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New York hasn’t licensed any pot shops, yet they abound

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New York hasn’t licensed any pot shops, yet they abound

NEW YORK (AP) — Eager, anxious and frustrated, Yuri Krupitsky is waiting to find out whether he’ll get to open one of the first legal recreational marijuana shops in New York state.

He wrangled a lengthy application to become one of about 900 hopefuls for a first round of 150 licenses, only to face new uncertainty from a court ruling last week. It temporarily blocks the state from greenlighting dispensaries in Krupitsky’s home turf of Brooklyn and some other regions.

Meanwhile, unauthorized pot shops have cropped up in droves.

Stores openly selling marijuana can now be found throughout New York City, operated by people who shrugged at licensing requirements.

“It’s unfair competition,” Kuritsky said. “Everyone’s just saying, ‘Sit around and wait,’ and in the meantime, I see shop after shop, and they’re making their money. I’m sitting around waiting to do it the right way.”

Under pressure to launch one of the nation’s most hotly anticipated legal marijuana markets, the state Cannabis Control Board on Monday is to consider awarding some dispensary licenses to entrepreneurs and nonprofit groups — a major step that comes as cannabis regulators stress that they’re trying to stop unlicensed sellers.

“There cannot be a legal, regulated market operating side-by-side with an illegal market — it undercuts the goals of the state’s Cannabis Law to protect public health and build an equitable market that works to undo the harms caused by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis prohibition,” Office of Cannabis Management spokesperson Aaron Ghitelman said in a statement.

New York legalized recreational use of marijuana in March 2021 but is still in the process of licensing people to sell it.

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It reserved its first round of retail licenses for applicants with marijuana convictions or their relatives, plus some nonprofit groups. It also planned a $200 million public-private fund to aid “social equity” applicants.

Officials even set out to find, design and renovate storefronts for the for-profit entrepreneurs, who have to sublet a state-designated space and repay the refurbishing costs.

Ten teams of design and construction firms have been chosen, and the state is talking to landlords about dozens of locations. About 20 are undergoing preliminary design assessments, said Jeffrey Gordon, a spokesperson for the state’s construction arm, known as DASNY. To pay for it all, the state has seeded the equity fund and is working to raise private money, he said.

Gordon said the agency aims to have several dispensaries ready by the end of the year but encountered “unexpected delays,” including the court case, which challenges parts of the state’s criteria for applicants.

“However, many of the elements are in place and ready to move forward,” he said.

While those efforts play out, some pot entrepreneurs have simply rented storefronts and opened up without permission.

Empire Cannabis Club already has a location in Brooklyn, two in Manhattan and plans for more. Proprietor Jonathan Elfand says the year-old club sells marijuana products at cost to thousands of members who pay daily or monthly fees.

He argues the operation is legal. The state disagrees, but Elfand is undeterred and says he’d welcome a court fight.

“If you think there is something we’re doing wrong, please bring the battle. We’re ready,” said Elfand, who also applied for a dispensary license.

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The cannabis office has told Empire and dozens of other enterprises to stop selling pot, and the agency is working with local law enforcement officials to clamp down. Separately, the State Liquor Authority suspended a Long Island deli’s liquor license Thursday, claiming the shop sold marijuana.

Enforcement can entail violation notices, or arrests. Searches at a suburban Buffalo store in February and a Brooklyn shop Wednesday led to felony pot possession charges.

“We’re going to take all the legal action available to us” to ensure people understand they can’t sell unregulated pot with impunity, New York City Sheriff Anthony Miranda said.

His office and the New York Police Department also have cited parking and vending laws to tow trucks suspected of selling weed.

Craig Sweat and his partners ran a fleet of “Uncle Budd” trucks that were impounded in September. He says they weren’t selling marijuana, but rather giving it to people who made donations. Despite the seizure, he doubts authorities have the appetite for a sweeping takedown of illegal shops; that would amount to “criminalizing marijuana again,” he says.

The state Senate in June passed a proposal to increase fines for illicit sales and make unlicensed selling a misdemeanor. The measure stalled in the Assembly, but sponsor Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat, says she’s “optimistic” about tackling the issue next year.

Among dispensary applicants hoping for approval Monday is Jessica Naissant, who figures she’s an ideal candidate. A first-generation Haitian American, she until recently had a shop that sold the non-intoxicating, federally legal cannabis chemical CBD. She volunteers speaking to church groups and others about marijuana legalization. And she has a qualifying arrest record — a 2016 pot possession charge, she said.

“There was no way I was letting this chance pass me by,” Naissant said.

But now she’s concerned about how last week’s court ruling will affect her prospects, since she listed her native Brooklyn as her first-choice location.

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“It’s bittersweet, for sure,” she said.

Besides aspiring sellers, hundreds of hemp farmers who recently cultivated New York’s first legal marijuana crop want clarity on when dispensaries will open to market their harvest.

“They don’t really have a lot of options but to wait and hope that they don’t end up having to suffer any losses,” said Dan Livingston of the Cannabis Association of New York, a trade group.

Whatever the wrinkles, New York’s approach to legalization has gotten some kudos for innovating and emphasizing equity, and applicant advocate and cannabis lawyer Scheril Murray Powell counsels patience. As chief operating officer of the Justus Foundation, she works to help longtime sellers go legal.

“They’ve waited decades for this moment to happen, and I think everyone’s committed to making sure it happens correctly,” she said. “Another couple of months isn’t so long to get it right.”

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For more AP coverage of the recreational marijuana issue: https://apnews.com/hub/recreational-marijuana

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Uber and Lyft agree to pay drivers $32.50 per hour in Massachusetts settlement

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Uber and Lyft agree to pay drivers $32.50 per hour in Massachusetts settlement

BOSTON (AP) — Drivers for Uber and Lyft will earn a minimum pay standard of $32.50 per hour under a settlement announced Thursday by Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell, in a deal that also includes a suite of benefits and protections.

The two companies will also be required to pay a combined $175 million to the state to resolve allegations that the companies violated Massachusetts wage and hour laws, a substantial majority of which will be distributed to current and former drivers.

Campbell said the settlement resolves her office’s yearslong litigation against the two companies and stops the threat of their attempt to rewrite state employment law by a proposed 2024 ballot initiative.

That question would have resulted in drivers receiving inadequate protections and an earnings standard that would not guarantee minimum wage, she said.

“For years, these companies have underpaid their drivers and denied them basic benefits,” Campbell said in a written statement. “Today’s agreement holds Uber and Lyft accountable, and provides their drivers, for the very first time in Massachusetts, guaranteed minimum pay, paid sick leave, occupational accident insurance, and health care stipends.”

Democratic Gov. Maura Healey said the settlement delivers “historic wages and benefits to right the wrongs of the past and ensure drivers are paid fairly going forward.”

In a statement Lyft said the agreement resolves a lawsuit that recently went to trial, and avoids the need for the ballot initiative campaign this November.

“More importantly, it is a major victory in a multiyear campaign by Bay State drivers to secure their right to remain independent, while gaining access to new benefits,” the company said.

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Uber also released a statement calling the agreement “an example of what independent, flexible work with dignity should look like in the 21st century.”

“In taking this opportunity, we’ve resolved historical liabilities by constructing a new operating model that balances both flexibility and benefits,” the company said. “This allows both Uber and Massachusetts to move forward in a way that reflects what drivers want and demonstrates to other states what’s possible to achieve.”

The companies were pushing a ballot question that would classify drivers as independent contractors eligible for some benefits, but Campbell said the settlement stops the threat of the ballot question. A competing ballot question seeks to give drivers the right to unionize in Massachusetts.

Drivers will now earn one hour of sick day pay for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year. As part of the agreement, Uber and Lyft must update their driver applications so drivers are able to view and claim their sick leave directly in the app. Drivers will also receive a stipend to buy into the state’s paid family and medical leave program.

Under the deal, Uber and Lyft will also allow drivers to pool together their hours driving for the two companies to obtain access to a health insurance stipend. Anyone who drives for more than 15 hours per week — for either or both companies — will be able to earn a health insurance stipend to pay for a plan on the Massachusetts Health Connector.

Drivers will be eligible for occupational accident insurance paid by the companies for up to $1 million in coverage for work-related injuries.

The agreement also requires the companies to provide drivers with key information — about the length of a trip, the destination and expected earnings — before they are expected to accept a ride.

The companies are barred from discriminating against drivers based on race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or other protected identities — and can’t retaliate against drivers who have filed a complaint about the companies with the Attorney General’s Office.

The deal also requires the companies to provide drivers in-app chat support with a live person in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French and must provide drivers with information about why they have been deactivated and create an appeals process.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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At collapsed Baltimore bridge, focus shifts to the weighty job of removing the massive structure

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At collapsed Baltimore bridge, focus shifts to the weighty job of removing the massive structure

BALTIMORE (AP) — Teams of engineers worked Saturday on the intricate process of cutting and lifting the first section of twisted steel from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, which crumpled into the Patapsco River this week after a massive cargo ship crashed into one of its supports.

Sparks could be seen flying from a section of bent and crumpled steel in the afternoon, and video released by officials in the evening showed demolition crews using a cutting torch to slice through the thick beams. The joint incident command said in a statement that the work was being done on the top of the north side of the collapsed structure.

Crews were carefully measuring and cutting the steel from the broken bridge before attaching straps so it can be lifted onto a barge and floated away, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath said.

Seven floating cranes — including a massive one capable of lifting 1,000 tons — 10 tugboats, nine barges, eight salvage vessels and five Coast Guard boats were on site in the water southeast of Baltimore.

Each movement affects what happens next and ultimately how long it will take to remove all the debris and reopen the ship channel and the blocked Port of Baltimore, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said.

“I cannot stress enough how important today and the first movement of this bridge and of the wreckage is. This is going to be a remarkably complicated process,” Moore said.

Undeterred by the chilly morning weather, longtime Baltimore resident Randy Lichtenberg and others took cellphone photos or just quietly looked at the broken pieces of the bridge, which including its steel trusses weigh as much as 4,000 tons.

“I wouldn’t want to be in that water. It’s got to be cold. It’s a tough job,” Lichtenberg said from a spot on the river called Sparrows Point.

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The shock of waking up Tuesday morning to video of what he called an iconic part of the Baltimore skyline falling into the water has given way to sadness.

“It never hits you that quickly. It’s just unbelievable,” Lichtenberg said.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

One of the first goals for crews on the water is to get a smaller auxiliary ship channel open so tugboats and other small barges can move freely. Crews also want to stabilize the site so divers can resume searching for four missing workers who are presumed dead.

Two other workers were rescued from the water in the hours following the bridge collapse, and the bodies of two more were recovered from a pickup truck that fell and was submerged in the river. They had been filling potholes on the bridge and while police were able to stop vehicle traffic after the ship called in a mayday, they could not get to the construction workers, who were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The crew of the cargo ship Dali, which is managed by Synergy Marine Group, remained on board with the debris from the bridge around it, and were safe and were being interviewed. They are keeping the ship running as they will be needed to get it out of the channel once more debris has been removed.

The vessel is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd. and was chartered by Danish shipping giant Maersk.

The collision and collapse appeared to be an accident that came after the ship lost power. Federal and state investigators are still trying to determine why.

Assuaging concern about possible pollution from the crash, Adam Ortiz, the Environmental Protection Agency’s mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, said there was no indication in the water of active releases from the ship or materials hazardous to human health.

REBUILDING

Officials are also trying to figure out how to handle the economic impact of a closed port and the severing of a major highway link. The bridge was completed in 1977 and carried Interstate 695 around southeast Baltimore.

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Maryland transportation officials are planning to rebuild the bridge, promising to consider innovative designs or building materials to hopefully shorten a project that could take years.

President Joe Biden’s administration has approved $60 million in immediate aid and promised the federal government will pay the full cost to rebuild.

Ship traffic at the Port of Baltimore remains suspended, but the Maryland Port Administration said trucks were still being processed at marine terminals.

The loss of a road that carried 30,000 vehicles a day and the port disruption will affect not only thousands of dockworkers and commuters, but also U.S. consumers, who are likely to feel the impact of shipping delays. The port handles more cars and more farm equipment than any other U.S. facility.

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Collins reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Washington, D.C.; Kristin M. Hall in Nashville, Tennessee; Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee; and Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington, contributed.

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