal government to use its clout to buy more ventilators. The Federal Emergency Management Agency could then distribute to states in the greatest need, the governors argue.

“Why would you create a situation where the 50 states are competing with each other and then the federal government, FEMA, comes in and competes with the rest of it?” Cuomo asked.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer have also expressed frustration over competing against one another – and the federal government – in bidding for supplies in the private market, which has led to price-gouging.

So how many ventilators are likely to be needed, how many are there now and why are they in such short supply? Here’s an overview of what led to the problems and the debate over how to solve them. 

How many ventilators are available?

Trump has declared the U.S would produce 100,000 ventilators in 100 days and told reporters Thursday that 11 companies were behind the effort to expedite production. While General Motors and Ford have said they would manufacture ventilators, it wasn’t immediately clear what other companies were producing the machines. 

Most of the 100,000 ventilators Trump promised to have by June will not be available until the end of the month at the earliest, FEMA officials told the House Oversight Committee this week. 

FEMA said there were just 9,500 ventilators in the national stockpile, with about 3,200 expected to be added by the week of April 13, according to documents from the agency released by the committee’s Democrats. 

The U.S. coronavirus crisis is projected to peak by the middle of April, when nearly 32,000 ventilators will be needed to address the outbreak, according to data from the Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

FEMA acknowledges “that the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) alone could not fulfill all requirements at the State and tribal level” in response to the coronavirus pandemic,” according to an agency spokesperson.

FEMA officials have told the House Oversight Committee the demand for ventilators “outstrips the capacity” of the national stockpile as well as the 1,065 machines donated by the Department of Defense.

As of April 2, FEMA officials have shipped 8,100 ventilators from the national stockpile, a FEMA spokesperson said, adding that the agency is expediting critical medical supplies from the global market to medical distributors across the country. 

Six flights carrying medical supplies from Asia have arrived in the U.S. since March 29, including two flights that arrived Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, early on Friday, according to the FEMA spokesperson. The agency has scheduled 27 additional flights through April 18. 

The medical supplies will be given first to medical distributors in areas of greatest need and the remainder “will be infused into the broader U.S. supply chain,” the FEMA spokesperson said. 

FEMA also points to the $16 billion allocated to build up the stockpile in the $2 trillion-dollar stimulus package passed by Congress last week that will help address the shortage. 

Why is there a shortage?

The Strategic National Stockpile, which is managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, consists of several secretly located warehouses across the U.S. that contain emergency medical supplies. 

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who served as health secretary under former President George W. Bush and oversaw the outbreaks of anthrax, SARS, and Monkeypox, said the number of warehouses was expanded to 12 from eight after the 9/11 attacks. 

Thompson, who said he offered a federal plan for preparation for a pandemic before he left office, said Congress failed to appropriate funding to replenish the depleted stockpiles over the years. 

“They were maintained, but they were not expanded,” he told USA TODAY. “I think it was lack of attention. I don’t think you blame the governors, I don’t think you blame the president, I think that everybody neglected filling these sites with what was needed.”

Greg Burel, who served as head of the SNS for more than 12 years before he retired in January, said the stockpile was not initially designed for pandemic influenza but Congress began investing funds in preparation for such an event in the early 2000s. 

“We always knew that even then, it wasn’t as much as some of the models suggested we would need if it was a 1918 sort of an event,” he said, referring to the flu pandemic of 1918. “Even with the pandemic influenza money, it was going to be almost impossible fiscally, to stockpile our way out of that kind of a problem.”

Burel added that Congress never saw fit to fund the replacement of materials exhausted during the the 2009 flu epidemic, which played a hand in today’s unfolding coronavirus crisis. He added that local and state health departments lack the funding needed and the private health care supply chain operates in “just-in-time” basis that hinders any sort of wide-scale response to a pandemic.

‘We’re not an ordering clerk’

Trump has said federal government’s stockpile can help the country through the crisis but has also criticized states for having ‘insatiable appetites’ for equipment and not doing enough to build their own supplies.

“States should have been building their stockpiles,” he added. “We’re a back-up, we’re not an ordering clerk,” he said.

But the existence of the stockpile is aimed directly at helping states, according to Josh Gotbaum, a former assistant secretary of defense for economic security and executive associate director for Office of Management and Budget under former President Bill Clinton. 

“The whole purpose of emergency stockpiles is to protect the nation in an emergency. Even if the stockpiles are inadequate, they still must be used for the entire nation,” he said. “It’s not to make sure there’s enough ventilators for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. The Defense Department already takes care of that.”

Coronavirus: Will I get a check? Where do I find peanut butter? What crisis-hit Americans are asking lawmakers amid coronavirus

Cuomo said Friday the government should send more ventilators and medical supplies that New York could then redeploy to other hard-hit localities where demand is surging. 

“What is the alternative to the crisis that we see looming nationwide?” he said. “New York is in crisis. Help New York and then pick up the camp and go to the next place as this rolls across the country.”

Thompson said while Cuomo and other governors are rightly focused on their states, Trump has to assess where the life-saving machines are needed most across the country. 

“The stockpiles are federal…the president is responsible for all the states,” Thompson said. “So he’s got to make that tough decision.”

Can Trump use wartime powers to get more ventilators?

Trump has shown ambivalence about use the full authority of the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to compel private companies to make ventilators, masks and other equipment. He has at times likened the wartime authority to nationalization of private industry and invoked Venezuela’s economy as an example of the dangers of the approach.

While Trump announced a week ago that he was activating the DPA to force General Motors to manufacture ventilators for coronavirus, the administration had not formally ordered any machines as of Thursday, USA TODAY has learned.

Trump this week announced a fresh request to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to use the act for several other companies, including General Electric, Hill-Rom Holdings, Medtronic, ResMed, Royal Philips, and Vyaire Medical.

But the latest order provided no more detail on how the government would compel those companies to make ventilators than the order targeted at General Motors. The order also did not clarify how many ventilators the administration is requesting.

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India: COVID-19 politics catches apolitical Muslim group – Anadolu Agency




A Muslim missionary group Tablighi Jamaat is in the headlines, as reports of coronavirus or COVID-19 cases, emerging from different parts of the world are being linked to its gatherings.

The Indian government has filed a case against its Chief Maulana Mohammad Saad Kandhalvi for arranging a gathering at its headquarters located in Nizamuddin locality in the heart of capital New Delhi.

A strictly apolitical organization that focuses only on teaching basics of Islam to its followers, has invoked the ire of Indian media, which is projecting Muslims in general and the group in particular as villains in the battle against the spread of the virus.

Even senior leaders of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were quick to denounce the Jamaat for arranging congregation, alleging the act had endangered lives.

Authorities said Kandhalvi had made a mockery of social distancing norms. They said that after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown, thousands of people continued to stay inside the Nizamuddin Markaz. But Jamaat office-bearers say that participants of the gathering had no way to go to their homes, because of sudden lockdown.

Kandhalvi, 55, is the great-grandson of Muhammad Ilyas Kandhlavi who founded the group in 1926 in a rural region of Mewat, in the outskirts of Delhi. The organization has millions of members spread in more than 90 countries, including Australia, the U.K., the U.S., Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The Jamaat sends followers to different parts of the world, teaching the basics of Islam and rituals to Muslims. Each group consists of eight to 12 people who take care of their expenses and stay in local mosques.

Kandhalvi is considered a scholar of Islam like his great grandfather and his grandfather Mohammad Yusuf.

His brother-in-law and close associate of Tablighi Jamaat, Maulana Zia ul Hasan, told Anadolu Agency: “Jamaat is an apolitical organization and our practices are in strict accordance with the Quran.”

The teachings of Tabligh Jamaat are expressed in “Six Principles”: Kalimah (or the declaration of faith), Salah (prayer), Ilm-o-zikr (knowledge), Ikraam-e-Muslim (respect of muslims), Ikhlas-e-Niyyat (sincerity of intention), and Dawat-o-Tableegh (proselytization).

Split in the group

Although Kandhalvi is a prominent figure with a vast number of his followers, three years ago there was a split and the group was divided into two factions.

Islamic scholars and prominent figures in the group, including Maulana Ibrahim Deol and Maulana Ahmed Lat, left after differences with Kandhalvi.

Deol and Lat, from the western Indian state of Gujarat, are the most well-known faces of the breakaway faction.

There is no figure to prove how many people belong to different groups.

According to critics, the biggest weakness of Kandhalvi’s personality is his “stubbornness”. He does not listen to anyone.

However, Kandhalvi’s brother-in-law Maulana Hasan does not consider him responsible for the split.

“They wanted that there should be different leaders every week. How decisions can be taken if a new leader is changed quickly in a religious organization like this?” he asked.

Regarding Kandhalvi’s “stubborn” nature, his brother-in-law said: “This accusation is not entirely correct. He is a leader of the Jamaat around the world and has to make decisions on many issues.”

When asked about the exact number of Tablighi Jamaat members, Hasan said he has no idea but claimed he read in a book published in the U.K. that there must be around 300 million.

Hasan admits Jamaat has committed mistakes unknowingly. “It would be wrong to say that all this has been done intentionally,” he said.

Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.

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