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Robert Calkin, the president of the Cannabis Career Institute, spoke at an exhibition called Hempcon held in San Bernardino, Calif., last year (AP)

Bankrupt California City May Turn To Taxing Pot

by Alan Greenblatt
Jul 30, 2014

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Lots of people are making money off marijuana sales. Officials in San Bernardino, a Southern California city that filed for bankruptcy in 2012, are suggesting that it might as well profit too.

Officials are considering a proposal floated by City Attorney Gary Saenz to regulate and tax medical marijuana dispensaries.

Saenz — who was talking about stepping up efforts to close 18 illegal dispensaries in the city just last week — now calls eradication both "futile" and expensive.

Acceding to California policy allowing medical marijuana, he says, will move distribution off the black market. He notes that Palm Springs the only city in California's Inland Empire that allows dispensaries, expects to collect $500,000 annually in taxes from marijuana sellers. With more than 200,000 residents, or four times Palm Springs' population, San Bernadino might bring in more.

"The California Board of Equalization, which oversees the state's sales tax, says once a city approves medical marijuana outlets, it can use the tax revenue any way it wants," Reuters reports.

The city council is expected to hold a hearing on the matter next month.

"A year ago, I think perceptions were very different on this issue, but I think we're starting to see the formation of at least some sort of consensus that we need to have some sort of regulation," Councilman Henry Nickel told the San Bernardino Sun. "I think we're reaching the tipping point."

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Mohammed Osman Ali, a refugee in Uganda, sorts through spare parts for his video game arcade business. (Gregory Warner/NPR)

Episode 557: Doing Business Like A Refugee

Jul 30, 2014

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In most parts of the world, refugees are not allowed to work. But Mohammed Osman Ali is a refugee in Uganda, and there, he legally runs a video game arcade and a variety store.

Today on the show, why most countries won't let refugees work. And why Uganda is trying something different.

Music: K'naan's "The Wall" and "Waiting Is A Drug." Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/ Spotify. Download the PlanetMoney iPhone App.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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The House easily approved a deal to help veterans hammered out by Florida GOP Rep. Jeff Miller (left) and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (AP)

House Approves $16 Billion Plan To Improve Health Care For Vets

by Alan Greenblatt
Jul 30, 2014

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The House voted Wednesday to approve a bill that would address widespread problems with health care for veterans.

The vote in favor of the $16.3 billion package was 420 to 5.

The problems veterans have had obtaining care has drawn national attention in recent weeks. A White House investigation into problems at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals found "significant and chronic systemic failures."

House and Senate negotiators unveiled a package to address the problems on Monday. The deal provides $10 billion for veterans to see private doctors if they live far away from VA facilities or have to wait more than two weeks to get an appointment.

The package would also provide $5 billion to hire additional medical staff to address crowding problems at VA facilities themselves, with $2 billion more devoted to opening new offices and expanding existing programs.

"The Department of Veterans Affairs is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis caused by corruption, mismanagement and a lack of accountability across the board," Florida Republican Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a statement. "VA is in need of reform, and I applaud my colleagues in the House for passing legislation to do just that."

The Senate is expected to approve the measure before leaving for the summer recess at the end of the week.

On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously confirmed former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald to lead the Veterans Affairs Department.

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Speaker John Boehner makes his way to the House chamber on Wednesday (AP)

House Votes To OK Lawsuit Against Obama

by Alan Greenblatt
Jul 30, 2014

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The House voted Wednesday to authorize a lawsuit against President Obama, claiming that he has overstepped the limits of his executive authority.

The vote to allow Speaker John Boehner to sue Obama was 225 to 201. Five Republicans voted no, while no Democrats voted in favor of pursuing the lawsuit.

Republicans say that Obama exceeded his constitutional authority by unilaterally deciding to delay the employer mandate for insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Boehner said that Obama shouldn't be able to pick and choose which laws he will faithfully execute.

"By circumventing Congress, the president's actions have marginalized the role that the American people play in creating the laws that govern them," said Texas Republican Pete Sessions, who chairs the House Rules Committee. "Specifically, the president has waived work requirements for welfare recipients, unilaterally changed immigration laws, released the Gitmo Five without properly notifying Congress — which is the law — and ignored the statutory requirements of the Affordable Care Act."

Democrats decried the GOP's move. The lawsuits may serve to energize constituents of both major parties — or at least be useful for fundraising appeals, as NPR's S.V. Date reports.

Democrats have attempted to cast it as part of the broader partisan effort to undermine the president. "The lawsuit is a drumbeat pushing members of the Republican Party to impeachment," said New York Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter.

Boehner denied his caucus has any plans to impeach the president.

Obama, as he has for weeks, dismissed the vote as a "political stunt.

"The main vote that they've scheduled for today is whether or not they decide to sue me for doing my job," Obama said earlier Wednesday.

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Bulleit is one of 50 different brands a food blogger says is using whiskey from an Indiana factory. (Mike McCune/Flickr)

Why Your 'Small-Batch' Whiskey Might Taste A Lot Like The Others

by NPR Staff
Jul 30, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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It's a good time to be a whiskey maker, and craft whiskeys are all the rage, with names like Bulleit, Redemption, Templeton and George Dickel.

But according to a report on The Daily Beast, some of those producers tossing off hazy, golden adjectives like "hand-crafted," "small-batch" and "artisanal" are, well, not. There's a factory in Indiana churning out massive quantities of beverage-grade alcohol, and some distilleries are just buying it and putting it in their pretty bottles.

Steve Ury is an attorney by day and Recent Eats blogger by night who is tracking where the good stuff comes from. He tells All Things Considered's Audie Cornish that over 50 different brands from different companies appear to be bottling whiskey from this big Indiana factory, which goes by the name of MGP — Midwest Grain Products.

Ury says that one of the tell-tale signs on the bottle is the wording. "Does it say it is 'distilled' by that company, or does it say it's 'bottled by' or 'produced by' that company? That sounds like a small difference, but it has a big legal meaning."

He also looks for the recipe because the Indiana distillery uses 95 percent rye, which is very distinct. That's a red flag that it might be from Indiana.

As for the taste, Ury notes that different barrels taste different. "Sometimes they blend it with other whiskeys; sometimes they put it in a barrel that previously held port or rum to give it a slightly different flavor," he says. "Sometimes they'll filter it. But there's a commonality of flavor of these MGP ryes because they are so distinct."

As The Daily Beast notes, one brand called WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey based in Vermont has gotten a lot of hype. It launched in 2010. Ury looked at the source of the whiskey and when it's supposed to be aged. So is there a discrepancy?

Ury says WhistlePig launched with a 10-year-old whiskey, made from barrels of whiskey from Canada, and sold it as the company's own rye whiskey.

"Now there's nothing inherently wrong with that," says Ury. "The only problem is that a lot of these companies aren't very clear that they're getting their whiskey from other places. WhistlePig, for instance, if you dig, you can find out that the label says in very small print 'a product of Canada,' but in their publicity they talk a lot about their Vermont farm, and about being a Vermont product."

According to Ury, all this murky sourcing makes it tough for the distilleries that really are small batch.

"When there's a distillery down the street that's marketing whiskey made by a big distillery that's 10 years old, it's very hard for a small player who is trying their best to make the whiskey. And then once they make it, they have to sit on it for four or six or 10 years to get that age on it," he says.

So we had to ask Ury: Given what you've learned, what do you drink?

"I'm an adventurer, so I like to try a little bit of everything," he says. "I drink plenty of whiskey from MGP in Indiana. In fact, I have some favorites from there. And I'm a fan of WhistlePig, and I'm a fan of High West, and I'm a fan of Willett. It's not so much a matter of its tasting better or worse, it's more a matter of the consumer knowing what they're getting, and understanding why something might taste a certain way, and why something might taste differently."

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