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ARIZONA 'HOTSHOTS' LIVED THE MEANING OF THE WORD

Tuesday, 02 July 2013 10:52 Published in National News

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — They were fathers and expectant fathers. High school football players and former Marines. Smoke-eaters' sons and first-generation firefighters.

What bound the members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots together was a "love of hard work and arduous adventure," and a willingness to risk their lives to protect others. And now, 19 families share a bond of grief.

All but one of the Prescott-based crew's 20 members died Sunday when a wind-whipped wildfire overran them on a mountainside northwest of Phoenix. It was the nation's biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years and the deadliest single day for fire crews since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In the firefighting world, "Hotshot" is the name given to those willing to go to the hottest part of a blaze. They are the best of the best, crews filled with adventure-seekers whose hard training ready them for the worst.

"We are routinely exposed to extreme environmental conditions, long work hours, long travel hours and the most demanding of fireline tasks," the group's website says. "Comforts such as beds, showers and hot meals are not always common."

Above all, the crew's members prided themselves on their problem-solving, teamwork and "ability to make decisions in a stressful environment."

"It's a younger man's game," said Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo, and the statistics bear him out. Of those who died, 14 were in their 20s; their average age was just 26.

At least three members of the crew were following in their fathers' firefighting footsteps.

Kevin Woyjeck, 21, used to accompany his dad, Capt. Joe Woyjeck, to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, sometimes going on ride-alongs. The firehouse was like a second home to him, said Keith Mora, an inspector with that agency.

"He wanted to become a firefighter like his dad and hopefully work hand-in-hand," Mora said Monday outside a fire station in Seal Beach, Calif., where the Woyjeck family lives. "He was a great kid. Unbelievable sense of humor, work ethic that was not parallel to many kids I've seen at that age. He wanted to work very hard."

Chris MacKenzie, 30, grew up in California's San Jacinto Valley, where father Michael was a former captain with the Moreno Valley Fire Department. An avid snowboarder, MacKenzie joined the U.S. Forest Service in 2004, then transferred two years ago to the Prescott Fire Department.

Dustin DeFord, 24, was a Baptist preacher's son, but it was firefighting that captured his imagination.

At 18, he volunteered for the Carter County Rural Fire Department like his father did in his hometown of Ekalaka, Mont., according to The Billings Gazette. Almost everyone knew DeFord in the small town where he grew up and had worked a variety of jobs, the local sheriff said.

He liked to cliff jump and run "Spartan Race" obstacle courses, and he passed the physical test for the Granite Mountain crew in January 2012.

"He was one of the good ones who ever walked on this earth," Carter County Sheriff Neil Kittelmann told the newspaper.

Many of those killed were graduates of Prescott High. One of them was 28-year-old Clayton Whitted, who as a firefighter would work out on the same campus where he played football for the Prescott Badgers from 2000 to 2004.

The school's football coach, Lou Beneitone, said Whitted was the type of athlete who "worked his fanny off."

"He wasn't a big kid, and many times in the game, he was overpowered by big men, and he still got after it," the coach said. "He knew, 'This man in front of me is a lot bigger and stronger than me,' but he'd try it, and he'd smile trying it."

As a condition of hire, each of these Hotshot members was required to pass the U.S. Forest Service's "Arduous Work Capacity Test" — which entails completing a 3-mile hike carrying a 45-pound pack in 45 minutes. The group also set for its members a fitness goal of a 1.5-mile run in 10 minutes, 35 seconds; 40 sit-ups in 60 seconds; 25 pushups in 60 seconds; and seven pull-ups, according to the crew's website.

"The nature of our work requires us to endure physical hardships beyond most people's experiences," the website said. "Environmental extremes, long hours, bad food, and steep, rugged terrain, demand that we train early and often by running and hiking, doing core exercises, yoga, and weight training."

The group started in 2002 as a fuels mitigation crew — clearing brush to starve a fire. Within six years, they had made their transition into the "elite" Hotshot community.

At Captain Crossfit, a warehouse filled with mats, obstacle courses, climbing walls and acrobatic rings near the firehouse where the Hotshots worked, trainers Janine Pereira and Tony Burris talked about their day-to-day experiences with the crew in what was a home away from home for most of them.

The whole group grew beards and mustaches before the fire season started but had to shave them for safety.

"They were trying to get away with it, and finally someone was like, 'No. You've got to shave that beard,'" Pereira said. "They were the strongest, the happiest, always smiling."

Former Marine Travis Turbyfill, 27, whose nickname was "Turby," would come in to train in the morning, then return in the afternoon with his two daughters and wife, Stephanie, a nurse, Pereira said.

"He'd wear these tight shorts ... just to be goofy," Pereira said. "He was in the Marine Corps and he was a Hotshot, so he could wear those and no one would bug him."

Andrew Ashcraft, 29, another Prescott High graduate, would bring his four children to the Captain Crossfit daycare, Pereira said.

"He'd come in in the early morning and do a workout, and then, to support his wife, he'd do one again," she said. "He'd carry her around sometimes and give her a kiss in front of all his guys."

Other members of the group were just beginning families.

Sean Misner, 26, leaves behind a wife who is seven months pregnant, said Mark Swanitz, principal of Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in Santa Barbara County, where Misner graduated in 2005. Marine Corps veteran Billy Warneke, 25, and his wife, Roxanne, were expecting their first child in December, his grandmother, Nancy Warneke, told The Press-Enterprise newspaper in Riverside.

At 43, crew superintendent Eric Marsh was by far the oldest member of the group. An avid mountain biker who grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, Marsh became hooked on firefighting while studying biology at Arizona State University, said Leanna Racquer, the ex-wife of Marsh's cousin.

In April 2012, Marsh let reporters from the ASU Cronkite News Service observe one of the crew's training sessions. That day, they were playing out the "nightmare scenario" — surrounded by flames, with nothing but a thin, reflective shelter between them and incineration.

"If we're not actually doing it, we're thinking and planning about it," Marsh said.

During that exercise, one of the new crew members "died."

"It's not uncommon to have a rookie die," Marsh told the news service. "Fake die, of course."

On Monday, more than 1,000 people crowded into the bleachers and spilled onto the gymnasium floor at the Prescott campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The crowd stood for more than a minute as firefighters in uniform walked in.

U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon said the Hotshots had made the ultimate sacrifice: "They gave their lives for their friends."

"It's times like today that define who we are," he said.

When U.S. Rep. David Schweikert asked audience members to raise their hands if they knew one of the fallen firefighters, about a third of the crowd did.

In a shaking voice, Fire Chief Fraijo described a picnic he threw last month for his new recruits and their families. Earlier Monday, he met with those same families in another auditorium and gave them the tragic news.

"Those families lost," he said. "The Prescott Fire Department lost. The city of Prescott lost. The state of Arizona and the nation lost."

___ Associated Press reporters Raquel Maria Dillon in Seal Beach, Calif., Sue Manning in Los Angeles and Felicia Fonseca in Prescott contributed to this report.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It took 50 years for American attitudes about marijuana to zigzag from the paranoia of "Reefer Madness" to the excesses of Woodstock back to the hard line of "Just Say No."

The next 25 years took the nation from Bill Clinton, who famously "didn't inhale," to Barack Obama, who most emphatically did.

And now, in just a few short years, public opinion has moved so dramatically toward general acceptance that even those who champion legalization are surprised at how quickly attitudes are changing and states are moving to approve the drug - for medical use and just for fun.

It is a moment in America that is rife with contradictions:

-People are looking more kindly on marijuana even as science reveals more about the drug's potential dangers, particularly for young people.

-States are giving the green light to the drug in direct defiance of a federal prohibition on its use.

-Exploration of the potential medical benefit is limited by high federal hurdles to research.

Washington policymakers seem reluctant to deal with any of it.

Richard Bonnie, a University of Virginia law professor who worked for a national commission that recommended decriminalizing marijuana in 1972, sees the public taking a big leap from prohibition to a more laissez-faire approach without full deliberation.

"It's a remarkable story historically," he says. "But as a matter of public policy, it's a little worrisome. It's intriguing, it's interesting, it's good that liberalization is occurring, but it is a little worrisome."

More than a little worrisome to those in the anti-drug movement.

"We're on this hundred-mile-an-hour freight train to legalizing a third addictive substance," says Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy adviser in the Obama administration, lumping marijuana with tobacco and alcohol.

Legalization strategist Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, likes the direction the marijuana smoke is wafting. But he knows his side has considerable work yet to do.

"I'm constantly reminding my allies that marijuana is not going to legalize itself," he says.

--- By the numbers: Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes since California voters made the first move in 1996. Voters in Colorado and Washington state took the next step last year and approved pot for recreational use. Alaska is likely to vote on the same question in 2014, and a few other states are expected to put recreational use on the ballot in 2016.

Nearly half of adults have tried marijuana, 12 percent of them in the past year, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. More teenagers now say they smoke marijuana than ordinary cigarettes.

Fifty-two percent of adults favor legalizing marijuana, up 11 percentage points just since 2010, according to Pew. Sixty percent think Washington shouldn't enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have approved its use. Seventy-two percent think government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they're worth.

"By Election Day 2016, we expect to see at least seven states where marijuana is legal and being regulated like alcohol," says Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national legalization group.

---

Where California led the charge on medical marijuana, the next chapter in this story is being written in Colorado and Washington state.

Policymakers there are struggling with all sorts of sticky issues revolving around one central question: How do you legally regulate the production, distribution, sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes when federal law bans all of the above?

How do you tax it? What quality control standards do you set? How do you protect children while giving grown-ups the go-ahead to light up? What about driving under the influence? Can growers take business tax deductions? Who can grow pot, and how much? Where can you use it? Can cities opt out? Can workers be fired for smoking marijuana when they're off duty? What about taking pot out of state? The list goes on.

The overarching question has big national implications. How do you do all of this without inviting the wrath of the federal government, which has been largely silent so far on how it will respond to a gaping conflict between U.S. and state law?

The Justice Department began reviewing the matter after last November's election and repeatedly has promised to respond soon. But seven months later, states still are on their own, left to parse every passing comment from the department and President Obama.

In December, Obama said in an interview that "it does not make sense, from a prioritization point of view, for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that's legal."

In April, Attorney General Eric Holder said to Congress, "We are certainly going to enforce federal law. ... When it comes to these marijuana initiatives, I think among the kinds of things we will have to consider is the impact on children." He also mentioned violence related to drug trafficking and organized crime.

In May, Obama told reporters: "I honestly do not believe that legalizing drugs is the answer. But I do believe that a comprehensive approach - not just law enforcement, but prevention and education and treatment - that's what we have to do."

Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who favors legalization, predicts Washington will take a hands-off approach, based on Obama's comments about setting law enforcement priorities.

"We would like to see that in writing," Polis says. "But we believe, given the verbal assurances of the president, that we are moving forward in Colorado and Washington in implementing the will of the voters."

The federal government has taken a similar approach toward users in states that have approved marijuana for medical use. It doesn't go after pot-smoking cancer patients or grandmas with glaucoma. But it also has warned that people who are in the business of growing, selling and distributing marijuana on a large scale are subject to potential prosecution for violations of the Controlled Substances Act - even in states that have legalized medical use.

Federal agents in recent years have raided storefront dispensaries in California and Washington, seizing cash and pot. In April, the Justice Department targeted 63 dispensaries in Santa Ana, Calif., and filed three asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties housing seven pot shops. Prosecutors also sent letters to property owners and operators of 56 other marijuana dispensaries warning that they could face similar lawsuits.

University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin says if the administration doesn't act soon to sort out the federal-state conflict, it may be too late to do much.

"At some point, it becomes so prevalent and so many citizens will be engaged in it that it's hard to recriminalize something that's become commonplace," he says.

--- There's a political calculus for the president, or any other politician, in all of this.

Younger people, who tend to vote more Democratic, are more supportive of legalizing marijuana, as are people in the West, where the libertarian streak runs strong. In Colorado, for example, last November more people voted for legalized pot (55 percent) than voted for Obama (51 percent), which could help explain why the president was silent on marijuana before the election.

"We're going to get a cultural divide here pretty quickly," says Greg Strimple, a Republican pollster based in Boise, Idaho, who predicts Obama will duck the issue as long as possible.

Despite increasing public acceptance of marijuana, and growing interest in its potential therapeutic uses, politicians know there are complications that could come with commercializing an addictive substance, some of them already evident in medical marijuana states. Opponents of pot are particularly worried that legalization will result in increased adolescent use as young people's estimations of the drug's dangers decline.

"There's no real win on this from a political perspective," says Sabet. "Do you want to be the president that stops a popular cause, especially a cause that's popular within your own party? Or do you want to be the president that enables youth drug use that will have ramifications down the road?"

Marijuana legalization advocates offer politicians a rosier scenario, in which legitimate pot businesses eager to keep their operating licenses make sure not to sell to minors.

"Having a regulated system is the only way to ensure that we're not ceding control of this popular substance to the criminal market and to black marketeers," says Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group for legal pot businesses in the U.S.

See Change Research, which analyzes the marijuana business, has estimated the national market for medical marijuana alone at $1.7 billion for 2011 and has projected it could reach $8.9 billion in five years. Overall, marijuana users spend tens of billions of dollars a year on pot, experts believe.

Ultimately, marijuana advocates say, it's Congress that needs to budge, aligning federal laws with those of states moving to legalization. But that doesn't appear likely anytime soon.

The administration appears uncertain how to proceed.

"The executive branch is in a pickle," Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., said at a recent news conference outside the Capitol with pot growers visiting town to lobby for changes. "Twenty-one states have a different view of the use of marijuana than the laws on the books for the federal government."

---

While the federal government hunkers down, Colorado and Washington state are moving forward on their own.

Colorado's governor in May signed a set of bills to regulate legal use of the drug, and the state's November ballot will ask voters to approve special sales and excise taxes on pot. In Washington state, the Liquor Control Board is drawing up rules covering everything from how plants will be grown to how many stores will be allowed. It expects to issue licenses for growers and processors in December, and impose 25 percent taxes three times over - when pot is grown, processed and sold to consumers.

"What we're beginning to see is the unraveling of the criminal approach to marijuana policy," says Tim Lynch, director of the libertarian Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice. But, Lynch adds, "the next few years are going to be messy. There are going to be policy battles" as states work to bring a black market industry into the sunshine, and Washington wrestles with how to respond.

Already, a federal judge has struck down a Colorado requirement that pot magazines such as High Times be kept behind store counters, like pornography.

Marijuana advocates in Washington state, where officials have projected the legal pot market could bring the state a half-billion a year in revenue, are complaining that state regulators are still banning sales of hash or hash oil, a marijuana extract.

Pot growers in medical marijuana states are chafing at federal laws that deny them access to the banking system, tax deductions and other opportunities that other businesses take for granted. Many dispensaries are forced to operate on a cash-only basis, which can be an invitation to organized crime.

It's already legal for adults in Colorado and Washington to light up at will, as long as they do so in private.

That creates all kinds of new challenges for law enforcement.

Pat Slack, a commander with the Snohomish County Regional Drug Taskforce in Washington state, said local police are receiving calls about smokers flouting regulations against lighting up in public. In at least one instance, Slack said, that included a complaint about a smoker whose haze was wafting over a backyard fence and into the middle of a child's birthday party. But with many other problems confronting local officers, scofflaws are largely being ignored.

"There's not much we can do to help," Slack says. "A lot of people have to get accustomed to what the change is."

In Colorado, Tom Gorman, director of the federal Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Taskforce, takes a tougher stance on his state's decision to legalize pot.

"This is against the law, I don't care what Colorado says," Gorman said. "It puts us in a position, where you book a guy or gal and they have marijuana, do you give it back? Do you destroy it? What in effect I am doing by giving it back is I am committing a felony. If the court orders me to return it, the court is giving me an illegal order."

More than 30 pot growers and distributors, going all-out to present a buttoned-down image in suits and sensible pumps rather than ponytails and weed T-shirts, spent two days on Capitol Hill in June lobbying for equal treatment under tax and banking laws and seeking an end to federal property seizures.

"It's truly unfortunate that the Justice Department can't find a way to respect the will of the people," says Sean Luse of the 13-year-old Berkeley Patients Group in California, a multimillion-dollar pot collective whose landlord is facing the threat of property forfeiture.

---

As Colorado and Washington state press on, California's experience with medical marijuana offers a window into potential pitfalls that can come with wider availability of pot.

Dispensaries for medical marijuana have proliferated in the state. Regulation has been lax, leading some overwhelmed communities to complain about too-easy access from illegal storefront pot shops and related problems such as loitering and unsavory characters. That prompted cities around the state to say enough already and ban dispensaries. Pot advocates sued.

In May, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that cities and counties can ban medical marijuana dispensaries. A few weeks later, Los Angeles voters approved a ballot measure that limits the number of pot shops in the city to 135, down from an estimated high of about 1,000. By contrast, whitepages.com lists 112 Starbucks in the city.

This isn't full-scale buyer's remorse, but more a course correction before the inevitable next push to full-on legalization in the state.

Baker Montgomery, a member of the Eagle Rock neighborhood council in Los Angeles, where pot shops were prevalent, said May's vote to limit the number of shops was all about ridding the city of illicit dispensaries.

"They're just not following what small amounts of rules there are on the books," Montgomery said.

In 2010, California voters opted against legalizing marijuana for recreational use, drawing the line at medical use.

But Jeffrey Dunn, a Southern California attorney who represented cities in the Supreme Court case, says that in reality the state's dispensaries have been operating so loosely that already "it's really all-access."

At the Venice Beach Care Center, one of the dispensaries that will be allowed to stay open in Los Angeles, founding director Brennan Thicke believes there still is widespread support for medical marijuana in California. But he says the state isn't ready for more just yet.

"We have to get (medical) right first," Thicke said.

Dunn doubts that's possible.

"What we've learned is, it is very difficult if not impossible to regulate these facilities," he said.

---

Other states, Colorado among them, have had their own bumps in the road with medical marijuana.

A Denver-area hospital, for example, saw children getting sick after eating treats and other foods made with marijuana in the two years after a 2009 federal policy change led to a surge in medical marijuana use, according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics in May. In the preceding four years, the hospital had no such cases.

The Colorado Education Department reported a sharp rise in drug-related suspensions and expulsions after medical marijuana took off. An audit of the state's medical marijuana system found the state had failed to adequately track the growth and distribution of pot or to fully check out the backgrounds of pot dealers.

"What we're doing is not working," says Dr. Christian Thurstone, a psychiatrist whose Denver youth substance abuse treatment center has seen referrals for marijuana double since September. In addition, he sees young people becoming increasingly reluctant to be treated, arguing that it can't be bad for them if it's legal.

Yet Daniel Rees, a researcher at the University of Colorado Denver, analyzed data from 16 states that have approved medical marijuana and found no evidence that legalization had increased pot use among high school students.

In looking at young people, Rees concludes: "Should we be worried that marijuana use nationally is going up? Yes. Is legalization of medical marijuana the culprit? No."

---

Growing support for legalization doesn't mean everybody wants to light up: Barely one in 10 Americans used pot in the past year.

Those who do want to see marijuana legalized range from libertarians who oppose much government intervention to people who want to see an activist government aggressively regulate marijuana production and sales.

Safer-than-alcohol was "the message that won the day" with voters in Colorado, says Tvert.

For others, money talks: Why let drug cartels rake in untaxed profits when a cut of that money could go into government coffers?

There are other threads in the growing acceptance of pot.

People think it's not as dangerous as once believed; some reflect back on what they see as their own harmless experience in their youth. They worry about high school kids getting an arrest record that will haunt them for life. They see racial inequity in the way marijuana laws are enforced. They're weary of the "war on drugs," and want law enforcement to focus on other areas.

"I don't plan to use marijuana, but it just seemed we waste a lot of time and energy trying to enforce something when there are other things we should be focused on," says Sherri Georges, who works at a Colorado Springs, Colo., saddle shop. "I think that alcohol is a way bigger problem than marijuana, especially for kids."

Opponents have retorts at the ready.

They point to a 2012 study finding that regular use of marijuana during teen years can lead to a long-term drop in IQ, and a different study indicating marijuana use can induce and exacerbate psychotic illness in susceptible people. They question the idea that regulating pot will bring in big money, saying revenue estimates are grossly exaggerated.

They counter the claim that prisons are bulging with people convicted of simple possession by citing federal statistics showing only a small percentage of federal and state inmates are behind bars for that alone. Slack said the vast majority of people jailed for marijuana possession were originally charged with dealing drugs and accepted plea bargains for possession. The average possession charge for those in jail is 115 pounds, Slack says, which he calls enough for "personal use for a small city."

Over and over, marijuana opponents warn that baby boomers who are drawing on their own innocuous experiences with pot are overlooking the much higher potency of the marijuana now in circulation.

In 2009, concentrations of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot, averaged close to 10 percent in marijuana, compared with about 4 percent in the 1980s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. An estimated 9 percent of people who try marijuana eventually become addicted, and the numbers are higher for those who start using pot when they are young. That's less than the addiction rates for nicotine or alcohol, but still significant.

"If marijuana legalization was about my old buddies at Berkeley smoking in People's Park once a week I don't think many of us would care that much," says Sabet, who helped to found Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization. "But it's not about that. It's really about creating a new industry that's going to target kids and target minorities and our vulnerable populations just like our legal industries do today."

---

So how bad, or good, is pot?

There are studies that set off medical alarm bells but also studies that support the safer-than-alcohol crowd and suggest promising therapeutic uses.

J. Michael Bostwick, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, set out to sort through more than 100 sometimes conflicting studies after his teenage son became addicted to pot. In a 22-page article for Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2012, he laid out the contradictions in U.S. policy and declared that "little about cannabis is straightforward."

"Anybody can find data to support almost any position," Bostwick says now.

For all of the talk that smoking pot is no big deal, Bostwick says, he determined that "it was a very big deal. There were addiction issues. There were psychosis issues. But there was also this very large body of literature suggesting that it could potentially have very valuable pharmaceutical applications but the research was stymied" by federal barriers.

Marijuana is a Schedule I drug under 1970 law, meaning the government deems it to have "no currently accepted medical use" and a "high potential for abuse." The only federally authorized source of marijuana for research is grown at the University of Mississippi, and the government tightly regulates its use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says plenty of work with cannabis is ongoing, but Bostwick says federal restrictions have caused a "near-cessation of scientific research."

The American Medical Association opposes legalizing pot, calling it a "dangerous drug" and a public health concern. But it also is urging the government to review marijuana's status as a Schedule 1 drug in the interest of promoting more research.

"The evidence is pretty clear that in 1970 the decision to make the drug illegal, or put it on Schedule I, was a political decision," says Bostwick. "And it seems pretty obvious in 2013 that states, making their decisions the way they are, are making political decisions. Science is not present in either situation to the degree that it needs to be."

The National Institute on Drug Abuse's director, Dr. Nora Volkow, says that for all the potential dangers of marijuana, "cannabinoids are just amazing compounds, and understanding how to use them properly could be actually very beneficial therapeutically." But she worries that legalizing pot will result in increased use of marijuana by young people, and impair their brain development.

"You cannot mess around with the cognitive capacity of your young people because you are going to rely on them," she says. "Think about it: Do you want a nation where your young people are stoned?"

---

As state after state moves toward a more liberal approach to marijuana, the turnaround is drawing comparisons to shifting attitudes on gay marriage, for which polls find rapidly growing acceptance, especially among younger voters. That could point toward durable majority support as this population ages. Gay marriage is now legal in 12 states and Washington, D.C.

On marijuana, "we're having a hard time almost believing how fast public opinion is changing in our direction," says Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance.

But William Galston and E.J. Dionne, who co-wrote a paper on the new politics of marijuana for the Brookings Institution, believe marijuana legalization hasn't achieved a deep enough level of support to suggest a tipping point, with attitudes toward legalization marked by ambivalence and uncertainty.

"Compared with attitudes toward same-sex marriage, support for marijuana legalization is much less driven by moral conviction and much more by the belief that it is not a moral issue at all," they wrote.

No one expects Congress to change federal law anytime soon.

Partisans on both sides think people in other states will keep a close eye on the precedent-setting experiment underway in Colorado and Washington as they decide whether to give the green light to marijuana elsewhere.

"It will happen very suddenly," predicts the Cato Institute's Lynch. "In 10-15 years, it will be hard to find a politician who will say they were ever against legalization."

Sabet worries that things will move so fast that the negative effects of legalization won't yet be fully apparent when other states start giving the go-ahead to pot. He's hoping for a different outcome.

"I actually think that this is going to wake a lot of people up who might have looked the other way during the medical marijuana debate," he says. "In many ways, it actually might be the catalyst to turn things around."

Past predictions on pot have been wildly off-base, in both directions.

The 1972 commission that recommended decriminalizing marijuana speculated pot might be nothing more than a fad.

Then there's "Reefer Madness," the 1936 propaganda movie that pot fans rediscovered and turned into a cult classic in the 1970s. It labeled pot "The Real Public Enemy Number One!"

The movie spins a tale of dire consequences "leading finally to acts of shocking violence ... ending often in incurable insanity."

--- Associated Press writers Kristen Wyatt in Denver, Gene Johnson in Seattle, Lauran Neergaard in Washington and AP researcher Monika Mathur in Washington contributed to this report.

--- Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter: HTTP://WWW.TWITTER.COM/NBENAC and Alicia Caldwell at HTTP://WWW.TWITTER.COM/ACALDWELLAP © 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- A prominent former Las Vegas doctor and endoscopy clinic owner was convicted Monday of all 27 criminal charges against him - including second-degree murder - in a 2007 hepatitis C outbreak that officials called one of the largest ever in the U.S.

A former employee at Dipak Desai's Endoscopy Clinic of Southern Nevada, nurse-anesthetist Ronald Lakeman, was found guilty of 16 of 27 charges against him but was spared a murder conviction stemming from the death of 77-year-old Rodolfo Meana in April 2012.

Defense attorneys for both men said they'll appeal.

Desai, a former Nevada state medical board member, surrendered his medical license, declared bankruptcy and turned over his business affairs to family members and lawyers in recent years. He stared straight ahead as the jury's verdicts were read.

His lawyers maintained that he was unfit for trial because of the effects of several strokes in recent years.

Desai's wife, Kusam, sobbed quietly and one of their adult daughters cried out as Desai and Lakeman were handcuffed and led from the courtroom to jail to await sentencing Sept. 5.

"We love you, Daddy," she said to Desai. "God is with you. Always with you."

Desai didn't appear to respond.

Desai, 63, and Lakeman, 66, face the possibility of life in prison for their multiple felony convictions.

Jurors heard more than 70 witnesses during seven weeks of testimony about a case that shocked the community when the outbreak became public in February 2008. Health officials issued advisories that led 63,000 clinic patients to get tested for potentially fatal blood-borne diseases, including hepatitis and HIV.

Investigators blamed unsafe injection practices and traced the infections of nine people to Desai clinics, although local and federal health investigators said they thought the hepatitis C infections of another 105 patients might have been related to similar practices. In those cases, however, they said they couldn't rule out other sources of infection.

The charges in Clark County District Court resulted from the infection of seven patients and bills paid by their insurers.

Prosecutors alleged that Desai and Lakeman recklessly and negligently put patients at risk with the reuse of syringes and vials of the general anesthetic propofol during procedures at a clinic where speed was emphasized over patient safety.

Health investigators testified that they believed vials became contaminated with hepatitis C virus from two different "source" patients on two dates in 2007, and that tainted anesthetic was injected into subsequent patients on those dates.

In addition to the murder charge, Desai was found guilty of seven counts of criminal neglect of patients resulting in substantial bodily harm, seven counts of reckless disregard of persons resulting in substantial bodily harm, nine counts of insurance fraud, two counts of obtaining money under false pretenses and one felony theft charge.

Lakeman was found guilty of 16 charges including insurance fraud, criminal neglect, reckless disregard, obtaining money under false pretenses and theft. He was acquitted of 11 counts.

"I'm elated that he didn't get convicted on the murder charge," Lakeman's lawyer, Frederick Santacroce, said outside court. "I'm disappointed that he was convicted of the other charges."

Desai attorneys Richard Wright and Margaret Stanish, and prosecutors Michael Staudaher and Pamela Weckerly, declined immediate comment.

The jury of seven women and five men deliberated Friday and most of the day Monday before reaching their verdict.

Another former Desai clinic nurse anesthetist, Keith Mathahs, 77, pleaded guilty in December to five felonies, including criminal neglect of patients resulting in death, insurance fraud and racketeering. He testified against Desai and Lakeman and could get probation or up to six years in state prison when he is sentenced.

The state criminal case is separate from a case pending against Desai and a former clinic business manager, Tonya Rushing, in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas.

Desai and Rushing have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and health care fraud charges alleging they schemed to inflate anesthesia times and overbill health insurance companies. Trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 20.

The hepatitis outbreak also spawned dozens of civil lawsuits, including several that yielded jury findings holding drug manufacturers and the state's largest health management organization liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to plaintiffs.

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