Tag Archives: Colorado

Proposed interstate expansion prompts federal civil rights investigation

The U.S. Department of Transportation will initiate an investigation of alleged civil rights violations related to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s proposal to expand I-70.

The state DOT wants to expand the interstate through the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods in North Denver.

The federal decision is a response to a complaint filed Nov. 15 by Earthjustice on behalf of the Colorado Latino Forum, Cross Community Coalition and Elyria and Swansea Neighborhood Association. The complaint alleges the plan to triple I-70’s width would result in “disparate and severe environmental and economic impacts” on the predominantly Latino communities.

CDOT committed to moving forward with the expansion plan in May, but has yet to issue its formal record of its decision.

The agency, which receives federal funding for the I-70 and other projects, is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 from taking actions that have even an unintentional discriminatory impact on citizens on the basis of their race, color, or national origin.

“We are looking forward to making the case that CDOT’s proposal magnifies the already discriminatory impact that I-70 has had on these neighborhoods for decades, leading to reduced life expectancies and the highest rates of pollution-related illnesses in the city,” said Heidi McIntosh, an attorney at Earthjustice who represents the neighborhood advocates.

Interstate 70 was built through the area in the 1960s over the objections of neighborhood organizations and business owners.

Fifty years later, the neighborhood is the most polluted in Colorado.

Residents have significantly higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma and asthma-related emergency room visits than the rest of Denver, according to EarthJustice.

The expansion of I-70, adding toll lanes and eliminating access to the highway from the neighborhood, would worsen environmental and health consequences for this community, the EarthJustice complaint states.

It would result in:

• Increased exposure to freeway-related air pollution and expose residents to airborne dust from existing Superfund sites that are contaminated by lead and arsenic.

• Disruption to the social fabric of the neighborhood and its economic vitality by destroying at least 56 homes, 13 commercial buildings and the Swansea Elementary School playground. About 200 people would be displaced by the expansion.

Pot-legalization movement seeks first foothold in Northeast

Having proven they can win in the West, advocates for recreational marijuana hope the Nov. 8 election brings their first significant electoral victories in the densely populated Northeast, where voters in Massachusetts and Maine will consider making pot legal for all adults.

Supporters believe “yes” votes in New England would add geographical diversity to the legalization map, encourage other East Coast states to move in the same direction and perhaps build momentum toward ending federal prohibitions on the drug.

“We have to get to a point where we can win legalization voter initiatives in other parts of the country,” said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, a leading group in the legalization movement.

Three other states — California, Arizona and Nevada — are also voting on recreational pot. If the California initiative passes, marijuana will be legal along the entire West Coast. Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska have already voted to permit it. The District of Columbia also passed a legalization measure in 2014, but it has no regulatory framework for retail sales and possession remains illegal on federal property.

Several Eastern states are among the 25 that already allow some form of medicinal marijuana, but none in the region has approved recreational pot.

Big money is at stake, which helps explain why marijuana supporters have raised more than $6 million in Massachusetts and about $1.3 million in Maine, most from outside those states.

Analysts from Cowen and Co. issued a report last month forecasting a $50 billion legal cannabis market in the U.S. by 2026, a nearly tenfold increase over today. But such growth would be predicated on federal legalization. Passage of the November state referendums would be a “key catalyst” toward that end, analysts wrote.

Higher marijuana usage in the West may help explain why the region has been a more fertile ground for legalization, said Matt Simon, New England director for the Marijuana Policy Project, another major pro-legalization group.

“More people have direct experience with marijuana or know someone who has, and that leads to it being demystified,” Simon said.

Recent polls on the New England ballot questions, which propose significantly lower tax rates than those in Colorado and Washington, indicate the “yes” sides trending ahead in both states. Still, passage is far from guaranteed.

In Massachusetts, a socially liberal state, voters previously decriminalized small amounts of marijuana and approved it for medicinal use. This year’s initiative has met formidable opposition from politicians, business leaders, clergy and even billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who recently donated $1 million to opposing groups.

The state’s popular Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston’s Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh are among many elected officials fighting the idea. Their arguments include concerns that edible pot products resembling candy or other treats could fall into the hands of children, and that marijuana can be a “gateway” to far more dangerous drugs.

“The availability of marijuana for adolescent users already constitutes an environmental factor for the later use of other illicit drugs,” the state’s four Roman Catholic bishops said in a recent statement. “Its legalization will only serve to worsen this problem.”

A TV ad urging a “no” vote imagines a neighborhood overrun by pot shops and a mother shocked to see her own son emerge from one of the stores. Legalization proponents dismissed the ad as a “smear-and-fear” tactic.

“There is a puritanical streak that runs through New Englanders,” said NORML’s Stroup, a onetime Boston resident.

The Puritans lost their influence centuries ago, and the phrase “banned in Boston” is an anachronism. Yet uneasiness persists when it comes to issues that would have once been considered sinful. Massachusetts, for example, only recently authorized casino gambling and did so in a limited and highly regulated form.

In Maine, critics worry about disrupting the state’s well-established medical marijuana program.

“We want to make sure patients don’t lose access and that small growers will still be able to flourish,” said Catherine Lewis, director of education for Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine.

Portland, the state’s largest city, legalized possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana in 2013, but the statewide prohibition still makes buying and selling the drug illegal.

Marijuana companies that have focused largely on Western states are watching developments closely, sensing new regional opportunities for investment and growth.

“The Northeast specifically is going to be a very powerful market because of the population density,” said Derek Peterson, chief executive of Terra Tech Corp., which operates cannabis cultivation, production and retail facilities.

Marc Harvill, client services and training manager for Denver-based Medicine Man Technologies, said the firm has already fielded inquires for consulting services from potential retail operators in New England should the ballot questions pass.

“The sky’s the limit,” he said.

Pot and profit: Business owners replace idealists in marijuana movement

Business owners are replacing idealists in the pot-legalization movement as the nascent marijuana industry creates a broad base of new donors, many of them entrepreneurs willing to spend to change drug policy.

Unlike in the past, these supporters are not limited to a few wealthy people seeking change for personal reasons. They constitute a bigger coalition of business interests. And their support provides a significant financial advantage for pro-legalization campaigns.

“It’s mainly a social-justice movement. But undoubtedly there are business interests at work, which is new in this movement,” said Kayvan Khalatbari, a one-time pot-shop owner and now head of a Denver marijuana consulting firm.

The donors offer a wider foundation of support for the marijuana-related measures on the ballot next month in nine states. The campaigns are still largely funded by national advocacy organizations such as the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project and the New Approach PAC. But those groups are less reliant on billionaire activists.

On the other side, legalization opponents are attracting new support from businesses as diverse as trucking, pharmaceuticals and even gambling.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to pass ballot initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana for adults. Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., followed in 2014. The result is a bigger pool of existing businesses that see expansion potential in more states authorizing use of the drug.

Take Darren Roberts of Boca Raton, Florida, co-founder of High There!, a social network for fans of pot. He donated $500 this year to a campaign to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in Florida. Roberts is also encouraging his customers to donate to legalization campaigns in their own states.

“I would say it’s a combination of both the philanthropic social interest and the potential financial interest,” Roberts said.

All five states considering recreational marijuana _ Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada _ have seen more money flowing to groups that favor legalization than to those fighting it. The same is true in the four states considering starting or reinstating medical marijuana _ Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota.

The donors who contribute to anti-legalization efforts have changed, too.

Some deep-pocket donors who drove opposition campaigns in years past are opening their pocketbooks again.

Casino owner Sheldon Adelson of Nevada, for example, gave some $5 million in 2014 to oppose a medical-pot measure in Florida. This year, as his home state considers recreational pot and Florida takes a second look at medical marijuana, Adelson has spent $2 million on opposition in Nevada and $1 million to oppose legalization in Massachusetts.

Other casinos are donating to Nevada opposition efforts, too, including MGM Resorts International and Atlantis Casino & Resort. Nevada gambling regulators have warned that marijuana violates federal law.

Some new opponents have also emerged, moving beyond the typical anti-pot base that includes law enforcement groups, alcohol companies and drug-treatment interests.

A pharmaceutical company that is working on a synthetic version of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, Insys Therapeutics Inc., has given at least $500,000 to oppose full marijuana legalization in its home state of Arizona.

The company did not return a message for comment on the donation. Company officials said in a statement last month that Insys opposes the Arizona ballot measure because marijuana’s safety has not been demonstrated through the federal regulatory process.

Other new names popping up in opposition disclosures include U-Haul, which gave $25,000 to oppose legalization in Arizona, and Julie Schauer, a Pennsylvania retiree who gave more than $1 million to a group opposing legalization. Neither returned messages seeking comment on their donations.

Smaller donors to opposition campaigns say they are hopelessly outgunned by the young pot industry, but are giving out of a sense of duty.

“Everyone’s talking about it like it’s a done deal, but I can’t sit by when I’ve seen firsthand the destruction that marijuana does to people,” said Howard Samuels, a drug-treatment therapist in Los Angeles who donated some $20,000 to oppose recreational legalization in California.

Samuels and other marijuana opponents insist that the pot industry cynically hopes to get more people addicted to the drug to line its own pockets, comparing pot providers to tobacco companies.

But marijuana-industry donors insist that they are simply carrying on a tradition started by the tie-dye wearing drug activists who pushed legalization long before there was any business model attached to it. They insist they would contribute financially even without any money-making potential.

“When a movement becomes an industry, of course the advocacy picture gets shuffled,” said Bob Hoban, a Denver attorney specializing in marijuana law and a $1,000 donor to the Marijuana Policy Project. “It shifts away from activists to more traditional business interests, because the skill sets don’t exactly transfer.”

Gourmet ganja? Marijuana dining is growing up, slowly

How to set a tone of woodsy chic at a four-course candlelight dinner served under the stars in the Colorado foothills:

Live musicians and flowers, check.

Award-winning cuisine, check.

Beer and wine pairings with each course, check.

Marijuana pairings? Oh, yes.

The 100 diners at this $200-a-plate dinner smoked a citrus-smelling marijuana strain to go with a fall salad with apples, dates and bacon, followed by a darker, sweeter strain of pot to accompany a main course of slow-roasted pork shoulder in a mole sauce with charred root vegetables and rice.

And with dessert? Marijuana-infused chocolate, of course, grated over salted caramel ice cream and paired with coffee infused with non-intoxicating hemp oil.

The diners received small glass pieces and lighters to smoke the pairings, or they could have their marijuana rolled into joints by professional rollers set up next to a bartender pouring wine.

Welcome to fine dining in Weed Country.

The marijuana industry is trying to move away from its pizza-and-Doritos roots as folks explore how to safely serve marijuana and food. Chefs are working with marijuana growers to chart the still-very-unscientific world of pairing food and weed. And a proliferation of mass-market cheap pot is driving professional growers to develop distinctive flavors and aromas to distinguish themselves in a crowded market.

“We talk with the (marijuana) grower to understand what traits they saw in the marijuana … whether it’s earthy notes, citrus notes, herbal notes, things that we could play off,” said Corey Buck, head of catering for Blackbelly Restaurant, a top-rated farm-to-table restaurant that provided the meal.

The grower of one of the pot strains served at the dinner, Alex Perry, said it won’t be long until marijuana’s flavors and effects are parsed as intently as wine profiles. But that’s in the future, he conceded.

“It’s still looked down upon as a not-very-sophisticated thing,” said Perry, who grew a strain called Black Cherry Soda for his company, Headquarters Cannabis.

Holding his nose to a small jar of marijuana, Perry said, “If I asked my mom or my dad what they smell, they’re going to say, ‘skunk,’ or, ‘It smells like marijuana.’ But it’s like wine or anything else. There’s more flavor profile there.”

But chefs and pot growers trying to explore fine dining with weed face a legal gauntlet to make pot dinners a reality, even where the drug is as legal as beer.

Colorado’s marijuana retailers can’t also sell food, so guests at this dinner had to buy a separate $25 “goodie bag” from a dispensary for the pot pairings.

The bags came with tiny graters for diners to shave the pot chocolate onto their ice cream themselves; the wait staff could not legally serve a dish containing pot, even though the event was private and limited to people over 21. Diners were shuttled to and from the event by private bus, to avoid potentially stoned drivers leaving the dinner.

Marijuana dining may become more accessible in coming months, though.

Denver voters this fall will consider a proposal to allow marijuana use at some bars and restaurants as long as the drug isn’t smoked, with the potential for new outdoor marijuana smoking areas.

And two of the five states considering recreational marijuana in November _ California and Maine _ would allow some “social use” of the drug, leaving the potential for pot clubs or cafes.

Currently, Alaska is the only legal weed state that allows on-site marijuana use, with “tasting rooms” possible in commercial dispensaries. But that state is still working on rules for how those consumption areas would work.

For now, marijuana dining is limited to folks who hire private chefs to craft infused foods for meals served in their homes, or to special events like this one, limited to adults and set outside to avoid violating smoke-free air laws.

Guests at the Colorado dinner were admittedly experimenting with pairing weed and food, many giggling as they toked between bites. It became apparent late in the evening that a rich meal doesn’t counteract marijuana’s effects.

“What was I just saying?” one diner wondered aloud before dessert. “Oh, yeah. About my dog. No, your dog. Somebody’s dog.”

The man trailed off, not finishing his thought. His neighbor patted him on the back and handed him a fresh spoon for the ice cream.

Diners seemed genuinely curious about how to properly pair marijuana and food without getting too intoxicated.

“I am not a savant with this,” said Tamara Haddad of Lyons, who was waiting to have one of her pot samples professionally rolled into a joint. “I enjoy (marijuana) occasionally. I enjoy it with friends. I’m learning more about it.”

She laughed when asked whether marijuana can really move beyond its association with junk-food cravings.

“I have also munched out after being at the bar and drinking martinis and thinking, ‘Taco Bell sounds great,”” she said.

Will Southwest go solid for Dems because of Donald Trump?

Once a swing state in presidential elections, Colorado has teetered on the brink of becoming solidly Democratic. Donald Trump may have pushed it over the edge.

Trump’s disparaging words about Mexicans, negative comments about women and weak campaign organization have punctuated the state’s shift from a nip-and-tuck battleground to one that’s Democrat-friendly.

For the first time in more than 20 years, there are now more registered Democrats in the state than Republicans.

“Trump is turning off as many key voter groups as we have in this state,” said former state Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams. “I would have to believe Trump’s having trouble.”

And it’s not just Colorado. Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and weak campaign structure could ensure that perennially competitive Nevada and New Mexico are out of reach as well.

That matters for Trump. He can’t win the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the presidency without capturing some states that favored Barack Obama in the last two elections.

The three Southwestern states — which have a combined 21 electoral votes — might have offered some hope. All backed Republican George W. Bush 12 years ago.

But Trump isn’t making as much of a push for those states as is his likely Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. He made his first campaign appearance in Colorado just Friday, speaking at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver.

Clinton made her fifth trip on Wednesday, proposing college-loan deferment for graduates who start businesses. It was a tactical move aimed at swaying young voters, many of whom flocked to Sen. Bernie Sanders, who beat Clinton soundly in March’s Colorado caucuses.

“Hillary has some ground to make up,” said Craig Hughes, who ran Democratic President Barack Obama’s winning 2012 Colorado campaign. “But compared to Trump, Hillary is in a far, far better place.”

In Colorado, Clinton’s campaign is spending $2.4 million on television advertising this month through Election Day, while a group that supports Clinton, Priorities USA, is spending $13.6 million, according to Kantar Media’s campaign advertising tracker. In Nevada, Clinton is spending $2 million and Priorities USA is spending $10.4 million.

Neither Trump nor any super PACs supporting him have reserved advertising time in the two states. Super PACs are organizations that can spend unlimited funds on a candidate, but can’t coordinate with the campaign.

The National Rifle Association’s political arm is making small ad buys — $155,000 in Colorado and $98,000 in Nevada — to attack Clinton’s handling of the attacks on diplomatic compounds in Libya while she was secretary of state.

Clinton has had staff in Nevada for more than a year, ahead of the state’s early caucuses, and in Colorado for almost a year. Trump has a Colorado state campaign director and a Southwest regional director in Nevada.

If Colorado is a stretch for Trump, Nevada and New Mexico may be out of reach with their larger Hispanic populations and wider Democratic edge. The number of Hispanic voters has boomed in Nevada, more than doubling as a percentage of the state’s voters since 1980, to an estimated 22 percent this year. In New Mexico, nearly half the population is Hispanic.

Trump has alienated Hispanics with his call to build a wall on the Mexican border, his plans to deport the roughly 11 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally and by characterizing some Mexican immigrants as drug smugglers and rapists.

Still, Nevada Republican strategist Ryan Erwin says Trump could salve the wounds were he to make the effort himself.

“As that population changes, it’s harder for a Republican presidential candidate that isn’t here all the time,” said Erwin, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s Nevada director.

But Trump is relying on the Republican National Committee for staffing, as he is in all competitive states, said Trump’s Colorado director, Patrick Davis.

“There’s only so much one presidential candidate can do,” Davis said. “You’ve got to use all of the means of communication to get it done.”

Trump’s statements, late organizational start and Clinton’s statewide organization have her Colorado director Emmy Ruiz cautiously optimistic.

“I think the odds are in our favor. But I don’t think that they are strong odds. I also don’t think they are high enough for us to sit back,” Ruiz said.

Part of Clinton’s tail wind: Democrats in April nosed ahead of Republicans in voter registration for the first time since 1994. Since 2012, Democratic voter registration in Colorado has grown 7.5 percent, compared to 5 percent for Republicans.

In Nevada, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 70,000, a gap that Democrats and Republicans say could top 120,000 by Election Day. It’s a small but significant chunk of the state’s 1.5 million voters.

“Unless and until Republicans can match the kind of funding Democrats have put into their voter registration here, Republicans are going to fall behind,” said Erwin, the Republican strategist.

Last week, 18-year-old Kevin Garcia knocked on doors in 100-plus degree heat, registering Las Vegas residents to vote. He then attended a Clinton campaign calling session at a pizza restaurant.

Garcia, whose family emigrated from Mexico, was among about a dozen callers sipping cold Pepsis and using cellphones to call Nevadans. His goal was to make 100 calls that night — some in Spanish.

He said he supports Clinton because of her support for allowing people in the United States illegally to stay under certain circumstances. And because of Trump’s rhetoric.

“And my whole family is naturalized,” he said. “We’re all citizens.”

On the Web

Keep track of how much Clinton and Trump are spending on television advertising, and where they’re spending it, via AP’s interactive ad tracker.

Planned Parenthood suspect: ‘I am a warrior for the babies’

The man accused of killing three people in an attack on a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic defied his own defense attorney in court, declaring himself a “warrior for the babies” who would not be silenced by the lawyer tasked with potentially saving his life.

Robert Dear, 57, repeatedly interrupted public defender Daniel King and accused him of seeking a gag order in the case to conceal what Dear portrayed as Planned Parenthood’s crimes that led to the Nov. 27 assault. The conflict added a new level of turmoil to a politically charged case that has already sparked debate about when political speech becomes a call for violence.

“You’ll never know what I saw in that clinic,” a bearded, unkempt and shackled Dear yelled on Wednesday in one of more than a dozen outbursts as King successfully argued for the gag order by contending that public discussion of the investigation could prejudice potential jurors. “Atrocities. The babies. That’s what they want to seal.” A deputy squeezed Dear’s shoulder in an effort to quiet him.

King appeared to be trying to follow the same playbook he used in his defense of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, whom he convinced a jury earlier this year to spare from execution on the grounds of his mental illness. But, as Dear was formally charged with 179 counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and other crimes that could lead to the death penalty, he was having none of it.

“Do you know who this lawyer is?” Dear exclaimed of King. “He’s the lawyer for the Batman shooter. Who drugged him all up. And that’s what they want to do to me.”

Holmes was on anti-psychotic medication this year during his trial for the 2012 shootings that killed 12 people and wounded 70. He was sentenced to life in prison.

“Seal the truth, huh? Kill the babies. That’s what Planned Parenthood does,” Dear yelled later. At another point, he snapped at King: “You’re trying silence me.” Then he said: “Let’s let it all come out. Truth!”

King did not directly address the outbursts, though at one point during a break he leaned over to Dear and said: “I know what you’re trying to do; it’s not going to work.” King raised doubts about whether Dear is competent to stand trial, saying defense attorneys wanted investigators to turn over evidence as soon as possible so they could assess the “depth of his mental illness.”

Colorado Springs police have refused to discuss a potential motive in the Nov. 27 attack, which wounded nine and killed three. But even before Wednesday’s startling outbursts, there was mounting evidence that Dear was deeply concerned about abortion.

He rambled to authorities  about “no more baby parts” after his arrest. And a law enforcement official told The Associated Press this week that Dear asked at least one person in a nearby shopping center for directions to the clinic before opening fire. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

On Wednesday, Dear interjected as Judge Gilbert A. Martinez discussed a pretrial publicity order, saying, “Could you add the babies that were supposed to be aborted that day? Could you add that to the list?”

At one point, Dear yelled simply, “Protect babies!”

Later, he accused his attorneys of being in “cahoots” with Planned Parenthood to “shut me up.”

“I want the truth to come out. There’s a lot more to this than for me to go silently to the grave,” he shouted.

Dear has lived in remote locations without electricity or running water and was known to hold survivalist ideas.

One of his three ex-wives, Barbara Mescher Micheau of Moncks Corner, South Carolina, said he vandalized a South Carolina abortion clinic at least 20 years earlier, announcing to her that he had put glue in the locks of its doors, a common protest technique among activists trying to shut down abortion clinics.

Killed in the attack were Garrett Swasey, 44, a University of Colorado-Colorado Springs officer who rushed to the scene; Ke’Arre Stewart, 29, an Iraq war veteran who was accompanying someone at the clinic; and Jennifer Markovsky, 35, who also accompanied a friend at the clinic.

Five other officers were shot and wounded in the rampage.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said Monday that responding officers rescued 24 people from inside the clinic building and helped remove 300 people from surrounding businesses where they had been hiding while the shooting unfolded.

Martinez set the next hearing for Dear for Dec. 23. A first-degree murder conviction can lead to life in prison or the death penalty.

At the end of Wednesday’s hearing, the judge looked at Dear and said, “Are you finished?”

Shooting suspect asked for directions to Planned Parenthood clinic

The man accused of killing three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado asked at least one person in a nearby shopping center for directions to the facility before opening fire, a law enforcement official said, offering the clearest suggestion yet that he was targeting the reproductive health organization.

The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Prosecutors are charging Robert Lewis Dear, 57, with murder and other crimes in the Nov. 27 attack that also left nine other people wounded. Colorado Springs police have refused to discuss a motive for the fusillade, but there’s mounting evidence to suggest Dear was deeply concerned about abortion, having rambled to authorities about “no more baby parts” after his arrest.

Dear asked at least one person in the nearby shopping center where the Planned Parenthood was earlier that morning, the official said.

A second law enforcement official said Dear assembled propane tanks around a vehicle and brought at least 10 guns, including rifles and handguns, to the clinic, where he swapped gunfire with officers during an hours-long standoff. It was unclear whether Dear purchased all of them, but despite brushes with the law, he had no felony convictions that would have prevented him from buying a firearm.

Planned Parenthood cited witnesses as saying the gunman was motivated by his opposition to abortion.

A Colorado Springs police spokeswoman this week referred questions about the investigation to El Paso County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Teri Frank, who said she could not comment on the ongoing investigation. 

Dear had been living in remote locations without electricity or water and was known to hold survivalist ideas. One of his three ex-wives, Barbara Mescher Micheau of Moncks Corner, South Carolina, said he had vandalized a South Carolina abortion clinic at least 20 years earlier, announcing to her that he had put glue in the locks of its doors, a common protest technique among activists trying to shut down abortion clinics.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers would not discuss Dear’s motive or details of the investigation, but he praised responding officers, who he said rescued 24 people from inside the clinic building and helped remove 300 people from the surrounding businesses where they had been hiding while the shooting unfolded.

“They went in at their own peril, but that contributed to basically 24 people getting out of that building safely,” Suthers said of the officers. Six officers were shot in the rampage, one of them fatally. The other victims were accompanying separate friends to the clinic when they were killed.

Navajo Nation president: Suicides linked to pollution of sacred waterways

In testimony before Congress, letters to the federal government and press releases, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and his vice president have brought up recent tragedies that have shaken some reservation towns to their cores.

They said eight people killed themselves in communities impacted by the unleashing of toxic waste from a Colorado gold mine into the San Juan River on the Navajo Nation, burdened by the stress of seeing a sacred waterway polluted.

“When you’re being abandoned in your great time of need, what do you do? It causes great amount of distress,” Begaye said at a recent Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing where he pleaded for more resources from the federal government over the spill.

Some residents in the affected communities were skeptical, wondering whether there’s a direct correlation between the mine spill and suicides. Some saw the suggested link as an effort for tribal leaders to score political points on a national stage.

Residents in the region learned something was wrong with the river — a vital source of water for livestock, drinking and crops — through social media, radio reports and by seeing new people around their towns. The Aug. 5 spill took days to reach the reservation.

Farmers wept at the sight of their crops wilting, livestock owners started hauling water from elsewhere to sustain their animals and the tribal utility stopped pulling drinking water from the river.

Begaye responded harshly to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and hosted prominent environment advocate Erin Brockovich on a tour of the reservation.

Begaye invoked suicides in a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Oct. 2, asking for a preliminary damage assessment from the mine spill. The agency denied the request.

Begaye also referenced “three suicides in communities that were affected by the Gold King Mine spill” in a mid-September plea to the federal government for mental health and cancer treatment facilities on the reservation.

He told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee of the suicides a day later during a hearing on the impacts of the mine spill.

A spokesman for the president at the time said Begaye was referring to suicides in the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation.

Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez have said the tribe’s Department of Health is investigating any connection between the suicides and the mine spill. Neither one responded to repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press.

Messages left at the health department weren’t returned.

Between July 1 and Oct. 15, at least 10 people died of suicide in the two police districts that cover communities along the San Juan River, according to Navajo police statistics. Six of those happened after the mine spill.

The statistics also show more than three times as many suicide attempts in those districts.

But the communities also suffer deep hardships like rampant unemployment, poverty, alcoholism and domestic violence that are major contributors to high suicide rates – an issue on American Indian reservations nationwide.

The suicide rate for American Indians aged 15 to 24 is more than twice the national rate.

Local churches responded to the suicides with prayer walks. Students participated in a program about American Indian pride and values, helping one another and leadership. Tribal, county and state agencies sent in counselors and others to help.

The Utah Navajo Health System declared an emergency, freeing up resources for programs, services and staffing. Hendy said his organization got the OK to hire someone dedicated to addressing suicide prevention, substance abuse and healthy lifestyles.

Substantial sponsorships: Nonprofits becoming more comfortable accepting pot donations

One marijuana business hosts an annual golf tournament in Denver to raise money for multiple sclerosis research. Another Colorado pot company donates to a gay-rights advocacy group and is a sponsor of an AIDS walk.

As marijuana legalization matures, businesses are becoming more ingrained in their communities by donating cash and time to charities — a sign that the stigma of selling a drug that remains illegal under federal law may be fading.

“It’s not all about making money and about profiting,” said Ian Seeb, co-owner of Denver Relief, a dispensary whose monetary and volunteering donations include Ekar Farm and Garden, which grows vegetables for food banks.

It’s unknown how much money marijuana businesses have donated to nonprofits nationally and in Colorado.

“It is a brand new public conversation,” said Tom Downey, a regulatory attorney who specializes in marijuana.

He is a director at the firm Ireland Stapleton, which hosted a meeting in July at the state Capitol regarding donations with about 150 people from charitable organizations, lawyers and pot companies.

The Department of Justice, which has been watching the growing legal pot industries, declined to comment. The IRS declined to comment, except to say that marijuana businesses can’t write off donations on tax filings.

Colorado residents, for example, gave $3.4 billion to charities in 2012, the most recent data available from the IRS, according to the Colorado Association of Funders, a group that represents foundations.

Colorado foundations themselves donated about $800 million to charities in 2013.

The state has nearly 30,000 nonprofits, some of them tiny organizations, all competing for funds, said Joanne Kelley, executive director of the Colorado Association of Funders.

Enter the highly profitable legal marijuana industry, which was worth $2.7 billion in 2014, according to industry investment and research firm The ArcView Group.

But the industry’s profitability, and the charities’ need for contributions, is only one reason nonprofits and pot businesses have developed relationships.

Many in the marijuana industry have been big believers of the drug’s medical value and that has carried over to philanthropy, while the charities themselves sometimes serve populations that use the drug for ailments.

Matt Huron, founder and CEO of Good Chemistry in Colorado, traces his company’s philanthropy to his time managing a marijuana cooperative that grew pot for people who used it medically in San Francisco.

His father and his partner, who were both HIV positive, used the drug medically. His father died in 2009.

Huron said when it came to giving, he wanted “to keep that spirit alive” when he started his business in Colorado. But he found that some nonprofits were unwilling to accept donations from his company.

While reluctance is fading, he said, a stigma remains.

“We’re still breaking federal law,” he added.

Huron’s company donates to One Colorado, a gay rights advocacy group, but he declined to say how much.

Dave Montez, executive director of One Colorado, said his organization’s standard for accepting donations comes down to whether the contributor is accepting of the gay community. 

“Good Chemistry exemplifies a local business who is committed to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Coloradans by treating their employees fairly as well as giving back to the community,” he said in a statement.

Another marijuana business, The Clinic, hosts an annual golf tournament to raise money for the Colorado and Wyoming chapters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The Clinic’s general manager, Ryan Cook, said employees also participate in an annual MS walk to raise money and have contributed nearly $291,000 since 2009 from that event and the golf tournament.

Kaylin Daniels, donor relations officer at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, noted that medical marijuana use is acceptable among its constituency. And she said states’ approval of medical and particularly recreational pot in Colorado has helped develop a connection with The Clinic.

Just last year, Daniels said, The Clinic “became the top corporate team for Walk MS for Colorado and Wyoming.”

Still, some nonprofits are wary of marijuana donations. The Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation has a policy of not accepting such donations, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Whitehead, because the drug is still illegal federally.

Connie Zimmerman, founder of Colorado Homeless Families, which helps with transitional housing, has not been offered help from marijuana businesses but said she wouldn’t accept it because she considers the drug detrimental to her clients.

“We don’t feel right about accepting donations from the profits and proceeds of the marijuana business that can devalue or diminish the quality of the family and lifestyle relationships of individuals,” Zimmerman said.

Pot sales generate more tax revenue than alcohol sales in Colorado

For the first time in history, a state has generated more annual revenue from taxes imposed on marijuana than from taxes imposed on alcohol.

The Colorado Department of Revenue says the state collected nearly $70 million in marijuana-specific taxes and just under $42 million in alcohol-specific taxes from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015.

The news comes as Colorado prepared for a “marijuana tax holiday,” during which the state was suspending marijuana-specific taxes for one day.

“Marijuana taxes have been incredibly productive over the past year, so this tax holiday is a much-deserved day off,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project and a co-director of the campaign in support of the 2012 initiative to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol in Colorado.

He added, “This will be the one day out of the year when the state won’t generate significant revenue. Over the other 364 days, it will bring in tens of millions of dollars that will be reinvested in our state.”

Colorado raised nearly $69,898,059 from marijuana-specific taxes in FY 2014-2015, including $43,938,721 from a 10 percent special sales tax on retail marijuana sales to adults and $25,959,338 from a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale transfers of marijuana intended for adult use.

The state raised just under $41,837,647 from alcohol-specific taxes in FY 2014-2015, including $27,309,606 from excise taxes collected on spirited liquors, $8,881,349 from excise taxes on beer, and $5,646,692 from excise taxes collected on vinous liquors. These figures do not include standard state sales taxes or any local taxes.

 “It’s crazy how much revenue our state used to flush down the drain by forcing marijuana sales into the underground market,” Tvert said. “It’s even crazier that so many states are still doing it. Tax revenue is just one of many good reasons to replace marijuana prohibition with a system of regulation.”