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Legal Haze: Marijuana State Versus Federal Law; Washington State Celebrates Same-Sex Marriages; Fears of Chemical Weapons in Syria; Interview with Los Angeles Mayor;

Aired December 6, 2012 - 11:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Carol. Hi, everybody. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's 11:00 on the East Coast. It's 8:00 on the West Coast. How does this sound to you?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Me and my friends here, we met across the street and now we smoking weed and we're on our feet and handcuffed . I'm ain't worried about the boy. I've got the toy fired up.


BANFIELD: Fired up. Talk about fired up.

For thousands of people in Seattle and all across Washington state, this day could not come soon enough. It is day one of legal recreational marijuana use, courtesy of the voters who passed a landmark referendum last month.

From this day forward, if you are old enough to drink, you can consume as much as one ounce of pot in Washington state, but you still can't grow it and you still can't sell it and, technically, you still can't buy it and you're not supposed to light up in public either.

What are you all doing out there at that party? My colleague, Miguel Marquez, was there. He was on the "not-so-mean" streets when this law took effect and I'm going to be interested to find out what the absentee rate is at Seattle workplaces today, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think most people are going to work here. It's not quite as crazy as that. Plus, it's cold and it's a little rainy. It kind of puts a damper on things.

There were a lot of parties, though, across the entire state and a lot of those issues you raised will be taken care of in the very near future, but last night was a night for celebration for these folks.


MARQUEZ: The moment recreational pot, anything less than an ounce, no longer illegal in Washington state.

JEREMY GEORGE, MARIJUANA LAW SUPPORTER: It's amazing. I'm not a criminal anymore. I can't go to jail for small amounts of marijuana. You know, it's -- I'm free to be free.

MARQUEZ: Several dozen hardcore smokers showed up here to the base of the Space Needle, the symbol of the city and of the state, to light up at the stroke of midnight and, while the new law does not allow smoking in public places, Seattle police and police departments across the state are turning a blind eye tonight, allowing celebrations to light up.

This is what you assume stores will look like or something along these lines?

JAMEN SHIVELY, MARIJUANA ENTREPRENEUR: So, yeah. Our stores are going to have the feel of a fine cigar shop.

MARQUEZ: Jamen Shively, once a high-profile executive at Microsoft, now preparing to open as many as two dozen high-end marijuana shops in Washington and Colorado.

Yesterday, he'd be called a drug dealer. Today, an entrepreneur.

SHIVELY: Our target market is actually baby boomers. So, these are folks who maybe tried it in college a couple times. Maybe they didn't inhale. And -- but now it's actually safe to inhale.

MARQUEZ: He's already working on packaging and attractive displays for future clients. The state liquor control board has a year to regulate and license the growing, processing and retailing of marijuana here, all of it taxable at a very high 25 percent.

ALISON HOLCOMB, INITIATIVE 502 DIRECTOR: We are looking at the potential of bringing in more than $500 million each year in new tax revenue.

MARQUEZ: The big question still, what will the federal government do? Pot still illegal federally. Today, a legal "toke-up" revolution burning here and soon in Colorado.


BANFIELD: So, Miguel, you just mentioned it, that there could be this boom in tax revenue if they tax it at 25 percent. But I still don't understand how that's going to work because today you can't buy it, you can't sell it and you can't grow it legally. So, how can you tax it?

MARQUEZ: Yeah, that's the huge piece that needs to be worked out by the Washington state bureau of liquor that's going to run all of this.

Just like they regulate liquor sales, they're going to regulate marijuana sales, so they're going to license and tax the growing, the processing and the retail sales for all marijuana, all at 25 percent, plus there are fees for every individual that goes into those various businesses.

So, they project that in the first five years nearly $2 billion from this program alone. BANFIELD: And then this is not the only state because during this federal election, there were two states that ended up on positive end of legalizing recreational marijuana. The other one being Colorado. Why are we not seeing the party there today?

MARQUEZ: Well, because they haven't made it legal yet. The governor there has to act before January 5th and then they will make it, at some point, legal to possess pot there, as well. And then they'll have to go through the same process of setting up the rules to figure this out.

And the advocates here firmly believe that once you have these two states, despite what the federal government may say, the cat will be out of the bag, the genie out of the bottle, whatever you want to say, and other states will soon follow.

The tax revenues are one thing, but it just -- they say it makes more sense rather than spending money on fighting petty crimes, use it to raise lots of money and use that money for education and other things.


BANFIELD: All right, Miguel Marquez, reporting live for us in Washington state. Thank you for that.

Clearly, so many more questions, legal questions, and for that I'm going to skip over to our Joey Jackson, legal commentator who joins me live from Atlanta now.

I think one of the big questions that also still remains for all of those guys out there having all sorts of fun in the park, there is still a federal law that says you can't smoke it. You can't carry it. You can't buy it. You can't sell it. You can't do anything when it comes to dope and the feds.

How are these two entities going to compromise in this respect?

JOEY JACKSON, LEGAL ANALYST: With great difficulty. First, Ashleigh, that was some party they had there.

Listen, the federal law is pretty significant here because, of course, as you know, back in 1970 we had a Controlled Substance Act under Nixon and one of those drugs that the feds said, you know what, was illegal. And, as you mentioned, you can't manufacture, you can't produce, you can't import, you can't distribute, you can't sell would be marijuana and that's problematic because you have something, Ashleigh, called the Supremacy Clause, Article VI of the United States Constitution.

It's significant because what it says is, if there's a conflict between state law and federal law, guess which one controls? The federal law does and, so, it's still illegal federally.

Now, I think how that could resolve itself is, as we've seen, the governors of both those states, Washington and Colorado, have met with the Justice Department and they have said, look, we're sovereign states. This is what our public wants to do. Will you give us a break and not enforce it? And, so, if the feds don't enforce it, then they will be partying, as you just saw.

BANFIELD: And Eric Holder has probably has serious meetings on the books with the administrators in these two states because it's not just the people that want to smoke it, it's the government that wants to tax it because I guess, Joey, technically, if you are working for the government and you are working in the taxation portion of marijuana, you're trafficking, according to the feds.

JACKSON: Absolutely. What will happen is it's significant to the states because if you do legalize it, which they have, now all you have to -- you mentioned before it's illegal to sell, right? It's illegal to manufacture. How are they going to smoke it?

Well, ultimately, what the states will do is they will set up little shops. You saw in the clip of Mr. Marquez. You had that little entrepreneur there or big entrepreneur I should say who is establishing a shop.

And, once the government establishes policies, rules and regulations, it will be taxed, everything will be legit and, if feds give their OK or look the other way, guess what? It's party time in Colorado and in Washington state.

BANFIELD: Let me ask you this. A lot of places have drug-free work environments. And now doesn't that come into question at least for today in Washington state? Is it the same as having a beer at lunch and coming to work if you smoke a joint and come to work in what was a drug-free environment?

JACKSON: It's a wonderful question. I think the effects will be significantly different, I mean, depending on one's tolerance. But ultimately an employer has the right to expect that when they employ people to come to work they are able and fit to do the job for which you were hired.

And, so, certainly if there is, as it relates to alcohol, you're not sober and, as it relates to marijuana, you are a bit hazy of the mind, I think the employer would still legally be well within their rights to take the appropriate action, which means if you smoke too much, you're fired.

BANFIELD: I guess that's a good answer to a clever -- a whole clever conundrum that they'll find themselves in. Joey Jackson, as always, thanks so much.

JACKSON: A pleasure, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Appreciate it.

Coming up in about 10 minutes, as well, the Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is going to join me. He's going to talk about a federal crackdown on medical marijuana in California and now how all of this might square. And he's also going to weigh in on his personal involvement to help fix the national debt and avoid the fiscal cliff. So, that's coming up in just a little bit.

We also can't leave Seattle without taking note of another huge milestone in Washington state. Voters there legalized same-sex marriage last month, too, so today here's the picture. Midnight on the dot clerks started handing out the marriage licenses and those were the first two in line, 85-year-old Pete E. Peterson and 77-year- old Jane Abbott. Jane Abbott Lightly, I should say.

They met on a blind date back in 1977 and they never thought that they would live to legally wed amongst all of these other people who showed up for their legal licenses in Seattle. By the way, the ceremony of those elderly ladies, like many others, will take place this Sunday.


BANFIELD: The already dire situation in Syria may be taking on an even more disturbing turn. There's word that President Bashar al- Assad may be thinking about using chemical weapons and, more specifically, nerve gas against his own people.

An NBC report shows video depicting what it says is the Syrian military loading the components for deadly sarin nerve gas into aerial bombs. Those could be bombs that might be dropped from warplanes onto the innocent Syrian people below. But a regime official says they would never do that to their own people like that, even though we have been clearly been seeing what they have been doing to their own people for the last year and a half now.

In the meantime, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leading a new U.S. diplomatic push on Syria. She's now holding talks in Dublin, Ireland, today.

Joining us now, Mohammed Jamjoom in Beirut, and retired Army General Wesley Clark, who is the former NATO commander and also ran for the Democratic nomination for president back in 2004. He's on the telephone with us from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Mohammed, let me begin with you. Including this distressing NBC News report, what and how much do we know about al-Assad's chemical weapons movements at this point?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ashleigh, for months, there have been concerns about Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. The U.S. Reiterated for quite some time that, if al-Assad did anything with those chemical weapons and utilize them in any way, that that would be a red line for which there would be severe consequences for the Bashar al-Assad regime.

The fact of the matter is there isn't just concern that Bashar al- Assad might utilize them against his own people. There's also concern that, if the regime falls and that if these weapons are still there, that perhaps terrorists that are in Syria could get their hands on weapons and utilize those chemical weapons.

You have this NBC News report. Also, on Monday, important to remind our viewers, CNN reported that they had word from U.S. officials that, in fact. Syria had begun mixing chemical weapons and that possibly that would be done to create sarin for weapons in the future. But the U.S. officials that spoke to CNN said that there was no sign that the Syrian officials were going to do anything with those weapons any time soon. So, important to remember that.

But also important to remember that the Syrian regime has said yet again today that they have no intention of doing anything with chemical weapons, of utilizing them against the Syrian people and they also said today that any type of foreign military intervention in Syria would be catastrophic for the region.


BANFIELD: Let me ask you. You are in Lebanon and that's next door. Any kind of conflagration that, God forbid, results, whether it's al- Assad himself dropping chemical weapons, whether it is an assault that sets off a battery of chemical weapons, these clouds move. And you can see all of the countries, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel is a tiny piece in there as well, that surround Syria, so all of these countries have to be absolutely on edge at this point.

JAMJOOM: Absolutely. It's a concern. This is a nightmare scenario when it comes to Syria unraveling and the Syrian civil war there. That's why there has been so much concern these past several months. That's why the U.S. and countries like Israel have been keeping such a watchful eye with regard to their intelligence services on these chemical weapon stockpiles.

If they detected any type of movements, they've reported that. They've been warning the Syrian regime many times that if they were to do anything with these weapons that that would be a red line. It's not clear exactly what that red line would mean, but it is a concern.

Now, you have seen in the past few days, you have seen the Turkey's request of NATO to deploy Patriot missiles on their border with Syria. That's been approved. Those missiles will arrive within the next few weeks, according to NATO, along with troops with those Patriot missiles. That's to bolster Turkey's air defense system because of the Syrian spillover, the violence that's gone into Turkey.

There's been concern about Syrian spillover into Lebanon. That's without even talking about chemical weapons. When you put the chemical weapons factor into it, it makes it even more of a concern, especially in this region.


BANFIELD: Mohammed, stand by for a moment if you will. I want to bring in General Clark.

General Clark, you just saw that map and you heard Mohammed Jamjoom's reporting on just how dire the circumstances are with regard to these potential chemical weapons.

So, from a military standpoint, all of the firepower that surrounds Syria, all of those very strong countries, not the least of which is Israel who has probably one of the strongest militaries in the region, what can you do when you're talking about blowing up deadly bombs in crowded places?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME COMMANDER (via telephone): Well, I think that there's a lot of firepower around there. You have to realize these chemical weapons are not going to be terribly effective against bands of urban terrorists or guerrilla fighters, but they'll be very devastating against a civilian population and so ...

BANFIELD: So, say, for instance -- I was just going to say, say, for instance, those surrounding countries want to take preventative action against Syria. What can you do? What kind of preventive action exists when you talk about chemical weapons? We can blow up military installations. We can blow up airports and we can take out ordnance like that, but it's very, very difficult to destroy chemical weapons without setting off chemical weapons.

CLARK (via telephone): Well, you'd have to -- you could take out the air fields if they are uploaded. You could do various things like this, but nothing is going to be 100-percent effective.

Look, the most effective preventive weapon is to use this as greater leverage against the Russians and Chinese to cut all support for Bashar al-Assad, get him out of the country, get him into some kind of asylum situation somewhere and then sort this out.

But even when it's sorted out, we have to be concerned about the chemical weapons because we don't want those to fall into the hands of terrorists and there are terrorists groups that have gone in there and associated with the Free Syria Army.

BANFIELD: It's a very distressing situation indeed. General Clark, thank you very much for your time this afternoon.

Also want to mention that President Obama is going to be responding or will he, to this latest development in the Syrian chemical threat. The question is more than likely to be asked of Jay Carney, the White House spokesperson, and that's coming up in the live White House press briefing.

You can see the reporters chairs are empty now, but they will fill up shortly because this going to be taking effect in this house, exactly right around the half hour, as well. So, make sure you stay tuned to us as we expect some very strong questions not only about fiscal cliff, but also about this dire Syrian situation.

Back in a moment.


BANFIELD: That eight-day strike at the Port of Los Angeles that stranded all those Christmas presents, it cost us about a billion dollars a day in lost business and shut down the nation's busiest port. It also stranded ships full of fabulous retail merchandise. All of that is now being unloaded and port officials now say it's going to take about a week to try to get back to normal. So, sounds like things are solved.

I'm joined by the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, who helped broker the deal to get the port workers back on the job.

Welcome, Mr. Mayor. I want to talk about the port in just a moment. First, though, I want to talk about some very pressing national business, something called the fiscal cliff, which I know you have been watching. You are very closely aligned with President Obama, having been the chair of the Democratic National Convention in September. I want to get your take on this.

This is critical to your state, the businesses in your state, the taxpayers in your state. Do you have any optimism that we may not go of the cliff?

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), LOS ANGELES: I do have optimism. There's no question about it. I think both sides understand that it's not in the nation's best interest for us to go off this cliff.

People are tired of the partisanship. They want both sides to work together. They want them to do so in a balanced way. I've agreed to join the steering committee of the Fix the Debt Coalition and I have because the balance is that we have to make spending cuts.

We have to address entitlements, but we also have to make sure that we have the revenues that we need to make the investments that we need -- education, infrastructure, transportation, research and development, workers training. All of those things are important things that we have to do. We have to get our spending in order, as well.

BANFIELD: You're taking a bit of heat actually for signing onto that Fix the Debt Campaign. As you outline it, it sounds lovely and bipartisan and kumbayah, but a lot of critics say it's a deal that favors corporate tax breaks at the forefront rather than what the Democrats are trying to push which is essentially the revenue increases. Why did you sign onto that?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, I am a Democrat and I'm a progressive, but you know what? The country is evenly divided. They won, too. We've got to work together. President Obama knows that and most of the members of Congress know that.

There are a small group of people, I think primarily on the right, that don't understand that we're not just going to do this by cutting and cutting and cutting. We're going to have to invest and we're going to have to make sure that we have revenues and so, yes, there are people that are upset about that and I respect that.

But the problem is that Democrats just talk with Democrats and Republicans with Republicans. We need to talk together. We need to reach across the aisle and we need to work together in the nation's best interest.

And that's what is broken with politics right now, too many people polarized and too many people addicted to their ideologies and orthodoxies and not working together in the way that we should. BANFIELD: And it looks like 72 percent of Americans when polled say they want compromise no matter what they voted for, no matter what they said when they were electing their officials. I could go on all day about this, but I have a whole menu of things I would like to ask you about, not the least of which I lead into you with which was the port strike.

So, you helped broker this deal. The workers are back on the job. Is this looking like it will be permanent and, more importantly for the rest of the country, are they going to get their things this holiday season?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, this was something I was working on for two-and- a-half years. We actually avoided a strike on a number of occasions. They finally couldn't come together. They went on strike. I asked the parties to mediate and bring in a federal mediator. I've been asking for that for sometime.

I decided to cut my trip short, a trip that I had in Latin America promoting the port and the airport and trade with Latin America and said to them that they needed to work around the clock to get this done. When I got to there, I said, look, we're going to stay here all night and into the next night and after that because we can't afford a billion dollar a day loss to the U.S. economy.

BANFIELD: Can you get the backlog up and running? Meaning, will those store shelves be filled up again, all those backorders online, will they be able to fill them?

VILLARAIGOSA: Yeah, it will take five or six days to do that and then we've got to work around the clock to get the goods to people to make sure that Santa has all of the presents under the tree and Hanukkah is being celebrated.

BANFIELD: OK, so, next question and this has to do with pot. We opened the show with the issue of pot. It is an issue that your state knows intimately with medical marijuana be legalized. You have a complex relationship with that legalization. I don't want to get into your local issues. I want to get into your issues with the fed.

So many people don't understand how these federal laws that continue to ban marijuana sale, use, trafficking, et cetera, will reconcile with state laws that are allowing it. Have you had complex conversation with Eric Holder and the feds on backing off and allowing states to do their things?

VILLARAIGOSA: No, I haven't. I believe that the governor has, but we've had our own problems locally because our medical marijuana initiative is not clear and it's very difficult to implement it and, as you said, the feds have said that they won't recognize it.

So, there is going to have to become a "come-to-Jesus," if you will, between states and the federal government to resolve the differences between what states are providing and declaring and what the federal government believes should be the law. BANFIELD: But is that going to happen, Mr. Mayor? Is there going to be the "come-to-Jesus?" Are the feds going to continue to crackdown, as it seems, the "Drug Czar," certainly with his rhetoric, Gil Kerlikowske, seems to be that, look, it is still against the law.

VILLARAIGOSA: It's going to have to happen because, as more states, Colorado, Washington, California, do laws like this, the feds are going to have to recognize there's a changing landscape and we'll have to balance in the way that will work for the states but also the federal government.

BANFIELD: Mr. Mayor, it's always a treat to talk to you. Thank you for making time in your busy schedule to spend time with us today.

VILLARAIGOSA: Thank you, Ashleigh. It's great to talk to you, as well.

BANFIELD: And happy holidays to you. And I hope you get your presents.

So, in the interest of full disclosure here, we talked about three different things with the mayor. I want to go back to just the issue about the fiscal cliff.

CNN's parent company, Time Warner, has signed onto and supports what the mayor was talking about, what he signed onto, the Fix the Debt Campaign, so there you go. There's full disclosure about that.

And also want to let you know that, as we reported, the President and Speaker Boehner had a telephone conversation yesterday, presumably about the fiscal cliff. We didn't hear a lot of production from it, but we do hope to learn more about what was said if there are going to be further negotiations, whether they had a cocktail together.

The White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is preparing to take that lectern in just moments. The seats will be filled with the White House reporting staff, press corps, and we will bring it to you live just as soon as it gets under way.