Return to Transcripts main page


Recreational Pot Legal in Colorado January 1st; Two Suicide Bombings in Russia Raise Safety Concerns; Michael Schumaker in Medically Induced Coma; Stranded Antarctic Explorers to be Rescued by Helicopter, Weather Permitting; Brain Dead Child to be Taken Off Life Support, Pending Appeal

Aired December 30, 2013 - 11:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman in for Ashleigh Banfield today. It is Monday, December 30th. Welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

And life is about to get very, very different January 1st in Colorado. Anyone over the age of 21 will be able to legally buy marijuana for recreational use.

That's right. You won't need a medical prescription. You won't have to buy it illegally. If you feel like smoking pot, you can for no other reason walk into a store and get it and get high.

The trouble is only a few retailers have been able to clear the regulatory hurdles to set up their businesses, and they are scrambling to get ready.

Here's CNN's Casey Wian.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a big day for Tim Cullen.

TIM CULLEN, CO-OWNER, EVERGREEN APOTHECARY: I liken it to graduation. It's just been a tremendous amount of work to get to this point.

WIAN: He's joining a handful of business owners receiving Denver's first licenses to sell marijuana for recreational use starting January 1st.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's information that needs to go to every customer that comes in and buys (inaudible) marijuana, right?

All right.

CULLEN: Thanks, Jenny (ph). Appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congratulations. Have a nice year.

WIAN: At Cullen's medical marijuana store employees scramble to get ready.

Pot retailers must navigate so many regulations, only 14 of about 250 medical marijuana businesses in Denver have received one of these, a license to sell to anyone over 21.

There are multiple inspections, packaging requirements, and, in some cases, new construction.

ANDY WILLIAMS, PRESIDENT, MEDICINE MAN: We're building an absolutely impressive showcase for the world to see that this is an industry. This is not an underground business.

WIAN: At Medicine Man, all the pot sold is grown onsite.

WILLIAMS: Customers don't want it really leafy. They like it nice, tight and dense.

WIAN: It's hiring 25 new employees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just get some of this and smoke it in small quantities.

WIAN: And installing new equipment.

WILLIAMS: We have to tag all these plants with an RFID tag, radio frequency identification, and so it's another inventory control that we have to implement here.

This is a light tight, airtight container. And this is our San Fernando Valley O.G. Cush and the smell will probably hit you from there.

WIAN: There's a little bit of a sour milky smell to it. Am I wrong?

WILLIAMS: No. Some people like stuff that is really stinky.

WIAN: Each of these container holds about $7,500 worth of marijuana, so it's no wonder Medicine Man has an armed former army ranger guarding the front door.

WILLIAMS: I think next year we're going to have about two to two and a half times more business than this year.

WIAN: WeedMaps, a Yelp-like service for marijuana retailers predicts prices will spike.

AARON HOUSTON, STRATEGIST, GHOST GROUP: Demand is going to be very high on day one. With a potential shortage of supply, prices will go up.

WIAN: Lines are expected outside pot stores January 1st.

CULLEN: We're going to have cookies and coffee set out.

WIAN: Are those cookies going to be laced with anything?

CULLEN: Absolutely not. No, no. My parents volunteered to come down and hand out cookies and coffee.

WIAN: No one is expecting a marijuana Mardi Gras. MICHAEL ELLIOTT, MEDICAL MARIJUANA INDUSTRY GROUP: It's still illegal to drive impaired, to take the product out of state, to resell to anybody, to give it to someone under 21 or to consume publicly.

WIAN: The city says it's prepared.

ASHLEY KILROY, DENVER MARIJUANA POLICY DIRECTOR: We haven't seen a negative impact from 10 years of medical marijuana, and we don't expect to see that with retail marijuana.

WIAN: Statewide, about $300 million worth of medical marijuana was sold in 2013.

The industry expects sales to more than double next year.

Casey Wian, CNN, Denver.


BERMAN: All right. Let's bring in our legal team now to talk over Colorado's new marijuana law.

Joining me now, Danny Cevallos, a CNN legal analyst and defense attorney, and Joey Jackson, an HLN legal analyst and also a criminal defense attorney.

So, Danny, one of the issues here is that selling pot, using pot, possessing pot in Colorado is now legal under state law. The federal law, however, still says that these things are illegal.

Now, the attorney general has made clear he's not going to go after people in Colorado hard here, but, still, we're in a legal twilight zone here, aren't we?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I've been saying from the beginning. This is a constitutional crisis.

Even if the attorney general chooses not to prosecute, the law is still the law, and we can't be in the business of the federal government having these laws on the books and just saying, well, we'll pretend that it doesn't exist.

It is still illegal under federal law to buy, sell, possess marijuana, and Colorado is literally thumbing its nose at the federal government. I think that has always created a constitutional problem.

Even if the a.g. is OK with it, that still doesn't change the fact that federal law makes it illegal.


CEVALLOS: It is a conundrum. It is.

JACKSON: It's problematic.

To Danny's point, there's something called the supremacy clause, right, Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, and what it says is that federal law controls and that you can't have state law that conflicts unless, as you pointed out, John, the attorney general is kind enough to say, we won't enforce.

So, to the extent that they're not enforcing the law, it doesn't present problems of constitutional dimensions.

However, in the future, should you have another administration come to power and say, you know what? We decide that we want to enforce it. It's on the books. We have federal law. That must be respected.

It changes the equation, and it goes back to what Danny points out could be a constitutional crisis.

BERMAN: That could be a huge problem. But, of course, this law will have been in effect for two-and-a-half years by the time there is a change in administration. It would be awfully hard to go back on it right now.

But you can see the conundrum right now in places like Denver International Airport, which has just announced it's not going to allow possession of marijuana on its grounds.

However, they also say they're not going to search for it.


BERMAN: So, again, an issue for TSA officers, what if they open up a bag there and see a bag of weed?

JACKSON: And there's even, within the state itself, some counties who can opt out, of course, right? They can decide that they don't want this here.

But, you know, it goes to the broader issue and it's really a social issue of whether or not the government should be in this business.

Look, you get to regulate it. You tax it, you create jobs, you create opportunities, but, you know, the argument is that it could even be safer.

So, look, the voters of Colorado, they have spoken and they have said 65 percent we want this.

BERMAN: It's a social issue. In some cases here, the government in Colorado is chasing the social acceptance of marijuana if 65 percent say it should be legal.

Danny, there are some protections in place. You can't drive under the influence just like alcohol, under-age use banned, also. You can't sell the pot once you buy it.

Do you feel like these restrictions are enough there?

CEVALLOS: It's funny because I see them applying the same rules that you might with alcohol. But marijuana is quite different. When it comes to DUI, and Joey and I have handled probably plenty of DUIs, the thing you need to know about a DUI is that marijuana stays in your system much, much longer than alcohol does.

So you can test positive for -- help me out, Joey.

JACKSON: I say THC, Danny.

CEVALLOS: I was trying to impress with my chemistry knowledge and then I fell flat.

BERMAN: That's why you went to law school.

CEVALLOS: You can test positive for THC many days later, so that can be problematic.

I think it's really interesting and it shows the government's true thoughts when you have it legal for the government to profit on a sale, but it's legal for Joey and I to share an ounce, so long as no money exchanges hands, which shows the government's clear intention to -- only if money exchanges hands, we need to wet our beaks. You know what I'm saying?

JACKSON: Taxation. Taxation is what you mean.

BERMAN: We will be breaking new ground on this issue, I think, every day, starting January 1 in Colorado. It bears close watching and I'm glad you guys are here to --

JACKSON: Washington is next. Washington state is next. To be continued.

BERMAN: We're going to bring you back to talk about some other issues.

Right now, we have -- with, I guess, a different perspective on this.

For Tommy Chong, the ability to buy marijuana for recreational use in Colorado is welcome news.

As an actor, comedian and activist, he's been a leading voice in the legalize pot movement. He joins us now on the phone from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Tommy, thanks so much for being with us.

TOMMY CHONG, PRO-MARIJUANA ACTIVIST (via telephone): My pleasure. Who wants to buy pot there?

BERMAN: Well, we were weighing in on the desire.

CHONG (via telephone): You wanted to score some weed?

BERMAN: We wanted to talk -- I do have a couple lawyers here with me, so in that sense I'm covered.

CHONG (via telephone): Then no problem because I've been paying my lawyer lately with weed.

BERMAN: What kind of lawyer do you have, Tommy?

CHONG (via telephone): The international currency of the world, you know that.

BERMAN: Danny and Joey right now are making sure they pass the bar in the state you reside at this point.

How big of a day is it, January 1, pot becomes legal for recreational use for you and people involved in this movement, how big of a day is this?

CHONG (via telephone): It's incredible because we're finally, you know, everybody is waking up to the truth. You know, the truth is that marijuana is healthier than anything. recreationally used, you know, alcohol or tobacco or anything that gets you high.

Marijuana is really a medicine. It's been used as medicine for thousands of years. And we're finally coming around to realizing that it is much better for you than anything else out there that the government wants to try to make illegal.

BERMAN: We've been looking at pictures on our screen of you and your comedy partner in the midst of marijuana plants and your comedy over the years has dealt directly with marijuana use, made light of it, had fun with it.

Do you think you've contributed to the social acceptance of pot over the years?

CHONG (via telephone): I think we've done both. We've contributed and we've held it back, because a lot of places, you know, they show pictures of us, showing, do you want your kids to look like this?

Then on the other hand if you look closely at us, you notice how good shape we're both in, physically.

BERMAN: You are fine looking men. I grant you that, sir.

CHONG (via telephone): I mean, like now. I'm 75-years-old and I can dead-lift 270 pounds for reps and that's all because I smoke marijuana regularly.

BERMAN: You also served time because of your connection to marijuana.

CHONG (via telephone): Yes, I did.

BERMAN: Back in 2003 for paraphernalia, trafficking in drug paraphernalia. So is the legalization in states like Colorado and Washington, do you think this is some sort of vindication for you?

CHONG (via telephone): Yes, it is.

By the way, it was a Republican administration that put me in jail, and if you notice, if you look at the history, the Democrats are for pot. The Republicans are against it.

And, like you said, you know, listening to you earlier when, you know, if they change it back to Republican again, then it will put everything into a mess, but all Obama needs to do is reschedule pot to what it should be.

It has medical use and so many states are using it medically, for medical purposes. So that's what we have to do.

Obama has to use his signature, you know, executive order and reschedule pot. That's all he has to do.

BERMAN: Well there have been Republicans, Ron Paul running for office, running for president, on decriminalizing marijuana as well. As you say, there have been certainly Democrats.

CHONG (via telephone): Don't get Ron Paul, his politics, in this because he has a different agenda.

BERMAN: All right, Tommy Chong, congratulations for you. I know this is a big day.

And I should mention you will be performing on New Year's Eve, December 31 at the Chicago Theater which is, by the way, in Chicago.

So, happy new year to you and thanks for being with us.

CHONG (via telephone): And thank you. I will be lighting up at 12:00.

BERMAN: Thank you for that extra on the story. Tommy Chong on the phone.

We do have other news to tell you about, a rescue operation under way in Antarctica.

Plus, two days, two attacks puts Russia on alert as the Olympics are less than 40 days away. We will go live to Moscow, coming up next.


BERMAN: Two deadly explosions rock Russia as that country prepares to host the winter Olympics in just over a month. One day after a suicide bomber carried out this attack at a train station in Volgograd, a second blast hit a trolley bus in the same city during the morning rush today. Officials say there is a strong chance that these attacks are linked. Diana Magnay joins us live now from Moscow. What do we know about this latest blast?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we believe from authorities or they're telling us this was also the work of a suicide bomber and they are analyzing now the DNA of the remains of both the attackers to try to find out their identities. They also say that when they've looked at the explosives used both of them included a type of shrapnel that was identical and, therefore, they believe they were linked and it's more than likely they are, therefore -- they originate from the restive north Caucasus region, which is fairly close to Volgograd, here in southern Russia, fairly close, also, to Sochi, where the Olympic games are due to take place in six weeks' time or a little under that. T

he north Caucasus is where all the terror attacks that have taken place on Russian soil in recent years have originated from, and one of the main leaders there is the Islamist insurgency threatened to unleash maximum force against President Putin to try and disrupt the games.

So, of course, this leads to concerns amongst people internationally that the games themselves won't be protected and also amongst people in the cities around this southern part of Russia that while security for forces are concentrating on Sochi and the games they are left uncovered, John.

BERMAN: Just six weeks to go and, again, complicated by the fact U.S. and Russia don't have the best relations, serious concerns as we send our athletes over for the games. Thank you so much, Diana Magnay in Moscow.

18 minutes after the hour. Did you buy or receive a new laptop this holiday season? New details from NSA leaker Edward Snowden suggest secret agents put spy ware on your new computer before it was shipped to your house.

Plus, he's the best in Formula 1 racing and your children may know him from the movie "Cars." Michael Schumaker is in critical condition after a ski accident. We'll go live to the hospital next.


BERMAN: Legendary Formula 1 driver Michael Schumaker in critical condition today after a terrible ski accident. He hit his head on a rock in the French Alps yesterday, stunning the sports world. Schumaker, who retired in 2012, is statistically the most successful Formula 1 race driver ever. He won a record seven world championship titles and he played himself in the movie cars. You might recognize his voice. Jim Boldin now joins us live from the hospital in France. Jim, what do we know about his condition?

JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What doctors say is the moment Michael Schumaker was brought here to this hospital in Grenoble he was operated on and put into what they're calling a medically induced coma. And they've also said they've lowered his body temperature in order to try to bring the swelling down from his brain. He fell on this side of his head, the right side. It's a severe, severe head injury. The doctors have said, however, that at least he was wearing his helmet, because if he hadn't been skiing with his helmet it would have been a whole lot worse. Take a listen.


JEAN FRANCOIS PAYEN, CHIEF ANESTHESIOLOGIST (through translator): I think that given the violence of the shock, his helmet did partly protect him. Certainly, someone who has had this kind of accident without a helmet would not have reached this stage. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOULDEN: Doctors say they will not give any prognosis as to the outcome of how this might end. They said they are looking at this hour by hour, John, and also the family has said they know doctors are doing all they can but they do not want to make any more comments at this time.

BERMAN: As I said, Jim, this has stunned sports fans around the world after a career in racing, which is a dangerous profession to say the least, he gets critically injured by skiing. Jim Boulden monitoring Michael Schumaker's condition. Thank you, Jim.

Other big news to tell you about: a rescue mission for a ship stuck in ice in Antarctica will now move to the skies; 56 people will be evacuated by helicopter if weather permits. This is according to the Russian foreign ministry. This after an ice breaking rescue ship had to turn back today. The expedition leader Chris Turney explained what happened on NEW DAY.


CHRIS TURNEY, STRANDED ON SHIP: What appears to have happened is a massive blow-out, a very old thick ice which came from the other side of a glacier and then broke out and with the southeast winds trapped us in so we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's not something that happens very frequently. As a result the ice breakers are finding it difficult to get through to us.


BERMAN: Matthew Chance joins us now live from London. Matthew, we're hearing the ice breakers, too hard of a path getting through. Now it will be a helicopter rescue mission. What can you tell us about this?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. There have been three ice breakers that have attempted to break through the pack ice and reach that Russian research vessel with the 74 people onboard. They've all had to abandon their attempts to rescue it. And so what's been announced now by the Russian Foreign Ministry, because it's a Russian registered ship, remember, is that Chinese helicopters based on the Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, will be used to airlift 56 of the 74 passengers and crew, leaving a skeleton crew onboard of 18 people to wait for the ice to melt so they can move the ship out safely. They won't be able to do that until the weather lightens up. There are very strong gusts of wind. They would have used helicopters before now if it weren't for the wind. When the weather breaks, they'll be able to do this but not until then, John.

BERMAN: And they aren't leaving people onboard. Any fear for the people who will be left, given that these ships haven't been able to get through to them?

CHANCE: I don't think so at this stage. I mean, they're leaving the 18 crew members onboard because this is a very expensive bit of equipment, this ship, they don't want to let it go to waste in the Antarctic. It would be an ecological problem, it would be an expensive problem as well. And there's plenty of food and water onboard for those 18 people to live for probably many weeks ahead. And so they're going to leave them onboard and hope the weather changes, the ice melts, and they can move out.

BERMAN: A long, cold wait for that crew. Thank you very much, Matthew Chance, for the update on those people stranded in Antarctica.

Some other top stories, if Santa got you a laptop for Christmas, you might find this unsettling. The NSA is reportedly intercepting laptops purchased online to install spy ware. According to "Der Speigel" the operation is carried out by the NSA's elite hacking unit that has back door access to hardware and software systems from prominent tech systems like Cisco and Dell.

Twenty-six minutes after the hour. Just ahead we're going to go to California where a once-healthy girl is now brain dead. Her parents are scouring the country looking for a facility to place her after a judge's ruling that will end her life support.


BERMAN: It's a legal battle no parent wants to imagine, the family of 13-year-old Jahi McMath, scrambling to find a facility now that will take her after a judge ruled that a hospital can disconnect her life support machines at 5:00 p.m. today. The teen was declared brain dead just three days after she suffered complications from tonsil surgery earlier this month. CNN's Dan Simon is live outside children's hospital in Oakland. Dan, is her family still holding out hope that they can find a place for her?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They really are, John. This is such a heartbreaking case for this family, and it's going to be even more difficult today because barring any kind of successful appeal, we don't know if there is going to be an appeal filed in this case, doctors here at Children's Hospital are set to remove the ventilator that has been supporting Jahi McMath's body. As we've been reporting for several days now she has been declared brain dead, and according to the mainstream medical community it is the same thing as being dead. So, one can empathize with this family, though they've been trying to secure a facility that can take her for, obviously, a very long time, and unfortunately, they've been unable to locate such a facility.