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At Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, a new revolutionary drug will be tested for its potential to treat epilepsy. The hospital has been selected as one of only 10 sites for the trial tests for the new drug. The drug itself, named Epidiolex, is “a highly purified extract of the cannabis plant containing pure cannabidiol or CBD.”

Translation: A new drug derived from marijuana could help treat epilepsy, and Texas is at the center of the issue. 

The irony is obvious: Marijuana is not only still illegal at the federal level — because of its standing as a Schedule I drug within the Controlled Substance Act (a classification it shares with drugs such as heroin and LSD, not to mention the fact that it is deemed more dangerous than Schedule II drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine) — but also at the state level, where Texas was “among the nation’s leaders in marijuana possession arrests” in the first decade of the 2000s. 

The testing soon to begin at Texas Children’s Hospital is further proof that marijuana decriminalization is an issue far bigger in scale than an issue of mostly young citizens wishing to get high legally. Marijuana is illegal mostly because of cultural paranoia, not a genuine breadth of knowledge and understanding of the substance’s few dangers. In fact, marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug within the Controlled Substance Act has only made it more difficult for scientific research to be conducted on the drug, as a plethora of bureaucratic obstacles stand in the way.

But improvement of health, though a valid reason for decriminalization in and of itself, is not the only contributing factor to the argument. In its first year of legally selling “retail” marijuana to adults over the age of 21, the legal marijuana industry of Colorado has been a huge financial success. From January to the end of June, “sales of retail marijuana have reaped about $18.9 million in state taxes … according to the [Colorado] Department of Revenue.” And that number is only expected to increase, as in April, Colorado Gov. Tom Hickenlooper said he anticipated that by mid-July, the state would collect $114 million in taxes and fees — of an anticipated $1 billion in total sales — by mid-2015.

Unfortunately, the paranoia of a few has become the social and political norm for all. Recall Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire Las Vegas casino mogul who amassed fame during the last presidential election for his extravagant campaign contributions. Adelson has reportedly funded 85 percent of Florida’s anti-pot campaign. Because of our post-Citizens United political climate, a climate that has ultimately allowed both corporations and people to donate an unlimited amount of money to political campaigns, middle-class individuals in the state of Florida simply cannot contend monetarily with a billionaire who, due solely to his deep pockets, can influence elections with nothing more than a fat check. 

Yet marijuana’s medicinal purposes, not to mention the estimated $114 million of tax revenue from Colorado’s  sales, can only mean one thing: that marijuana usage will only continue to become more and more socially accepted. The recent midterm elections saw Washington, D.C., and the state of Oregon decriminalize marijuana for recreational purposes, and as time goes on, it stands to reason that more states will follow suit. The question then becomes not if marijuana becomes legal, but when.

The state of Texas would do well to be one of the states to tackle this issue sooner rather than later. Not only would our state benefit from the extremely lucrative taxing and selling of marijuana, but the issue itself seems ready to be taken by either political party.  On one hand, marijuana could be seen as a states’ rights issue and an issue of private freedom over federal enforcement — an issue that would ostensibly fit perfectly within the Republican Party platform. On the other hand, decriminalization of marijuana can be seen as a socially progressive issue, one that derives from apparent unequal enforcement of the law, as even in Texas, African-American residents have a higher rate of arrest for possession of marijuana than white residents. 

Only time will tell how Texas and the rest of the U.S. react to the growing acceptance — socially, legally and even scientifically — of marijuana’s benefits. One can only hope that Texas will soon stand on the right side of history instead of being late to the party on an issue with positive effects so heavily outweighing the negatives.

Sundin is an English and radio-television-film senior from San Antonio. Follow Sundin on Twitter @ericwsundin.

When the women’s rowing team takes to Lady Bird Lake on Saturday to compete in the Head of the Colorado regatta, it will mark the first race in the program’s history without former head coach Carie Graves, who helped start the program in 1998 and announced her retirement in May. 

Instead, the team is now in the hands of Dave O’Neill, a fresh face in Austin but a familiar sight at the NCAA Championships every spring.
During his 16 seasons as the head coach at UC-Berkeley, O’Neill won two NCAA team titles and led the Golden Bears to the NCAA Championships every year, earning him two National Coach of the Year awards. Given his success, O’Neill said he was ready for a new challenge once the top job opened up at Texas. 

“I felt the timing was right,” O’Neill said. “I had great success at Cal. I was really proud of everything we accomplished, and I worked with some wonderful, wonderful people, but then the last few years I started thinking, ‘Could there be something bigger and better?’ I don’t think it was necessarily a mid-life crisis, but I think I was certainly at a point in my career where it’s like, OK, I’ve been at Cal; I did a great job, and now I think I’m fortunate that I’m young enough that I can maybe go somewhere else and make a big mark and do something special.”

O’Neill said women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky’s commitment to raising the profile of Texas rowing, in addition to the size and resources of the University, is ultimately what drew him to Texas. 

“One of the things that Chris Plonsky said to me was, ‘We know we can be good at this sport. We know we should be good at this sport. We want to be good at this sport and good in terms of amongst the top programs in the country,’” O’Neill said. “And that’s entirely why I came.”

Texas won four consecutive Big 12 championships from 2009 to 2012, a streak that ended when Oklahoma edged out the Longhorns to capture the 2013 title. After a fourth-place finish for the Longhorns in 2014, O’Neill said he plans on using the races in the fall, which do not count toward the team’s ranking, to prepare for the more important regattas in the spring. 

Something that guides me every day is, ‘The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing,’ and the main thing is go fast on May 17, the Big 12 Championship,” O’Neill said. “So the fall is entirely about preparing for the spring. There’s three things we have to do: We have to get fitter physically; we’ve got to get better technically; and then we’ve got to improve the culture of the team.”

O’Neill’s résumé also includes stints as the head coach for the U.S. Women’s Under-23 National Team and coaching at the 2012 London Olympics. However, he said he most enjoys the aspects of competition that are unique to collegiate rowing. 

“The Olympics are super cool, but the NCAA regatta is the only championship regatta in the world where every boat is dependent on every other boat for their own success,” O’Neill said. 

The UT System has selected “Page/,” an Austin architectural firm, as project architect for the construction of the new System headquarters downtown. 

The System will consolidate its employees and services into one new building on Seventh Street between Lavaca and Colorado streets. The building will be nine stories high with more than 258,000 square feet of office space. 

“Page/” was selected from 12 different proposals submitted to the System and will provide all of the new building construction’s design services, which is expected to be completed by early 2017.

Currently, the System operates out of five buildings downtown: Henry Hall, Johnson Hall, Ashbel Smith Hall and the Lavaca and Colorado buildings. According to System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, the Lavaca and Colorado buildings will be demolished to make room for the construction of the new building.

In a press release from the System, Scott Kelley, executive vice chancellor for business affairs, said the total project cost is more than $102 million and will be funded through Revenue Financing System bonds and not through general revenue or tuition dollars. 

According to Kelley, the projected savings for the System could be between $2 million and $8 million a year, with a total estimated net savings of more than $125 million over 30 years.

Kelley said more than 50,000 square feet of the new building will be leased to retailers. The remaining System buildings  — Henry Hall, Johnson Hall and Smith Hall — will be available for leasing after services move to the new building.

LaCoste-Caputo said the construction will displace approximately 200 employees, who will temporarily move to other office spaces around Austin.

The UT System will lease out more than 50,000 square feet of its new consolidated building to retailers. 

Last week, the System announced administrative services and employees in downtown Austin will be integrated into one building on Seventh Street, between Lavaca and Colorado streets. The building will be completed in late 2016 or early 2017. 

The System currently operates out of five buildings downtown: O. Henry Hall, Claudia Taylor Johnson Hall, Ashbel Smith Hall and the Lavaca and Colorado buildings. According to System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, the Lavaca and Colorado buildings will be demolished to make room for the construction of the new building.

According to Scott Kelley, executive vice chancellor for business affairs, the estimated cost of the project is $102 million. Kelley said projected savings for the System could be between $2 million and $8 million a year, with a total estimated net savings of more than $125 million over 30 years. 

“If you look at the age, it’ll start saving money right away,” Kelley said. “[Ashbel Smith Hall] needs roof repair right now, the little plaza area needs to be waterproofed. If we chose not to [build a new office] we would be spending millions of dollars over the next couple of years to do those. By deciding to move, we can halt that and defer those costs and not make [those changes] and save money from the beginning.”

Kelley said current office space occupied across all five System buildings totals approximately 226,000 square feet, while the new building will have about 258,000 square feet.

“Because we’ll be more efficiently using the space, we can take the employees here and move them over to occupy about 200,000 square feet, so we’ve got about 58,000 additional square feet,” Kelley said.

Kelley said leasing out some of the space for commercial development has always been a possibility. 

“We’d always envisioned potentially putting some retail on the first floor,” Kelley said. “We thought that would be good for our employees. We think, and we had discussions with the city, it also may create a catalyst for future development in this area, which we would also applaud as residents here during the day.”

LaCoste-Caputo said approximately 200 employees will be displaced once construction begins and will be temporarily moved to other office spaces around Austin. In a press release from the System, Kelley said the remaining System buildings — O.Henry Hall, Claudia Taylor Johnson Hall and Ashbel Smith Hall — will be available for leasing.

“O. Henry Hall will remain owned by the UT System and leased to new tenants,” Kelley said in the press release. “The property housing the Claudia Taylor Johnson Building and Ashbel Smith Hall will be available for improvement or redevelopment.”

System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who announced last month that he is stepping down as chancellor, updated his higher education improvement plan, “A Framework for Advancing Excellence,” in 2012. In the plan, Cigarroa said he wanted the System to develop stronger “space utilization efficiencies.”

UT System employees and services will be consolidated into one new building on Seventh Street between Lavaca and Colorado streets in downtown Austin. 

Currently, the System operates out of five buildings: O. Henry Hall, Claudia Taylor Johnson Hall, Ashbel Smith Hall and the Lavaca and Colorado buildings. According to System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, the Lavaca and Colorado buildings will be demolished to make room for the construction of the new building. 

According to an email sent to System employees from Scott Kelley, executive vice chancellor for business affairs, the estimated cost of the project is $102 million. Kelley said projected savings for the System could be between $2 million and $8 million a year. 

In the email, Kelley said construction should be complete by late 2016 or early 2017.

Photo Credit: John Massingill | Daily Texan Staff

Obamacare has been a controversial policy since its inception in 2009, but now, one particular advertisement for Colorado’s state health exchange has been drawing scrutiny.

The ad features a young woman standing next to a young man, excitedly brandishing a package of birth control pills. The ad’s copy, presumably from the point of view of the young woman, reads, “Let’s get physical: OMG he’s hot! Let’s hope he’s as easy to get as this birth control. My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers.”

This ad came out hot on the heels of another ad spot by the same group, titled “Brosurance,” in which college-aged men doing keg stands express gratitude that their health care costs won’t cut into their beer money.

These ads have been subject to a slew of criticism and defense since they were released by Got Insurance?, a website funded by two advocacy groups, the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow Colorado Education. In a congressional hearing on Obamacare’s botched rollout, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, slammed Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for the Brosurance ad — despite the fact that Sebelius was not involved in the ad’s creation — and liberal Slate magazine rushed to the defense of the ads after conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh attacked them as promoting promiscuity

Given the politicization of Obamacare, it’s not surprising that the conversation about these ads turned into partisan attacks. But what is concerning is the lack of attention paid to the portrayal of young people in the ads. 

Young people as a group have not traditionally spent a lot on health insurance, but Obamacare aims to change that. According to an article this month from Time magazine, in order for the individual mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act to work, 2.7 million out of the 7 million people who sign up for Obamacare need to be young people who will, on average, put more money into the system than they get out of it. Looking at these statistics, it’s understandable why a state health care exchange feels the need to appeal directly to the young. But the way the Got Insurance? campaign trivializes the health care needs of young adults is unacceptable. 

These ads portray college-aged individuals as a demographic driven entirely by their most basic impulses. Instead of paying attention to actual portrayals of the young who need health insurance, the Colorado Initiative and ProgressNow made the disappointing choice to focus on crass caricatures straight out of MTV reality shows. 

Real college-aged people can be bankrupted by accidents, diseases and assaults, and it does those people a disservice to be portrayed as idiots whose actions are governed solely by sex and alcohol.

ProgressNow Director Amy Runyon-Harms told the Denver Post, “The whole intention of these ads is to raise awareness, and that’s what we’re doing. It’s great that more and more people are talking about it.” 

It’s fine that Runyon-Harms wants to raise awareness about health insurance for young people, but several of the ads released de-emphasize the reasons why it’s important for everyone to have insurance and instead paint college students in broad, unflattering strokes. Although we don’t live within the scope of the Colorado state health exchange, it’s problematic that any influential person thinks young people will be motivated by messages about alcohol and sex more than any other sentiment. Health insurance is a real issue. People on college campuses across the country need to demand a more delicate and respectful approach to the issues that face young people if we want the national perception of youth to evolve beyond the lowest common denominator.

Matula is a finance junior from Austin. Follow Matula on Twitter @chucketlist.

Both the varsity and novice teams will be competing in separate events over the weekend. Varsity will travel to New Jersey for the Princeton 3-Mile Chase, competing with two varsity eight boats and two varsity fours.
“This is a young team and I would like them to get a lot of racing experience,” said head coach Carie Graves.
After a slow start to the fall season, Texas is not only looking for success at Princeton but at home as well.
While most of the team will be on the road, a single varsity boat will represent Texas in the women’s open-eight at the Head of the Colorado.       
This is Austin Rowing Club’s 29th annual PumpkinHead Regatta. The 5,000-meter race invites crews from all over, including Big 12 rivals Baylor, SMU and Texas A&M.  In addition to the varsity race, Texas’ novice team will debut its first races of  the season.
“We’ll be ready,” novice head coach Caroline  King said. 
With four returning team members from last season as coxswains, Texas novices will lead by  experience. After weeks of tryouts, the final fall team of 44 girls will showcase their training in their first five-kilometer race. The Head of the Colorado will be held at Festival Beach Park all day Saturday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

DENVER — Ratcheting up pressure for Congress to limit access to guns, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that steps taken recently by Colorado to tighten its gun laws show “there doesn’t have to be a conflict” between keeping citizens safe and protecting Second Amendment rights to gun ownership.

“I believe there’s no conflict between reconciling these realities,” Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery in Denver, where he planned to step up his call for background checks for all gun purchases and renew his demand that Congress at least vote on banning assault weapons and limiting access to large-capacity ammunition magazines.

“There doesn’t have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights,” he said, noting that it’s been just over 100 days since the shooting rampage that killed 20 first-graders and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and reignited the national debate over access to guns.

In danger of losing congressional momentum on the issue, Obama was appearing in Colorado — which has a deep-rooted hunting tradition and where gun ownership is a cherished right — to highlight state efforts to tighten gun laws. His intent is to use Colorado’s example and public pressure to prod reluctant members of Congress to act.

Colorado recently expanded background checks for gun purchases and placed restrictions on ammunition magazines. Prospects for passage of similar measures by Congress appear bleak, largely because of concerns by conservative Republicans and moderate Democrats who come down more on the side of gun rights.

Obama said there is a middle ground.

“I think that Colorado has shown that practical progress is possible by enacting tougher background checks that won’t infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners, but will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” he said.

In Denver, Obama was meeting with law enforcement officials and community leaders at the Denver Police Academy, not far from the Aurora suburb where a gunman last summer killed 12 people in a movie theater. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for James
Holmes, accused of carrying out the Aurora rampage.

Among those participating in the Denver discussion with Obama was Sandy Phillips, the mother of Jessica Redfield Ghawi, 24, who died in the Aurora shooting. She conceded that gun control is a difficult issue, and said she has spoken to numerous lawmakers in Washington who “want to do the right thing without it costing their jobs.”

Despite being up 16 points at halftime, Illinois found itself having to battle back against a tough Colorado team late in the second half in the second round of the East Regional on Friday night. Illinois would eventually fashion a 9-3 run over the final five minutes to defeat Colorado 57-49.

“That game was about as strange a game that I have ever been associated with,” Illinois head coach John Groce said.

The Illini shot a paltry 31-percent from the field for the game, and at one point in the second half missed 14 straight field goals. Guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson scored 17 and 14 points respectively to lead their team to a gritty win to advance to the third round against Miami on Sunday.

“My shot wasn’t falling so I knew I had to get to the free throw line more,” Paul said. “That’s March Madness, you have to find ways to win these types of games.”

Colorado didn’t fare much better shooting the ball, especially in the second half, but 15 turnovers and two fouled out players allowed Illinois to mount a comeback and eventually take the game over. Askia Booker scored 14 points for Colorado and Andre Roberson flirted with a double-double with his nine points and eight rebounds.

“We were pushing it down their throats,” Booker said. “But give credit to Illinois for knocking down open shots when they needed to in order to win.”

The Buffaloes went on a 21-0 run after halftime and held a five point lead, but could not stave off the late run by Illinois.

“For the early portion of the second half [the Buffaloes] were the tougher team,” Groce said. “I’m anxious to see how they grow moving forward.”

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

DENVER — Colorado’s governor signed bills Wednesday that place new restrictions on firearms, signaling a change for Democrats who have traditionally shied away from gun control in a state with a pioneer tradition of gun ownership and self-reliance.

The legislation thrust Colorado into the national spotlight as a potential test of how far the country might be willing to go with new gun restrictions after the horror of mass killings at an Aurora movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed bills that require background checks for private and online gun sales and ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.

The debate in the Democratic-controlled Legislature was intense, and Republicans warned that voters would make Democrats pay. The bills failed to garner a single Republican vote.

The bills’ approval came exactly eight months after dozens of people were shot in Aurora, and a day after the executive director of the state Corrections Department, Tom Clements, was shot and killed at his home. Hickenlooper signed the legislation right after speaking with reporters about Clements’ slaying.

Hickenlooper said large-capacity magazines “have the potential to turn killers into killing machines.” He also said he realized some gun owners may be inconvenienced but that “the potential for damage seems to outweigh, significantly, the inconvenience that people would have,” he said.

The bills signal a historic change for Democrats in a state where owning a gun is as common as owning a car in some rural areas.

“He just slapped rural Colorado right in the face,” said Republican Sen. Brophy, who represents an eastern plains district. “They are overwhelmingly upset about this.”

Both bills take effect July 1. People who currently own larger-capacity magazines will be able to keep them.