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AK Beat: Planning for a legal marijuana industry

Alaska Dispatch News

Second Alaska Cannabis Institute Seminar set for October: The Alaska Cannabis Institute released the schedule for its second seminar Thursday, part of the ongoing effort to get interested parties in on the ground floor of a possible marijuana industry, should legalization efforts succeed. The seminar will include discussions by Chris Rempert, campaign director for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, attorneys, dispensary operators and growers. The first seminar was held in May. The cost to attend the seminar is a fitting $420. A vote on Ballot Measure 2 is set for the Nov. 4 general election.

Maybe it wasn't the wine: Forget that glass of wine with dinner; it might not be healthy after all. New research is throwing cold water on the idea that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption will improve cardiovascular health and thus potentially help prolong life. The new study out of the the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania reports findings that "call into question previous studies which suggest that consuming light-to-moderate amounts of alcohol (0.6-0.8 fluid ounces/day) may have a protective effect on cardiovascular health,'' according to a press release from the institution. Researchers there, in combination with others around the globe, studied people with a genetic variant of the "alcohol dehydrogenase 1B" gene, which is known to speed digestion of alcohol at a quicker pace and in the process make the drinker uncomfortable. People with this genetic difference suffer nausea and facial flushing when they drink, and as a result drink less. "By using this genetic marker as an indicator of lower alcohol consumption, the research team was able to identify links between these individuals and improved cardiovascular health,'' the university reported. The heart health of normal people drinking more was worse by comparison. Research, as yet, has not questioned exercise as a mean of improving heart health. It remains the best way to increase cardiovascular fitness.

In Pebble Mine case, Alaska bucks anti-federal regulation trend: Across the Interior West, there’s been a strong backlash to federal regulation of land-intensive activities from ranching to mining and the fossil fuel development, as well as to plans to impose new emissions standards, notes High Country News. While Alaskans also often decry federal overreach, the fight over Pebble Mine is unusual in the context of these trends, the High Country News piece points out, because the state’s residents are divided over the issue: “In rural Alaska, where sentiment against federal oversight runs deep, a group of remote residents are actually siding with the EPA. Not only that, they’re joining the agency in fighting a powerful lawsuit filed against it,” the piece notes. That move came, the piece notes, after the state asked to join the lawsuit -- originally filed by the Pebble Partnership -- against the EPA for its decision to preemptively review the mine before permit applications were filed, under provisions of the Clean Water Act.

Rise of the Arctic-monitoring machines: Scientists recently announced that they can produce accurate counts of polar bear populations from high-resolution satellite imagery. But remote data gathering in the Arctic might not long be confined to satellites or polar bears. According to the New Scientist, researchers are testing a slew of machines designed to withstand the rigors of polar research without the assistance of a human -- or at least a nearby human. The devices include wave buoys that can withstand being stuck in pack ice (and have robots that travel an attached cord extending down as far as a kilometer into the Arctic Ocean) as well as what they call “sea gliders” -- essentially underwater drones. All these devices dramatically expand the reach of scientist gathering data, particularly on sea ice: “Although this year's melt has only just begun, observations are already challenging model-informed assumptions about the process,” New Scientist writes “In late June, cameras on one wave buoy showed how its surroundings changed from solid ice to a vast, glossy ‘melt pond’ in just three days.”

As Northern Sea Route opens, China looks north: Is a Northern Sea Route about to become a key trade route? If it does, expect China to be a major player there, suggests a piece in The Economist on China’s ambitions in the North. The route connects eastern Asia, including Japan and China, with western Europe by way of the Bering Strait and Russia’s northern coast before following the edge of Norway to Europe’s major port cities. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the northern route shaves about 13 days off the typical time is takes to for a ship from China traveling the other, more established route through the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea (via the Straits of Malacca and the Suez Canal). The Economist reports that just four ships took the route in 2010, a number that had risen to 71 during last year’s season (the route is only passable from about July to November). Beyond trade with Europe, The Economist points out, China will be seeking resources to develop in the regions along the route, including oil and gas in Russia and mining in Greenland -- possibly even tourism in Svalbard.

An unusual Arctic society: Although it’s a part of Norway, which has a famously robust social safety net, the territory of Svalbard is a strikingly different kind of society: “a model that is closer to the vision of Ayn Rand than the Scandinavian norm of generous welfare protection,” writes the New York Times. While crime is almost non-existent in the archipelago that crosses the 80 degree north line of latitude, things problems other societies grapple with -- including homelessness and unemployment -- are illegal. While the mayor of Longyearbyen, the capital and largest town, acknowledges that approach won’t work elsewhere, “he does think it shows a clear link between unemployment and lawlessness. At the same time, it also debunks a view held by surging populist parties across Europe, including Norway, that immigration is largely to blame for rising crime,” the Times notes. Other distinct features of remote settlement -- including a claim to the world’s most expensive milk -- will sound more familiar to Alaskans.