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National

    Potheads have for decades celebrated their love of marijuana on April 20, but the once counter-culture celebration that was all about getting stoned now is so mainstream Corporate America is starting to embrace it. No, Hallmark doesn't yet have a card to mark '420.' But many other businesses inside and outside the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry are using April 20, or 4/20, to roll out marketing and social media messaging aimed at connecting with consumers driving the booming market. On Saturday, Lyft is offering a $4.20 credit on a single ride in Colorado and in select cities in the U.S. and Canada. Carl's Jr. is using a Denver restaurant to market a hamburger infused with CBD, a non-intoxicating molecule found in cannabis that many believe is beneficial to their health. On 420 last year, Totino's, a maker of frozen pizza snacks, tweeted an image of a microwave and an oven with the message: 'To be blunt, pizza rolls are better when baked.' 'I think brands that associate themselves with cannabis kind of get that contact high. In other words, they're just considered to be cooler by association,' said Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University. 'As pot becomes more legal, more discussed, more interesting to people, more widely used, then 420 becomes more mainstream as well.' Marijuana normalization has snowballed since 2012, when Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational use. Eight more followed, including California, Oregon and Michigan. Medical marijuana is legal in two-thirds of the states, with conservative-leaning Utah and Oklahoma among recent additions. Meantime, the CBD market has exploded. CBD oil can be found in candies, coffee and other food, drinks and dietary supplements, along with perfume, lotions, creams and soap. Proponents say CBD helps with pain, anxiety and inflammation, though limited scientific research supports those claims. U.S. retail sales of cannabis products jumped to $10.5 billion last year, a threefold increase from 2017, according to data from Arcview Group, a cannabis investment and market research firm. The figures do not include retail sales of hemp-derived CBD products. Ben & Jerry's was one of the earliest big brands to foster a connection with the marijuana culture through marketing. The Vermont-based ice cream company features Cherry Garcia and Phish Food, honoring late Grateful Dead member Jerry Garcia and the band Phish. Both bands are favorites of the marijuana-smoking crowd. To mark 420 in recent years, Ben & Jerry's debuted taco and burrito inspired ice cream sandwiches. This year the company partnered with a San Francisco Bay Area cannabis retailer to give customers who place delivery orders on Friday and Saturday a free pint of Half Baked, a combination of cookie dough and fudge brownie. 'We have a lot of fun, never being overt, but really playing into the moment of 420,' said Jay Curley, the company's global head of integrated marketing. Last year, Ben & Jerry's also turned more serious, asking consumers to call on lawmakers to expunge prior marijuana convictions and press for pardons or amnesty for anyone arrested for smoking pot. This year the company is using the holiday to call for criminal justice reform. 'We're actually using this as an opportunity not to tell a stoner joke like we have in the past, but to raise what we see as a much more serious issue around justice,' Curley said. Those in the marijuana marketplace also are ramping up advertising around 420. Much of the marketing about cannabis or related products takes the form of online ads, emails, text messages and social media. Shops typically offer discounts. Some host parties with food and entertainment. The larger 420 events can draw thousands of people. Verano Holdings, whose businesses include cannabis shops, sponsors street festivals in Chicago and Tulsa, Oklahoma, where attendees can learn about marijuana products, listen to music and grab a bite. The company expects this Saturday's festival in Chicago, going on its third year, will draw more than 4,000 people. Last year, it drew 1,500, said Tim Tennant, Verano's chief marketing officer. In San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, Hippie Hill will again be the site of a 420 celebration. Last year, more than 15,000 attended the event, which has transformed from a small informal gathering into a full-blown festival of corporate sponsors and commercial booths selling smoking devices, T-shirts and food. Roger Volodarsky, whose Los Angeles-based Puffco makes portable vaporizers, has celebrated 420 since he was a teenager. Back then, he said, '420 was the day that you splurged on yourself and got high in interesting ways. It was the day that you made a gravity bong and coughed your brains out.' Volodarksy likes that some Main Street brands are getting into the industry and the holiday. 'What's important to me about these ad campaigns is they're speaking to people who aren't users and they're normalizing the space to people who aren't users,' he said. Even as popularity grows, some companies will stay away from 420 as a marketing tool, said Allen Adamson, co-founder of Metaforce, a marketing consulting company. 'If you're talking about a big brand that needs to appeal to everybody and is very risk-averse, then probably not,' he said. 'I don't think you'll see large financial institutions doing it.' ___ Follow AP's marijuana coverage: https://apnews.com/Marijuana
  • The desperate cry for help came from a girl who had lived in such isolation for 17 years that she didn't know her address, the month of the year or what the word medication meant. But after jumping out a window from the filthy home where she lived with her parents and 12 siblings, she knew enough to punch the digits 9-1-1 into a barely workable cellphone and then began describing years of horrific abuse to a police dispatcher. The brave girl's call that freed her siblings — some who had been chained to their beds — led to the opposite fate for their parents, David and Louise Turpin, who face 25 years to life in prison when sentenced Friday. The couple pleaded guilty in Riverside County Superior Court in February to torture and other abuse and neglect so severe it stunted their children's growth, led to muscle wasting and left two girls unable to bear children. Before the 17-year-old escaped from the home in a middle-class section of the city of Perris, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, the Turpins had lived largely out of view. David Turpin, 57, had been an engineer for Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Louise Turpin, 50, was listed as a housewife in a 2011 bankruptcy filing. Their home was neatly kept and neighbors rarely saw the kids outside the home. When deputies arrived, they were shocked by what they discovered. A 22-year-old son was chained to a bed and two girls had just been set free from their shackles. The house was covered in filth and the stench of human waste was overwhelming. Deputies testified that the children said they were only allowed to shower once a year. They were mainly kept in their rooms except for meals, which had been reduced from three to one per day, a combination of lunch and dinner. The 17-year-old complained that she could no longer stomach peanut butter sandwiches — they made her gag. The Turpin offspring weren't allowed to play like normal children. Other than an occasional family trip to Las Vegas or Disneyland, they rarely left the home. They slept during the day and were active a few hours at night. Although the couple filed paperwork with the state to homeschool their children, learning was limited. The oldest daughter only completed third grade. 'We don't really do school. I haven't finished first grade,' the 17-year-old said, according to Deputy Manuel Campos. Children said they were beaten, caged and shackled to beds if they didn't obey their parents. Investigators found that the toddler had not been abused, but all of the children were hospitalized after they were discovered. The seven adult children were living together and attending school in February when their parents pleaded guilty. Attorney Jack Osborn, who represents them, declined to comment on them Thursday. It's not clear if any children will attend the sentencing, but they will be offered a chance to speak or can offer written statements to be read in court. Defense attorneys would not say if their clients will address the court. The couple pleaded guilty to 14 criminal charges. Prosecutors said the deal would likely keep them in prison for the rest of their lives and spare the children from testifying. 'The defendants ruined lives, so I think it's just and fair that the sentence be equivalent to first-degree murder,' District Attorney Mike Hestrin said at the time of the plea.
  • The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium have announced a new, 1-month-old clouded leopard cub. >> Read more trending news Zoo officials said Saya, the mom, gave birth to two cubs, but unfortunately one died shortly after birth. Saya remained attentive to her remaining cub by nursing and grooming her. The zoo said while staff monitored Saya and her cub, they noticed the cub wasn't nursing on her own. Keepers and staff decided to step in after more than 12 hours without the cub nursing. After a veterinary team conducted various tests, the team made the decision to bottle-feed the cub several times a day with a mammal milk supplement containing vitamins and minerals to spur growth and weight gain. Zoo officials said keepers and staff will continue to care for her at the Animal Care Center. According to a release, clouded leopards are listed as endangered, with fewer than 10,000 left in the wild. 
  • The founder of a nonprofit group that was investigated over allegations it gave flutes possibly tainted with semen to schoolchildren has been charged with committing lewd acts against girls in California, it was announced Thursday. John Zeretzke, 60, of Ventura was indicted by an Orange County grand jury last month on charges involving five girls under age 14 in Los Angeles and Orange counties, the state attorney general's office said. Court records show he has pleaded not guilty to the charges, the Orange County Register reported. He was arrested this month and remained jailed Thursday, according to the county Sheriff's department website. A call to Zeretzke's home seeking comment was not immediately returned. Zeretzke founded an international program called Flutes Across the World that held programs in schools where thousands of students played or made flutes, which were distributed around the world. In 2017, California authorities began investigating reports that some flutes distributed to schoolchildren in Orange County school districts were tainted with semen. Parents in some districts were urged to put the flutes in paper bags and turn them in to authorities for testing. The new indictment did not provide many details and the attorney general's office declined to say whether the charges involved any allegations of tainted flutes. However, a statement from the office said the charges 'are not based upon allegations that he personally had physical contact with any child.' 'Crimes against children are despicable. Schools must represent a safe environment for our students,' Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in the statement. 'No parent should fear for the safety and security of their child at school. We will work relentlessly to hold people who exploit our children criminally accountable to the fullest extent of the law.' The state charges against Zeretzke involve different accusers than a previously-issued federal indictment that alleges child exploitation and receiving child pornography, authorities said. Federal prosecutors say Zeretzke tried to convince someone he believed was a 15-year-old girl to have sex with him and that he went to the Philippines in 2017 to have sex with a young person.
  • Here is a look at the stores planning to be open and those planning to close on Easter Sunday. >> Read more trending news Be sure to check with local retailers for Easter hours because some national chains set their own hours. Stores open and closed on Easter Academy Sports: Open Easter Sunday. Banana Republic: Closed Easter Sunday. Bass Pro Shop: Open Easter Sunday. Bed Bath & Beyond: Open Easter Sunday. >> Click here to see which grocery stores will be open on Sunday.  Belk: Closed Easter Sunday. Best Buy: Closed Easter Sunday. Cabela’s: Open Easter Sunday.  Costco: Closed Easter Sunday. >> Easter 2019: How to make perfect hard-boiled eggs for Easter egg dyeing Crate & Barrel: Closed Easter Sunday. CVS: Open Easter Sunday. Dillard’s: Closed Easter Sunday. Dollar General: Open Easter Sunday. Family Dollar: Open Easter Sunday. Fred Meyer: Open Easter Sunday. Gap: Closed Easter Sunday. Home Depot: Open Easter Sunday. >> How did crucifixion kill Jesus? J.C. Penney: Closed Easter Sunday. Kirkland's: Closed Easter Sunday. Kmart: Open Easter Sunday. Kohl's: Closed Easter Sunday. Lowes: Open Easter Sunday. Macy’s: Closed on Easter Sunday. Michael's: Closed Easter Sunday. Neiman Marcus: Closed Easter Sunday. Office Depot: Closed Easter Sunday. Office Max: Closed Easter Sunday. Old Navy: Open on Easter Sunday. Pier 1 Imports: Closed Easter Sunday. Pottery Barn: Closed Easter Sunday. Rite Aid: Open Easter Sunday. Ross: Closed Easter Sunday. Sam's Club: Closed Easter Sunday. Sears: Open Easter Sunday. >> Easter quotes 2019: Inspiring sayings of hope and renewal T.J. Maxx: Closed Easter Sunday. Target: Closed Easter Sunday. Walgreens: Open Easter Sunday. Walmart: Open Easter Sunday. Williams-Sonoma: Closed Easter Sunday.
  • Cardi B and Offset recently made a major real estate investment, with the duo reportedly buying several homes in metro Atlanta. >> Read more trending news The couple just shelled out $201,840 for five houses and an additional $48,080 for an adjoining plot of land on a street in Jonesboro in Clayton County, according to WABE. Four of the properties have three bedrooms and one bathroom and the other is a two-bedroom home with a single bathroom, WABE reported. Currently, four of the five homes have tenants. “We are investors, so we’re buying and selling property all the time,” the seller, JMH Home Buyers President Jeff Dimock, told the news station. “It was interesting that it was a celebrity couple, I assumed it was somebody looking for a good cash-flow investment. During the pre-sale conversations, we were not aware of the buyers’ identities.” According to WABE, Offset, born Kiari Kendrell Cephus, is listed as the main buyer and Cardi B, born Belcalis Marlenis Almanzar, is listed as the secondary buyer.  “I can’t speculate on their long-term plans for the properties,” Dimock said, “but in the near term they seem like excellent investments, so I would expect they would hold onto that income-producing value initially.”  Learn more about the duo’s purchase here. 
  • Disney World has gone solar and is now able to operate entire theme parks courtesy of the sun. >> Read more trending news Tucked along the edges of State Road 429 in Central Florida are more than a half-million solar panels that are capable of generator 50 megawatts of power.  'We hope everybody is as excited as we are about harnessing the power of the sun,' said Environmental Integration Director Angie Renner. The 50 megawatts are enough to power 25% of all of Disney World's power needs. The panels are also capable of moving so they can track the sun as it crosses the sky. Disney has chosen to go solar because it is part of its plan to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by the year 2020.
  • Thai authorities have raided a floating home in the Andaman Sea belonging to an American man and his Thai partner who sought to be pioneers in the 'seasteading' movement, which promotes living in international waters to be free of any nation's laws. Thailand's navy said Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet endangered national sovereignty, an offense punishable by life imprisonment or death. It filed a complaint against them with police on the southern resort island of Phuket. Thai authorities said they have revoked Elwartowski's visa. Elwartowski said in an email Thursday that he believes he and Supranee — also known as Nadia Summergirl — did nothing wrong. 'This is ridiculous,' he said in an earlier statement posted online. 'We lived on a floating house boat for a few weeks and now Thailand wants us killed.' The couple, who have gone into hiding, had been living part-time on a small structure they said was anchored outside Thailand's territorial waters, just over 12 nautical miles from shore. They were not there when the navy carried out their raid on Saturday. The Thai deputy naval commander responsible for the area said the project was a challenge to the country's authorities. 'This affects our national security and cannot be allowed,' Rear Adm. Wintharat Kotchaseni told Thai media on Tuesday. He said the floating house also posed a safety threat to navigation if it broke loose because the area is considered a shipping lane. Seasteading has had a revival in recent years as libertarian ideas of living free from state interference — such as by using crypto-currency including Bitcoin — have become more popular, including among influential Silicon Valley figures such as entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Elwartowski, an IT specialist, has been involved in Bitcoin since 2010. Several larger-scale projects are under development, but some in the seasteading community have credited the Andaman Sea house with being the first modern implementation of seasteading. 'The first thing to do is whatever I can to help Chad & Nadia, because living on a weird self-built structure and dreaming of future sovereignty should be considered harmless eccentricities, not major crimes,' Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer who heads The Seasteading Institute, said on his Facebook page. The floating two-story octagonal house at the center of the controversy had been profiled and promoted online by a group called Ocean Builders, which touted it as a pilot project and sought to sell additional units. The group describes itself as 'a team of engineering focused entrepreneurs who have a passion for seasteading and are willing to put the hard work and effort forward to see that it happens.' In online statements, both Elwartowski and Ocean Builders said the couple merely promoted and lived on the structure, and did not fund, design, build or set the location for it. 'I was volunteering for the project promoting it with the desire to be able to be the first seasteader and continue promoting it while living on the platform,' Elwartowski told The Associated Press. 'Being a foreigner in a foreign land, seeing the news that they want to give me the death penalty for just living on a floating house had me quite scared,' Elwartowski said. 'We are still quite scared for our lives. We seriously did not think we were doing anything wrong and thought this would be a huge benefit for Thailand in so many ways.' Asked his next step, he was more optimistic. 'I believe my lawyer can come to an amicable agreement with the Thai government,' he said. ___ Associated Press journalist Tassanee Vejpongsa contributed to this report.
  • Social media plays a big role in our everyday lives, but it can also save your life. >> Read more trending news Did you know that 95% of Americans own a cellphone? That means you’ve probably gotten an alert about severe weather. Social media use has grown in recent years. It’s where a lot of people go for information, but also a big step forward from how we used to get weather alerts. “Back in the old days there were a relatively limited number of ways to get severe weather information,” said Gary Woodall, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service. Woodall recommends three methods for receiving alerts. “One is hopefully a NOAA weather radio, because with the alarm feature with it will wake you up or alert you. Our partners at the commercial media are a great way to get weather information. Smartphone apps, wireless alert notifications that we receive on our smartphone,” Woodall said. The average person spends about 116 minutes a day on social platforms. One of the social media is Twitter. Woodall and his staff heavily utilize the site to keep the Mid-South informed when threatened by inclement weather. Woodall also said, “If we get pictures of damage or pictures of a storm that’s moving into an area, we’ll retweet it that way we can re-emphasize to people that yes this is a hazard, this is a threat coming through.”
  • A minister at a secretive church in North Carolina has been sentenced to 34 months in prison and ordered to pay $466,960 in restitution for his role in an unemployment fraud scheme involving businesses owned by members of the congregation. Kent Covington, a minister at the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, North Carolina, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud in U.S. District Court in Asheville in June 2018. He pleaded guilty to the charge in September. The conspiracy charge carried a possible maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. 'I've come here to admit what I've done is wrong,' Covington told U.S. District Court Judge Martin Reidinger before he was sentenced. But U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger said Covington showed a 'cynical disregard for the law.' He noted that the scheme happened at a time when the state agency that handles unemployment had to borrow money during the recession. 'It undermined the entire employment security structure of the state. It was sort of like picking the pocket of a dying man,' Reidinger said. The sentencing is the latest development in the investigation by The Associated Press that, beginning in 2017, documented claims of physical and emotional abuse at the church. AP also reported that authorities were looking into the unemployment claims of congregants and their businesses. Prosecutors say Covington and his employee, Dianne McKinny, laid off employees at one of Covington's businesses so they could collect unemployment benefits in 2008 when the company was struggling financially. But the employees continued to work at the company, Diverse Corporate Technologies, with the unemployment checks replacing their salaries. They later put the scheme into place at Covington's other business, Integrity Marble & Granite. Covington then implemented a variation of the scheme at Sky Catcher Communications Inc., a company he managed, prosecutors say. McKinny has pleaded not guilty. She is scheduled for trial May 6. In addition to conspiracy, McKinny is charged in a subsequent indictment with lying to federal agents. Besides Covington and McKinny, two others were charged in the federal investigation. Dr. Jerry Gross, a podiatrist, and his son, Jason Gross, were sentenced last week to three years on probation and jointly ordered to pay restitution of $162,276 after admitting to fraud at a podiatry clinic in Forest City, North Carolina. Both are listed as ministers on the church website. Jane Whaley, the church's leader, has not been charged, but she was named in a court document as someone who 'promoted' the scheme. The church has hundreds of members in Spindale, North Carolina, and a few thousand in churches in Brazil and Ghana. Former members said Whaley called it 'God's plan' to help the businesses survive the economic downturn and keep money coming into the church. Covington's lawyer, Stephen Cash, has said that while Covington pleaded guilty, it was not an 'admission that Jane Whaley instructed him to act.' Whaley's attorney, Noell Tin, has said Whaley 'strongly denies any insinuation that she was somehow involved in Mr. Covington's offense, as does Mr. Covington.' Nearly 100 Word of Faith members packed Reidinger's courtroom. The judge said many members of the community sent letters supporting Covington. Between the letters and the crowd of well-dressed church members filling the rows in court, the judge wondered what happened to Covington. 'This is a case that just baffles me. I've seen hundreds of cases and I think I have a pretty good grasp of the psychological pathology that underpins these cases. This one I don't understand,' he said. But he said one thing was clear: He 'needed to send a message to the community as a whole: You can't do things like that. You can't use any kind of government program as a personal piggy bank.' The scheme resulted in more than $250,000 in fraudulent claims between November 2008 and March 2013, according to the original indictment. In February 2017, the AP cited 43 former members who said congregants were regularly punched and choked in an effort to beat out devils. The AP also revealed how, over the course of two decades, followers were ordered by church leaders to lie to authorities investigating reports of abuse. AP later outlined how the church created a pipeline of young laborers from its two Brazilian congregations who say they were brought to the U.S. and forced to work for little or no pay at businesses owned by church leaders. Covington is described by former congregants as the highest-ranking member of the church to be charged in the unemployment case. His wife, Brooke Covington, is one of Whaley's most trusted confidants. Brooke Covington is facing unrelated state charges that she and other members of the church assaulted a congregant in 2013 in an effort to expel his 'homosexual demons.' ___ Read more of AP's Broken Faith series here . ___ Mohr contributed from Jackson, Mississippi.