Australia aims to lead export of medicinal cannabis

The Australian government has stressed its plan to become the leading exporter of medicinal cannabis in the world.

Australia will join Uruguay and Israel which both have announced plans to follow Canada and the Netherlands, who had passed legislation regulating the sales of marijuana beyond their domestic market.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said the move would also help local patients.

In 2016, Australia legalized the use of medicinal cannabis, but recreational cannabis use remains illegal in Australia.

“Our goal is very clear, to give Australian farmers and manufacturers the best shot at being the world’s number one exporter of medicinal cannabis,” Minister Hunt said.

The Labor opposition seems to approve the proposed move, making it possible for the new regulations to take place as soon as February 2018.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp reported the changes would extend to products including oils, patches, sprays, lozenges and tablets.

Mr Hunt hopes the change would have a tremendous impact on the local industry, benefiting local patients and businesses in Australia.

According to a United States consultancy company Grand View Research, the global market for medicinal cannabis could be worth up to $55 billion USD (A$70 billion AUD) by 2025.

More details to follow. Image 1 of cannabis plantation from Vice.

Dispute over chill marriage sparks controversy in Turkey.

Turkey’s directorate of religious affairs said that under Islamic law girls as young as nine-year-old could marry, leading to Turkey’s main opposition party to call for parliamentary inquiry over the matter.

The comments by the Diyanet, the state body which administers religious institutions and education, sparked outrage on social media from Turkish women’s groups.

Even though Turkey’s legal age of marriage is 18 but the practice of child marriage in religious ceremonies is prevalent among religious groups in Turkey.

Turkish law also permits 17-year-olds to marry with the consent of their parents or guardian, or 16-year-olds in exceptional circumstances with court approval.

The Diyanet’s recent statement on adolescence sparked the outcry among secular Turkish.

It said that, according to Islamic law, the beginning of adolescence for boys was the age of 12 and for girls the age of nine.

It later added that whoever reached the age of adolescence had the right to marry.

Thirty MPs of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) urged the government to launch an investigation into child marriage.

In a later statement, the Diyanet said it was only defining Islamic law and that it did not approve or support early marriages.

“Forcing a young girl to marry someone before they obtain the psychological and biological maturity, and before they gain the responsibility to make a family and become a mother, would not comply with Islam which puts consent and will as a condition in a marriage,” it said in its website.

“Our directorate has never approved early marriages in the past, and it never will,” the Diyanet added in a statement posted online.

In recent years, the tension between supporters of Turkey’s secular constitution and religious conservatives have increased in Turkey.

In 2016, the government withdrew a bill that would pardon men convicted of sex with underage girls if they had married them.

Critics said it would legitimize statutory rape and encourage the practice of taking child brides.

People took to the streets to protest the controversial bill in Turkey and the piece of legislation was condemned abroad.

More details to follow. Image 1 of people protesting in Turkey from The New York Times.

California legalizes cannabis use

California has legalized recreational cannabis use, becoming the largest state in the United States to lift restrictions on cannabis use.

Adults aged over 21 can possess up to an ounce (28 grams) of cannabis and can grow up to six marijuana plants at home in California, starting on January 1, 2018.

Oppositions to the law said the recent overturn of the long-standing policy against cannabis use will lead to more driving under the influence of the drug and give way to young people to drug use.

However, business analysts have analyzed that the marijuana industry could be worth billions of dollars in the next few years.

About 14 months ago, in a poll that took place alongside the US presidential election, Californians had voted in favor of Proposition 64 legalizing cannabis use.

Afterward, a framework of taxes and regulations has been set up to govern sales of cannabis.

Critics concerned the red tape will discourage, retailers, growers and consumers from leaving the state’s black market as only a few dozen shops have so far been approved to open.

Two major cities in California, Los Angeles and San Francisco have authorized any recreational marijuana outlets to do business.

Arcview’s CEO Troy Deyton said the first few years are going to be a mess as cities agree their own regulations, making ways for supply and demand to be established.

Mr Deyton later predicted there would be crazy fluctuation in price over the first or two years.

Arcview, a company which analyzes the global cannabis market, also estimates the illegal cannabis market is currently worth an annual $5.1 billion USD and once it is legalized it could be worth $5.8 billion USD by 2021.

It also predicts the state will generate over $1 billion USD per year from legal buyers in the newly created market which will now have to pay state, sales and municipal taxes.

However, the government has also crafted a law prohibiting cannabis use in public places with 1,000 feet of a school or while driving.

California followed six US states including Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, who previously have legalized recreational cannabis use in the US.

Despite this, the federal US government still prohibits cannabis use in general and regards it as illegal, classifying it alongside heroin and cocaine as a proscribed substance.

More details to follow. Image 1 of cannabis plantation from Huffington Post.

Iran bans social media apps

Iranian authorities have placed restrictions on social media networks which have been used to organize recent anti-establishment protests.

Irib, an Iranian state news agency, reported that the restrictions on messaging app Telegram and photo-sharing app Instagram are temporary.

One of the government officials stated that the decision was made to maintain public order and security of society.

Much of the information about the protests have unfolded via social media, and platforms like Telegram and Instagram have been used by protesters.

Approximately more than 50% of the country’s population said to be active on the messaging app Telegram.

Telegram’s CEO Pavel Durov tweeted that Iranian authorities took action after his company refused to shut down peacefully protesting channels.

Even though Telegram on Saturday had blocked a major foreign-based opposition channel, Amadnews, who called for violence against police.

Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, an Iranian Communications Minister, had earlier accused channels like Amadnews of promoting armed uprising and social unrest.

The protests erupted in the north-east region of the country as a dissent against economic hardship, but it appeared to shift into political in many places.

Many protesters across the country started chanting slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s interventionist foreign policy in the region.

Violence broke out in many places on Saturday, raising concern on the demonstrations which are expected to be held on Sunday.

Thus far, small crowds have gathered in Tehran and police have used water cannon to disperse protesters at a major intersection.

State-controlled television is expected to air a speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the coming hours.

More details to follow. Image 1 of protesters gathering in Tehran from Business Insider.

Iranian government urges people to go home

The Iranian government has urged people to stop illegal gatherings following two days of anti-establishment protests across the country.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli suggested people not to take part in these allegedly illegal gatherings, concerning public safety.

The Iranian regime blamed anti-revolutionaries and agents of foreign powers for the wave of anti-establishment protest.

In the meantime, thousands of pro-government protesters attended rallies on Saturday.

These official rallies were organized in advance of the anti-government protests, to mark the eighth anniversary of the suppression of major street protests.

The outbreak of anti-government protest was initially triggered by economic conditions and corruption but it appears the protests have shifted into political.

Slogans have been chanted against not just Mr Rouhani but Mr Khamenei, and clerical rule in general.

Protests have even been held in Qom, a holy city home to powerful clerics.

The protesters voiced discontent over Iran’s intervention abroad.

In Mashhad, protesters begged the government to be more focused on domestic issues rather than foreign affairs.

Other protesters criticized the regime for its role in supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Houthi rebels in Yemen, arguing their resources would be best invested to its own Iranian people.

More details to follow. Image 1 of mass protest from National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Zuma faces impeachment proceedings

The top court in South Africa has found that parliament failed to hold South African President Jacob Zuma accountable over a public funding case.

The ruling said parliament has to comply with its constitutional duties and set up impeachment proceedings.

Opposition groups brought the case to the court, hoping to trigger impeachment proceedings of President Zuma in parliament.

Judge Chris Jafta stressed that the assembly had failed to hold the president accountable.

“The assembly must put in place a mechanism that could be used for the removal of the president from office,” he added.

However, the court made itself clear that it could not intervene with the process in parliament and that it had no power to order an impeachment.

But the dissenting Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said the ruling was a clear case of judicial overreach.

Mr Zuma was accused of mishandling $15 million USD state money, using it for his own personal interest to upgrade his private house.

In March 2016, the court had previously given a ruling saying that the president had failed to address a watchdog’s findings and ordered the president to pay some of the money back.

The Treasury deemed a $631,000 USD president’s reimbursement to be reasonable.

Parliament then debated the matter and Mr Zuma survived a no-confidence vote, but Friday’s court ruling said that the procedures it followed were insufficient.

Mr Zuma has been hit by a number of corruption allegations, all of which he has strongly denied.

However, the 75-year old president is expected to remain in the office until general elections which will be held in 2019.

More details to follow. Image 1 of Jacob Zuma from CNN.

Apple to cut battery prices over iPhone slow down

Tech powerhouse Apple apologized following backlash after it admitted that it deliberately slows down some older models of its flagship iPhone product line and said battery replacement prices would be cut. 

The price of an out-of-warranty battery will drop from $79 USD to $29 USD in a $50 USD cut for iPhone 6 and later, Apple said in a statement posted online.

The United States tech firm said it will also release software next year for iPhone users to be able to specifically monitor battery health.

“First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades,” the company statement reads.

Apple explained the slow down was in an effort to “prolong the life” of iPhone’s with ageing batteries, naming the iPhone 6, 6s and 5SE models specifically.

It said it was pushing ahead with measures to “address customers’ concerns, to recognize their loyalty and to regain the trust of anyone who may have doubted Apple’s intentions”.

Apple made clear that lithium-ion batteries found in their iPhone’s become “less capable of supplying current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time”, resulting in a product shut down.

The iPhone turning off is a measure to “protect its electronic components”.

On Dec. 21, Apple admitted to the slow down.

Chief Executive Officer of Apple Tim Cook has been ordered by the company to use only private jets for business and personal use.

Cook’s salary in 2017 was just over $3 million USD, with $9.3 million USD in bonuses and some $89 million in shares promised on the condition of meeting certain targets.

Apple’s market capitalization rose to $868 billion USD in November 2017, holding the status of the world’s most valuable publicly-traded company.

More details to follow. Image 1 of the Apple iPhone 6s Rose Gold model from Business Insider. 

Largest Ukraine conflict prisoner swap

The Ukrainian government and separatist rebels on Wednesday carried out the largest prisoner exchange since the Donbass conflict began during the first months of 2014. 

The exchange of prisoners in general was crafted as one of the points in the Minsk peace agreement that was signed in February 2015, but has not been carried out in full since then, with analysts says the release doesn’t signify a wider improvement in relations.

Kyiv is giving up over 260 individuals back to the rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk regions, together known as the Donbass, with the pro-Russian separatists handing over some 70 prisoners to the federal government.

The swap utilizes buses among other vehicles that gathered at Mayorsk checkpoint near Horlivka in the eastern Donetsk region.

However, not all prisoners released by Kyiv wanted to leave the government-controlled central and western regions.

Red Cross spokesman Miladin Bogetic told the BBC that, even though charges have been dropped and they’ve been released, some former government prisoners “prefer to stay in the government-controlled side.”

It is unclear exactly why they are choosing to stay.

European Council on Foreign Relations Co-Chair Carl Bildt tweeted from the site of the exchange, describing the negotiated swap as “long-awaited”.

For a majority of fall 2017, negotiations that involved Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin brought about the exchange, along with the European Union and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The eastern Ukraine conflict sparked on April 6, 2014 following the Russian annexation of Crimea in the months before, an action the international community largely considers illegal, including Canada.

Multiple ceasefires were put in place between the eastern separatists who wish to join the Russian state and the federal government in Kyiv.

Right now, fighting has largely calmed with monitors describing a current status of a stalemate. Meanwhile, in Crimea, Russian has established a stronghold on culture and a military presence.

Ukraine used to be part of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and Crimea was transferred from USSR control to Ukrainian regional control in 1954.

Putin defended support for sepratists as “defending the Russian-speaking population in the Donbass”.

More details to follow. Image 1 of the prisoner exchange in Ukraine from Reuters. 

Canada to expel Venezuelan diplomat

Canada is set to expel a Venezuelan diplomat and block the country’s ambassador from making a return after Caracas expelled the Canadian and Brazilian envoys on Dec. 23 for criticizing its human rights record. 

As rallies surged across the country over the dictatorship of President Nicolas Maduro this past year, many in the international community have criticized his administration for breaking down democracy, curating a failing economy and human rights violations.

Maduro has ignored an opposition party majority in the regular congress, and created an alternative constitutional assembly filled with allies to his presidency.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland said Monday in a statement that the ambassador, who had already been withdrawn by Venezuela in protest over sanctions imposed by Ottawa in September, was no longer welcome in Canada.

In retaliation to Maduro regime declaring Canadian chargé d’affaires Craig Kowalik persona non grata, the Canadian foreign ministry also declared his Venezuelan counterpart persona non grata.

Freeland described Maduro’s actions regarding the Canadian envoy as “typical of the Maduro regime, which has consistently undermined all efforts to restore democracy and to help the Venezuelan people.”

“Canadians will not stand by as the Government of Venezuela robs its people of their fundamental democratic and human rights, and denies them access to basic humanitarian assistance.”

More details to follow. Image 1 of Chrystia Freeland from the Winnipeg Free Press.

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