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Violence in Syria; New NRA President Takes Control Today; Interview with Therese Sirles; Colorado's Pot Boom; Huge Nascar Crash, Close Finish

Aired May 6, 2013 - 09:30   ET


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. has been less definite on exactly who was using it, but saying they did believe small quantities of sarin gas had been used and pointed towards the regime. This could be - change things very much. It gives you some idea of just how confusing things are on the ground in Syria as to what exactly is going on and how difficult it is sometimes to get very concrete evidence and concrete information that governments can stick with, which may be one of the reasons why you're not seeing reactions from these governments like you did for example in Libya, where suddenly there was a no-fly zone put in place.

A lot of concern about how these chemical weapons are being used, whether or not they have gotten into the hands of other groups there, whether those groups are friendly for example to the United States and to western countries or not. So a lot of confusion, a lot of difficulty figuring out exactly what is going on, on the ground there in Syria which has had a two year plus civil war.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Sara Sidner reporting live for us this morning. Other stories we're watching in the NEWSROOM at 31 minutes past the hour, opening bell on Wall Street, U.S. stock futures edged higher this morning after markets hit record highs last week. Dow once again near the 15,000 mark. Ringing the bell, by the way, Thomas Curry from the Office Of The Comptroller Of The Currency.

Now to Boston where officials are trying to find a final resting place for one of the suspected Boston bombers. At least three cemeteries have refused to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev's body saying they fear a public backlash. Plus one of three friends of the bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is due in court today at 2:00 eastern. Ninteen- year-old Robel Phillipos is accused of lying to authorities. And federal authorities searched Tamerlan apartment, the one he shared with his wife, not clear if officers took anything from the apartment, but explosive recent due was found in the kitchen and bathtub.

Michael Jackson's wrongful death trial resumes in just about two hours. The L.A. County coroner's toxicologist is expected to testify about drugs found in Jackson's body after the autopsy. Jackson's mother and three children are suing AEG Live claiming the concert promoter is liable because it hired Dr. Conrad Murray. AEG says Jackson chose and controlled Murray and it had no knowledge what treatments he was giving Jackson.

Up next in the NEWSROOM, should young children have access and training in firearms? The debate grows after a Kentucky toddler is shot and killed by her 5-year-old brother.


COSTELLO: Today a new man takes control of the nation's most popular gun rights organization. Incoming president Jim Porter will guide the NRA during a very contentious time in the gun debate. Like the organization he'll lead, Porter is no stranger to controversy. Once calling the Civil War, quote, "the war of northern aggression." His term comes as the federal government and several states consider new gun control laws. But at this weekend's convention in Houston, Porter made clear his aim is squarely on the president.


JIM PORTER, INCOMING NRA PRESIDENT: There is something Obama will never, never understand. The Second Amendment. The freedom of our republic trumps the Chicago political machine and its gun ban agenda every time.


COSTELLO: The NRA capped its convention by hosting a youth day and, as you might expect, gun control advocates took issue with that pointing to what happened in Kentucky just last week. A 5-year-old Cumberland County, Kentucky boy accidentally shot and killed his 2-year-old sister. Authorities say the boy was playing with a rifle marketed to children. The gun is called Crickett. Here is how the company advertises that gun.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My first rifle, a moment you never forget. With a safety promoting design, the Crickett is the perfect way to give young, or small-framed shooters started right. Crickett - find yours online or ask for a Crickett rifle at your local dealer.


COSTELLO: We did reach out to the company. It denied its marketing to children, but the controversy goes on. Therese Sirles is the director of child advocacy at Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, welcome.


COSTELLO: In your mind when you watch this Youtube video with that marketing campaign, is that company marketing to kids? Because it says it's not.

SIRLES: Well, when you look at their website and you look at the guns that they have available for children, these guns are in colors that would be very attractive to young little kids. So in a sense, they are marketing to children.

COSTELLO: But it's the parents who have to buy the kids the gun. SIRLES: It's absolutely the parents have to buy the children the gun. But if kids see other kids with these lethal weapons that are embodied in very colorful cases, they think that's very cool and very trendy and will encourage their parents to buy the gun for them.

COSTELLO: No charges have been filed against the parents in the Kentucky case. The coroner called it a crazy accident and that's a direct quote. But there still may be charges filed. None have been filed as yet. What do you think should happen?

SIRLES: You know, Carol, I hate to speak to that because this family is going through unimaginable horror. It's not up to me to judge. It is up to me as an advocate to prevent this from happening through intervention and education. And that's really what we need to talk about. We need to talk about the fact that we have a 2-year-old that is dead and a 5-year-old that killed his 2-year-old sister. And what we can learn from this as a society and as a nation?

COSTELLO: Well, a lot of people in that county own guns. In fact there was a quote from a law enforcement official that he said that probably every single family in Cumberland County owns a gun, and their children use guns. They grow up with guns. So, what's wrong with teaching your child at a young age to handle a gun responsibly.

SIRLES: Teaching your child about gun danger is absolutely the responsibility of a parent. But let's talk about a 5-year-old. Let's talk about growth and development with a 5-year-old. A 5-year-old is just now learning how to tell time. A 5-year-old has gone from holding a big crayon to now holding a little crayon. A 5-year-old is learning how to use blunt scissors to cut squares out of a piece of paper. You have to think of where these children are mentally and physically before you can even begin to teach them.

At Kosair Children's Hospital, we have a safety curriculum in which we teach 6,500 second graders gun safety through two retired police officers here in the city of Louisville. After that education, would we give a second grader a gun just baced on our training and education? No, we would not do that at all.

COSTELLO: You know what gun rights advocates are going to say. You're just using one isolated tragedy to fight for what you personally believe in.

SIRLES: Oh, Carol, there is more than one isolated tragedy. If you look online, you will see that just a few months ago, a 5-year-old in Michigan killed himself. If you read the articles, 3-year-olds, 2- year-olds, 5-year-olds, 10-year-olds, they are all killing themselves, and killing others with a gun.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in their 2012 statement states very clearly that the only safe home for a child is a home without a gun. And it's up to us if parents choose that right and have that privilege of owning a gun that they have to step up and take responsibility for that gun and for the ammunition within their home.

COSTELLO: All right. Therese Sirles director of child advocacy for Kosair Children's Hospital in Kentucky, thanks so much and I do have some statistics to pass along to you just in case you're curious. In 2009, according to the CDC, 114 children and adolescents under 20 died in unintentional firearm-related injuries. Sixty-six of those deaths were teenagers.

Still ahead, marijuana is a booming business in Colorado. And it will only get bigger with recreational pot sales. That's leaving many marijuana business owners feeling very nervous. We'll tell you why.


COSTELLO: It is one big idea to help cash-strapped states. If people want pot, sell it to them legally. That's what Colorado is getting ready to do. Last year, voters there approved a ballot to allow pot to be sold legally for personal use in retail stores. Now lawmakers are working overtime to figure out how the industry is going to work. This week CNN is putting Colorado in the spotlight as it nears the deadline for when the pot boom really begins. Here is Jim Spellman.


JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Like many small businessmen, Shawn Gindi has employees, a warehouse, retail stores and his fair share of headaches.

SHAWN GINDI, COMPASSIONATE PAIN MANAGEMENT: I make this business work pay check to pay check.

SPELLMAN: But his product is anything but use. Gindi grows and sells marijuana.

GINDI: So this is what a flower room looks like.

SPELLMAN: He grows the cannabis in this warehouse in Denver and has two medical marijuana dispensaries in the suburbs.

GINDI: I have about 20 people working for me. They do anything from growers to trimming to working as caregivers in the stores.

SPELLMAN: So far, his business has been limited to medical marijuana. Selling only to Colorado residents with a doctor's recommendation and state issued red card. But last year voters passed Amendment 64 legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

The state is still working out regulations ahead of January 2014 when recreational marijuana stores are expected to open. Dispensaries like Gindi's are expected to be able to convert and sell to anyone over 21, but there are several catches.

(on camera): This is still against federal law. That must create an unbelievable amount of stress for you.

GINDI: Yes, it does. I'm talking to you right now. There is a voice in the back of my head that there is an innate nervousness to being in this business. SPELLMAN (voice over): A bill in Congress would bar the federal government from going after people in states that have legalized marijuana. But it's unclear if the bill has a chance of becoming law.

(on camera): Are you afraid that all that you've built will be taken away from you?

GINDI: Sure yes. I can't even keep my face straight right now saying that. That's such a real fear.

SPELLMAN: Nate Laptegaard runs the warehouse.

(on camera): I want to learn more about exactly how you grow marijuana on essentially an indoor farm. So where does it start?


SPELLMAN: With cuttings known as clones.

LAPTEGAARD: Get a little gel on there.

SPELLMAN: That go into these tanks for about two weeks and then to this room for about five weeks under simulated sunlight in a CO2 rich environment.

(on camera): Each gets its own bar code?

LAPTEGAARD: That's right. Every single plant when it comes out of the cloner, once it get into here is coded individually. And we're able to trace plant from this stage all the way to the end product.

SPELLMAN: And then the light is cut back to simulate the shorter days of autumn, triggering the plants to flower and finally it's off to be trimmed and dried. The entire process is regulated by the state. After a criminal background check, employees are issued a Colorado Marijuana Worker I.D. card. Every time a plant is moved, the employee logs it using this software a finger print scanner tracks the employees at every turn.

LAPTEGAARD: There is no scar face here. There's no AK-47. There's none of that stuff. We have inspectors from the state in here all the time.

SPELLMAN: Even though Gindi pays sales and income tax, marijuana is still against federal law, so expenses cannot be deducted from federal taxes and FDIC backed banks won't take their money.

GINDI: So there's nothing glamorous about this business. It's been a struggle trying to operate without a bank account, trying to run a business without being able to take deductions.

SPELLMAN: At his dispensary, Gindi operates in a highly competitive market place. About 500 medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado compete for the business of the 108,000 people on the medical marijuana registry. (on camera): Have they become more connoisseurs about their marijuana?

LEAH, BUDTENDER: Definitely, definitely. You don't ever see quote/unquote "swag" anymore. It's all chronic, all high hydrochronic.

SPELLMAN: Competition has driven prices down to half of what they were just three years ago, creating razor thin margins. But could that change when more people even pot tourists from out of state are able to legally buy weed? Gindi isn't so sure.

There is a risk that comes along with it.

GINDI: That might push the federal government into acting where they were comfortable not acting with medical marijuana.

Right. And I have to make that choice.

SPELLMAN: These marijuana pioneers will probably never convince all of their critics that pot should be legal, but they see themselves as the good guys.

LAPTEGAARD: Every single person that comes here that works for me when they clock in, they put their finger on a -- on a sensor and -- and know they are committing a federal crime. So every single person that work in the industry are all here for one reason and one reason only it's because we believe that marijuana prohibition is immoral and that we have to do something about that.

SPELLMAN: Jim Spellman, CNN, Denver.


COSTELLO: And tomorrow in his "Pot Boom" series, delivery. It's not just for pizza anymore. Pot delivery companies are popping up all across Denver. That's tomorrow morning 9:00 Eastern.

Britain's Prince Harry is coming to the United States for an official visit. And boy does he have a busy schedule. Five cities in six days -- we've got all the details for you.


COSTELLO: Fifty-two minutes past the hour. Time to check our "Top Stories".

Some shocking imagines to show you of a plane going down during an air show in Madrid -- you see the people just watched in horror. The plane exploded on impact. The pilot was taken to the hospital but he later died. Several people on the ground were injured too. The victim was an experienced pilot who worked as an assistant to Spain's defense minister, the cause of the crash still under investigation.

People in North Florida cleaning up after a powerful weekend storm damaged several homes and uprooted trees. The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning but it could not confirm if indeed a twister touched down. Rain from that same storm caused flooding along a creek that may have damaged as many as 500 homes. Who is going out today to assess the damage?

Britain's Prince Harry will spend six whole days touring the United States. It starts this Thursday. He will promote some of his favorite charities including one to help returning veterans. He'll also visit Arlington National Cemetery. As part of his crowded schedule he'll tour New Jersey towns ravaged by Sandy, play in a polo match in Greenwich, Connecticut and also make stops in New York City and Colorado.

We're back in a minute.


COSTELLO: There was a big old crash and an exciting finish in the NASCAR race at Talladega this weekend. Andy Scholes is here with all the details of this morning's "Bleacher Report". Hi Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, "BLEACHER REPORT": Hi good morning. The superspeedway in Talladega is known for its multicar crashes and in yesterday's race they definitely did not disappoint. After a three and a half hour rain delay, HLN's own Robin Mead kicked things off as she sang the national anthem.

We saw a couple of crashes in the race -- the big one coming with just six laps to go. Kurt Busch gets hit, barrel rolls. He ends up on top of Ryan Newman's car. Luckily everyone would be ok after the restart. David Reagan passes Carl Edwards to take the checkered flag for his first win of the season.

All right well one down, two to go for Orb in his quest for the Triple Crown. On Saturday the colt galloped its way to a very muddy Churchill Down to win the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby. Up next for Orb is the Preakness Stake on May 18th. Orb is trying to become the first Triple Crown winner since the firm back in 1978.

Well Sunday Lebron James was named the league's MVP making him the youngest player to ever win the award four times. Lebron was nearly the first unanimous MVP selection but Gary Washburn from the "Boston Globe" voted for Carmelo Anthony -- definitely a head scratcher there but Lebron is not too worried about the voting process or winning the individual awards.

All right. May the fourth be with you. The mud hens getting in the May 4 Star Wars holiday spirit this weekend. Players wore Chewbacca- like jerseys, and Chewbacca himself -- look at that -- walking on to the field before the game. Great costume there.

Carol, I think they should step it up next year and maybe even play in those costumes.

COSTELLO: You know, that's a Detroit (inaudible) I think they should bring it to the Tigers.

SCHOLES: It would be awesome seeing Chewbacca trying to hit the ball.

COSTELLO: Well, we have our own Chewbacca; his name is Miguel Cabrera.

Andy Scholes thanks so much. The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM after a break.