The Road to Legalization of Medicinal Marijuana is not over

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The road to legalization of medicinal marijuana is a bumpy road. At one point, it seemed like the possibility of legalization was going to happen. Senator Allen Peake was pushing hard for House bill 885 which would have legalized the use of cannabis for the treatment of cancer and glaucoma. House Bill 885 did not pass because the General Assembly did not have the chance to deliberate the bill. Another bill, Senate bill 397, which would have reformed medical treatment for autistic children in Georgia was a last minute addition to HB-885 and this attachment did not fair well for both bills.

Georgia HB 885, titled Haleigh’s Hope Act was passed in the Senate 54-0 only to later have it shot down on the floor of the General Assembly. A few people though, were skeptical of this bill without some changes.

The director of Georgia C.A.R.E Project saw this coming.

“We supported HB-885 with the hope that the committee (House Health & Human Services) would identify the issues and modify the bill’, said Bell. “Without this reform the bill is dead!”

According to James Bell, a component of House Bill 885 would have given smugglers immunity from prosecution to anyone who smuggles cannabis extracts into Georgia. He claims the proposal encourages swindlers and patients to violate federal laws that could land someone in federal prison for minimum of ten years to life.

“HB-885 sets up yet another black market and jeopardizes the freedom of those seeking legal medicine’, Bell said. “We need to legalize cultivation of cannabis in Georgia. We need legislation that removes cannabis from the criminal elements.”

James Bell, a lobbyist for marijuana law reform, resentfully supported HB-885 but now will turn his attention to the 2015 legislative session and will begin to work on a new bill that allows for “legal cultivation, dispensing and doctors recommendations for cannabis use.”

Medicinal marijuana reform has gained some muscle in the past few years. Some of that muscle has came from Dr. Sanjay Gupta, an important advocate for medicinal marijuana and an influential individual being a CNN correspondent who has taken numerous trips to hospitals and laboratories hoping to understand the science behind marijuana.

“It is about emerging science that not only shows and proves what marijuana can do for the body but provides better insights into the mechanisms of marijuana in the brain, “ said Gupta. “This scientific journey is about a growing number of patients who want the cannabis plant as a genuine medicine, not to get high.”

Dr. Gupta went onto release a sequel to “Weed” entitled “Weed 2: Cannabis Madness.” In the sequel, Dr. Gupta looks at United States federal laws that contemplate marijuana as a drug with no medicinal value and provides voices from scientists who say the federal laws are wrong.

In other words it is the “politics of pot – the politicians vs. the patients.”

So who are these politicians that some are pro medicinal marijuana and others who are against medicinal marijuana.

Nathan Deal, Governor of Georgia expressed his interest in legalizing medicinal marijuana after HB-885 did not follow through.

“I will be talking with all of our state agencies who have any kind of involvement in dealing with that issue to see if there is something we can do to make this treatment possible, “ Said Deal.

Marijuana has been called the “gateway drug” and one of the many reasons why it is still illegal is because of the THC level in the plant. The THC in marijuana is what gives you the “high” but in marijuana there is cannabidiol.

Cannabidiol “is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that possesses a wide range of therapeutic benefits.”

Some of the few benefits of CBD (cannabidiol) are that CBD can offset the carcinogens found in metastasis of cancer. CBD is also an anti-psychotic medicine that can treat schizophrenia as well as other brain related concerns.

So why is medicinal marijuana still ILLEGAL?

One of the reasons why it remains illegal in Georgia can be unfortunately thanked to Senator Renee Unterman who attatched Senate Bill 397 to House Bill 885 which would have “reformed medical treatment for autistic children in Georgia.”

“She had an agenda important to her, but it needed to stand alone. She didn’t need to hijack another bill to push her piece of legislation”, said Rep. Allen Peake, the main sponsor of HB 885.

Therefore adding SB 397 to HB 885 it predicted failure.

This failure puts a speed bump on the road of legalization to medicinal marijuana and it affects everyone from patients to politicians because of how important a reform like this is in present American society.

“These parents don’t understand how the General Assembly works but this building is nothing but politics”, Unterman said in an interview with WSBTV.

Now it seems like the year 2013-2014 the legislative session failed to pass two important bills for autism and medical marijuana reform.

Nonetheless, if each bill stood alone then we might now be in an era where medical marijuana is legalized.

The road to legalization of medical marijuana started on a high note, and then ran into some problems; but the road continues and might just end in a high note.

State Senator Curt Thompson has filed State Bill-432 (Controlled Substance Therapeutic Relief Act), which will address many of the issues such as the quality of how medicinal marijuana will be served, the safe and legal access to cannabis oil.

(Regarding the State Senators busy schedule, he did not have the time to sit down with me to talk about his act)

His controlled substance therapeutic relief act will do the speaking for him.

The C.S.T.R act will ensure patients a safe way of receiving cannabidiol – this substance will help patients. People who comply with this act will not put the State of Georgia or their patients in violation of federal law.

For patients, SB-432 will allow two ounces of marijuana for use. If the qualifying patients registry identification card states that the qualifying patient is authorized to cultivate marijuana, then eight marijuana plants contained in an enclosed and locked facility will be provided. However, if the patient is moving living locations then the marijuana plants will not have to be in an enclosed and locked facility for travel.

Locally, the people of Athens and its GOP heard some good news about legalization of medicinal marijuana from Governor Nathan Deal.

Governor Deal has been in constant communication with the state pharmaceutical board, composite medical board, and the state medical school as well as the Georgia Regents University in Augusta all about testing on volunteers with cannabinoid oil.

Governor Deal will be looking over this reform very carefully in legalization of medicinal marijuana.

“This is not something we want to open the floodgates on,” Deal said. “It has to be done in a very controlled manner.”

If the trails were successful, the General Assembly could take up medical marijuana again.

State Bill 432 will do what House Bill 885 couldn’t do – pass. So lets hope for the best for the patients who are suffering from cancer, glaucoma, and other diseases that can be cured by medicinal marijuana.


Crowded Contest in District 10

By Eli Watkins

For seven years now, a member of Congress hailing from Athens, Rep. Paul Broun, M.D. of the 10th District, has received a mixture of scorn and praise for his colorful statements and conservative voting pattern. Broun is running for retiring U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss’ seat, which leaves the race for the 10th District wide open.

The people of the 10th will vote to replace Broun this year, whether he successfully ascends to the Senate or his career goes the way of the wooly mammoth.

Seven of the eight candidates qualified for the ballot are Republicans. The overwhelming partisan imbalance reflects the fact that the 10th district leans heavily republican. According to the Cook Political Report, this district’s voters went for the 2012 Republican nominee for president, Governor Mitt Romney, by a margin of 26 percentage points. In 2012, Broun won the general election unopposed, despite 4,000 write-in votes for deceased English biologist Charles Darwin. Barring any unforeseen circumstances involving their eventual nominee, the Republican voters in the 10th district will likely decide the election.

As it stands now, the district spans many rural locations in the eastern side of the state. It stretches from Barrow and Walton counties in the northwest to Johnson and Jefferson in the southeast. Major cities include Athens, Milledgeville, Monroe, and Winder.

The general election is on November 4, but in a district this conservative, it seems the more important date to pay attention to is the primary on May 20.

Some of these candidates differ on rhetoric, but their policy stances and mutual distaste for President Obama show they agree on broad political principles. Their backgrounds involve military service, business experience, grassroots involvement, and one count of involvement in the legislature. Please see the list below for details on each candidate.

  • Mike Collins is a business owner from Jackson, Georgia. He is the son of former Rep. Mac Collins, who defeated Rep. Broun in a (1992) primary. According to his website, this Collins has spent much of his life in the private sector, serving on the Boards of Georgia’s Associated Credit Union and Motor Trucking Association and as president of his county’s Chamber of Commerce, as well as running his own trucking company. His campaign is focusing on this private sector experience. Brandon Phillips, a consultant for the campaign, said, “He’s the only one with real business experience.” On the issues, Collins is a conservative candidate in general agreement with his opponents. He is against tax increases, same sex marriage, and the availability of abortions. He supports Fairtax, robust military spending, and gun rights. According to the FEC, Collins’ disclosures show $324,606 in total contributions.
  • Gary Gerrard is a former Army officer and an Athens native as well as a practicing attorney and former adjunct law professor for a few universities including the University of Georgia. He supports a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and advocates the creation of a budget reconciliation commission to increase action on budget cuts in the style of a mechanism Congress employed to close military bases. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and abolish the Department of Education. When asked what distinguishes him from his opponents, Gerrard said, “There is at least one person in the race, maybe more, that has an originalist intent of the constitution that I believe is naive.” According to the FEC, Gerrard’s disclosures show $114,835 in contributions.
  • Jody Hice is a radio host and minister living in Walton County. His religious background and his political activism are intertwined. In a forum hosted by the Newton Conservative Liberty Alliance and the Covington News, Hice summed up his appeal when he said, “I’m a Christian. I’m a constitutionalist. I’m a conservative.” Hice is proud over his fight with the American Civil Liberties Union over a Barrow County courthouse’s display of the Ten Commandments. In 2008, he joined 30 other pastors in protesting an IRS code by telling his congregation to vote for Senator John McCain. Perhaps the most overtly pro-Broun candidate, Hice takes some of the most absolutist conservative positions. He makes a number of pledges on his website, including a promise not to raise the debt ceiling, a policy many economists describe as more or less the economic equivalent of seppuku. According to the FEC, Hice’s disclosures show $255,567 in total contributions.
  • Donna Sheldon has the dual distinction of being the only woman and prior office holder in the race. She served in the Georgia House of Representatives, where she eventually became Chair of the House Majority Caucus. She helped craft a bill on the House Transportation Committee that led to the T-SPLOST referendum in 2012. Her work in the legislature earned her praise from several right-leaning organizations. American Conservative Union gave her a 100 percent rating. The Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life organization, endorsed her in this race for her firm history of support for pro-life initiatives. According to the FEC, Hice’s disclosures show $384,056 in total contributions.
  • Stephen Simpson is a retired military officer from Milledgeville. No stranger to running in this district, Simpson lost to Broun in the 2012 primary, but is now bolstered in the crowded field with the support of former Governor Sonny Perdue. Simpson is also a former member of the intelligence community. When he brought up this point at the NCLA and Covington News forum, he said wryly, “When I worked for the NSA, we didn’t overreach.” He often references Obama administration controversies like the attack in Benghazi, Libya and discriminatory IRS practices, popular topics in the republican base. He also focuses, like his opponents, on budget cuts and employment. According to the FEC, Hice’s disclosures show $185,630 in total contributions.
  • Brian Slowinski is a self-described non-establishment conservative tea party republican candidate, and to the observer, it appears he is right. Whether it is his trademark of repeating his name three times or his homemade announcement video on YouTube, people can see Slowinski really was correct when he said, “I’m not part of the professional political class.” Slowinski holds Rep. Broun in high esteem, and it seems he would vote similarly to the tea party favorite. His issue positions for the most part are similar to the rest of the candidates. However, Slowinski also has an anti-establishment and libertarian bent. He supports firing Speaker John Boehner and auditing the Federal Reserve. Hice’s campaign has no funds listed by the FEC for 2013.
  • S. Mitchell Swann is a Marine Colonel from Athens. He has experience in foreign policy. According to his website, Swann worked on U.S. policy for the Middle East when he was a staff officer with U.S. Central Command. Given his background, it is no surprise that Swann focuses on international issues more than the other candidates do. Demonstrating his perspective in this regard, he said, “We are the last nation of consequence in Western Civilization.” However, he does share many of the domestic concerns as his opponents. He supports budget cuts and a flat tax. One area he may differ from his opponents on is immigration. Swan has a plan to offer undocumented immigrants windows of opportunities to pay fees and ultimately gain citizenship. The FEC did not have anything from Swann’s campaign because he had not entered the race until after the last disclosure deadline.

Voters will decide which Republican candidate of those seven listed above to put on the general election ballot. On the other side of the aisle stands Ken Dious, the sole Democrat in the race. He is a civil rights lawyer, and according to his website, “was the first African-American student at University of Georgia to integrate the football team and wear a Bulldog uniform.” This means that if Dious were to win the election, Georgia’s congressional delegation would have another member of the civil rights movement.

When it comes to policy, Dious’ positions span the portion of the U.S. political spectrum unoccupied by his opponents. According to his website, Dious believes the state of Georgia should promote its “attractive tax code,” but also said he supports a “national healthcare plan.” He served as an Obama delegate in the 2008 Democratic National Convention, which may put him at odds with the vast majority of this district’s anti-Obama voters.

Short look at Ken Dious’ law office and campaign headquarters

According to the FEC, Dious’ disclosures show $11,395 in contributions. To democratic activists, this campaign seems like a good chance for Dious­–or any other Democrats looking for footholds in the area–to build up support as the state’s demographics change. Still, Dious is hopeful about his chances.

“I think my chance in this race is good,” said Dious, “but we’re trying to get my message out.”

Unless one of the Republican candidates walks away with the May primary, the two highest polling candidates will go on to compete in a runoff in June. Then the winner of that contest will face the hurdle that is the November general election. So far, the qualifying process narrowed the 700,000 or so people in the 10th district to eight possible candidates. Now it is up to the voters to make that last jump down to one representative.



The Denson versus Denson Athens-Clarke County Mayor Debate

By David Schick

The first official debate for the Athens-Clarke County mayoral race took place Wednesday night between the only two candidates running for office, incumbent Mayor Nancy Denson and her opponent Tim Denson (no relation).

The debate was sponsored by the University of Georgia Young Democrats and held inside the Zell Miller Learning Center and approximately 200 hundred people came out to watch.

Tim Denson, the challenger and local activist, said in his opening statement that he’s got a “21st century vision” for Athens and that the city currently isn’t doing enough for residents of ACC. In addition to his participation in Occupy Athens, Tim Denson has collaborated with the NAACP and Economic Justice Coalition.

Among the chief concerns for Tim Denson is poverty. He’s devoted a sizable amount of his platform to ambitious ideas that he believes will help cut down on the 40,000 people, according to U.S. Census data, who live below the poverty line in Athens.

“Crime and graduation rates can be connected to our poverty levels in Athens. Poverty is something we shouldn’t accept,” says Tim Denson.

One of the more controversial items on Tim Denson’s platform is to decriminalize minuscule amounts of marijuana at the local level, which stands in contrast to both state and federal law. Tim Denson added that criminal charges for marijuana impact minorities four times greater than non-minorities.

Mayor Nancy Denson, for the first time publicly, concurred with her opponent and endorsed decriminalizing and deprioritizing the arrests for “small amounts of marijuana.” She added that a marijuana arrest shouldn’t affect someone for the rest of his or her life by creating a criminal record.

Free buss service is another one of Tim Denson’s platform points that he is vehemently pushing for. He has plans to combine UGA’s and Athens’ transit system. “When you increase bus fares, you lose ridership. We need to recent reverse the fare hikes,” he says.

Mayor Denson says that Tim Denson is a “nice young man” with ambitious ideas, but a mayor has to set priorities. “It’s wonderful to have great ideas, but you have to have a way to do it and everything comes down to dollars,” says Mayor Denson. She argues against Denson’s platform items that call for increased public transit service and for governmental help with childcare saying that you’d have to take those tax dollars from somewhere else.

She adds that a tax increase for people already living here would make things worse for those living below the poverty line and could cause people to move away from Athens. “Everything comes down to money,” says Mayor Denson.

One of the major differences between Mayor Denson and her opponent is that she puts an emphasis bringing in big business from out of town to develop in Athens.

“My emphasis always has been and will be on economic development, because that’s the real answer to fighting poverty,” says Mayor Denson.

The mayor emphasized bringing the Caterpillar manufacturing plant to Athens as one of the highest achievements of her administration, which she says will ultimately bring 1,400 jobs to the community.

“We can’t just be relying on businesses and corporations coming from out of state to bring jobs to us,” contends Tim Denson.  He supports the idea of investing more in local tech startups, like the local non-profit company Four Athens. He adds that the director tells him the city “is not doing enough” to support local entrepreneurs.

Tim Denson also took a bold stand against the Board of Regents at the University System of Georgia by claiming that they were discriminating against undocumented students with their policies that prevent them from attending Georgia’s top-tier public universities.

Another difference between the candidates is the creation of a fee for the use of plastic grocery bags. Tim Denson supports it as a way to cut down on the waste in rivers and streams, but Mayor Denson says it would be bad for those already struggling financially. 

The mayor, arguing such a fee might disproportionately affect the poor, a constituency that is a focus of Tim Denson’s campaign, said whoever might be affected by the bag fee, it’s “not going to be the little yuppies who climb into their SUVs and go to Earth Fare” with their canvas grocery bags.

Tim Denson reiterated his plan for a “21st century” Athens in his closing remarks, saying that we need ambitious ideas and an “ambitious mayor” in office. Mayor Denson said in her closing statement that if you vote for her, “you will get more of the same. You will get more of what you’ve been getting for 35 years.”

Drinking Underage in a College Town

The average student turns 21 during their junior year of university, leaving a large majority of freshman, sophomores, and juniors under the legal US drinking age.

People ages 12 to 20 years drink 11% of total alcohol consumed in the United States even though it is illegal under the age of 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also said that more than 90% of this alcohol consumed by minors is in the form of binge drinks.

University of Georgia Chief of Police Jimmy Williamson said in an interview with the Red & Black that he is noticing rising blood alcohol content levels in students being arrested.

“The alcohol levels that we’re seeing now are much greater and we are noticing that versus five, seven years ago, we’re having to involve EMS a little more than we used to,” Williamson told the Red & Black. “We’re seeing in the 0.30s more than we ever have.”

Downtown Athens is filled with endless venues and social opportunities, many of which involve alcohol. How do police enforce drinking laws when nearly half of the UGA student population is underage?

The Athens-Clarke County Police have many divisions within their department, according to their website. The ACCPD website said the Downtown Operations Unit is a part of the Uniform Division which “consists of the men and women who patrol Athens-Clarke County and meet the public on a regular basis.”

Lieutenant Gary Epps of the ACCPD Downtown Operations Unit said their purpose is to “provide the safest environment possible for what is considered the entertainment district for Athens-Clarke County,” especially when the majority of underage arrests are made in the downtown area, according to Lt. Epps.

“The Athens-Clarke County Police Department is fully aware of the amount of underage drinking that occurs throughout our community,” said Lt. Epps. “On any given night, the officers may be outnumbered 1000 to 1. We rely heavily on officer presence and strong enforcement of laws [and] ordinances to accomplish our order maintenance mandate.”

Although law enforcers may occasionally be outnumbered, their presence in the downtown area imposes a lasting impact on those drinking underage.

“While a strong enforcement stance may not prevent underage drinking, it certainly helps curb behaviors associated with the consumption of alcohol, which is most often the catalyst for other risky behaviors that lead to victimization,” Lt. Epps said. “The fear of being arrested seems to have a calming effect for some.”

Many underage drinkers agree with Lieutenant Epps. Underage Sophomore in Athens said the police presence in the downtown area impacts his behavior when drinking.

“No matter how much I drink, I see the cops on the corner and I sober up instantly,” Sophomore said. “I know that I can’t draw attention to myself for fear of being arrested.”

Lt. Epps said the “vast majority of underage arrests are made only after attention is drawn to the violator for other observed behavior.” He said violations range from open containers, urinating in public, and getting turned down from bars with a fake ID.

Bar A’s Manager agreed to an interview on the condition that he, his workers, and his bar remain unidentified. Manager said that underage drinkers are many times caught for offenses such as dress code violation before getting in trouble for being under 21.

“I myself was denied once going out to [a bar downtown] for having my hat on backwards,” Bar A’s Manager said. “I think things like that are what draw attention to a lot of these underage drinkers.”

Veteran Bartender at Bar A said she gauges potential underage drinkers through both their demeanor and conversation.

“One way I can tell who might be underage is by the way they act and talk about alcohol,” Bartender said. “I’ve denied people at the bar before if [they] look too drunk. I’ve told them ‘I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable serving you.’ It’s a little awkward sometimes, but I’m just trying to help them.”

Former Doorman at Bar B said his responsibility was to monitor the venue’s entrance and allow people of age into the bar.

“Most of the time, I turned people away for expired ID’s,” Doorman said. “It was a common indication of kids trying to use fakes.”

Drinking manifests common behaviors in underage offenders, according to Lieutenant Epps. He said that conduct ranges from “fighting [or] boisterous behavior to overindulgence resulting in situations requiring immediate medical attention.”

Heavy intoxication “increases the chances of a person becoming a victim of a crime,” according to Lt. Epps. Youths who drink underage are more likely to experience fighting, physical and sexual assault, unintentional injuries, and abuse of other drugs, according to the CDC.

The names of people interviewed and bars visited have been changed with their best interest in mind.

Caterpillar Thrives as Road Nears Completion

By: William McFadden

The newly constructed Caterpillar plant located in Athens has experienced some minor problems in an otherwise smooth partnership between the company and city said officials from both parties.

A crack in the road was noticed shortly before the grand opening of the plant, causing concerns about the safety of those coming in and out of the plant.

According to Oconee County Economic Development Director Rusty Haygood, “there was an old burial pit that was under the surface of the road. Through the settling process the road began to crack.”

Emil Beshara, the Oconee County Public Works Director, stated they first noticed the crack “sometime in early October, only a few weeks before the plant was set to open.”

Once it was determined that the road posed a threat to drivers, officials decided that it was time to take action.

“The surface was removed and the burial pit, which contained some sort of organic matter, was cleaned out,” said Haygood. “Then new dirt was put in and the road was repaved.”

Caterpillar has delivered on its promise of job creation and city spending. According to Oconee County Observations, a citizen blog dedicated to Oconee County happenings, the corporation filed a compliance report on February 26 stating it had provided 364 full-time jobs in 2013 and had invested over $100 million.

The company had originally promised to spend $50 million in 2013 and agreed to employ 100 full-time workers a month; Caterpillar averaged 214 full-time workers hired per month last year, Oconee County Observations reported.

According to the blog, Caterpillar hired 60 contract service workers, the highest number of any group, 54 agency production workers, 44 welders and 31 production assemblers amongst other categories.

Caterpillar Project Manager Teresa Curtis is optimistic about the company’s future.

“2013 was a very productive year, we were able to provide jobs for over 350 people,” said Curtis. “We look to do more of the same in 2014. Our goal for the next year is to continue providing jobs and reach our magic number of 1,400 employed.”

While the company has held up its end of the agreement, officials for Oconee and Athens-Clarke County are still working to fix the road.

The two counties, Oconee and Athens-Clarke, have invested over $18 million in project expenses for Caterpillar including $6.7 million for road improvement and $10 million for the land, according to a report the counties released in January Oconee County Observations reported.

“The road is in good shape, and we expect the project to be completed within the next two weeks,” Beshara said. “The project took time, but we wanted to be thorough and do it properly.”

It has taken time for this road to be fully repaired and Beshara blames part of the delay on the recent weather in Athens. The road, located on highway 78, has been shut down during this process causing workers to use the secondary entrance on Atlanta highway.

“Those couple of weeks in February caused us to briefly fall behind schedule,” Beshara said. “With the snow and ice we weren’t able to work on the roads until they were clear.”

According to Beshara they had hoped to finish the road building project before March, but they had to be sure that the road was set properly, and the freezing temperatures interfered with that process.

Once the roads are fully repaired, no immediate problems remain evident, and the company and city will be able to continue their goal of providing stable jobs for the Athens’ community.

Music makes a scene in Athens economy

By Taylor West

The doors of the 40 Watt Club open at 9 p.m and people trickle into the dimly lit venue to buy their first drinks of the night. The opening band takes the stage, the audience grows and two acts later the headliner, Reptar, walks on stage and looks out over a screaming, intoxicated full house.

It’s a typical Saturday night in Athens.

Athens is home to many music venues from the Georgia Theatre to the Caledonia Lounge and the Melting Point to the dozens of bars and restaurants that play live music multiple nights a week, and has produced countless bands, ranging from unknown groups to R.E.M., the B-52s and Widespread Panic.

There is no question Athens has a deeply engrained and widely known music culture that is an important part of the town’s identity. The New York Times even said the Classic City “might as well be known as Live Music Central” because of the “waves of fresh local acts and a growing number of live music sites” since the 1980s.

But what may go unnoticed is the strong presence of the music industry in the economy.

There are 52 total establishments for arts, entertainment and recreation in the Athens-Clarke County metropolitan statistical area in 2011 with a reported annual payroll of $13,209,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Athens outnumbers other comparable towns with downtown music scenes. For example, Lawrence, Kan., in the same category, has four fewer establishments and takes in  $6,588,000 less annually.

David Barbe, director of the music business certificate program at the University of Georgia, said the music’s affect on the economy in Athens is bigger than most people realize.

“It is a huge part of Athens’ economy. A normal, Friday night, packed rock band show there will be 1,000 people drinking $5 Bud Lights at the Georgia Theatre… so you know that beer sales downtown, in my opinion, are quite healthy,” Barbe said. “You see what I’m getting at.”

Jeff Humphreys, the director of the Selig Center in the Terry College of Business, said there are two ways to monitor the economy of the music scene — production, or money made from music produced in Athens, and performance.

“A performance impact would consist of attracting visitors to Athens,” he said. “The big economic impacts from performance are either putting heads in beds… plus there may be some day trip visitors that don’t actually spend the night but they may drive over from Atlanta and go to a restaurant and the venue.”

Barbe said with a band like the Drive-By Truckers, who played a three-night stand at the 40 Watt a few weeks ago, it’s believed 50 percent of the attendees to the concerts are from out of town.

“It’s fair to say that these 300 people are going to spend, between a hotel room for three days and food and beer and records and gasoline, it’s fair to say that these people spend $700 while they are here,” he said.

Drive-By Truckers, though they have a larger following than many bands playing in Athens, is just one of many groups that comes to town every year. Additionally, outside of downtown groups such as the Cleveland Orchestra attract hundreds of a different crowd when they play venues Hugh Hodgson Hall.

Though Hannah Smith, director for marketing and communications for the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she is “not aware of a specific study that has done an economic study that is tied back to the music scene,” the bureau does compile tourist information.

Smith in a subsequent email wrote that of people who signed in at the Athens Welcome Center and those who requested information online, 5 percent self-identified as having a primary interest in music.

“Destination marketers are most successful when they are able to promote what is most distinctive about their destination, experiences travelers can’t get closer to home,” Smith wrote despite the low percentage. “For Athens, that distinctive factor is the continuing vibrancy of our live music scene. Music is integral to our tourism product and definitely contributes to the local economy by bringing in tourists from around the globe.”

And Barbe said the music industry in Athens has been growing “exponentially” for the last 30 years.

“When I came here in 1981 there were about maybe 15 or 20 cool local original bands, now there are hundreds. There was no music business infrastructure at that time because for 15 or 20 local bands and a couple of bars you don’t need that,” he said. “[Now] with hundreds and hundreds of bands we’ve got record labels and artist managers and booking agents and concert promoters and t-shirt makers and all kinds of things.”

Click here for Barbe’s explanation of relationships between different facets of the music industry: Structure of the Music Industry

Athens is now home to the annual Athens Music and Arts Festival, which, for the last 15 years, AthFest has used to “showcase the best in regionally and nationally recognized Athens-based talent,” according to the Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Department website. This year, around 200 bands and artist will put on shows for the festival in local venues and on three outdoor stages.

Jeff Montgomery, an ACC public information officer and co-owner of, said the music scene’s influence has grown with its numbers and the government is taking notice.

“Certainly I would say that it does affect policy,” he said. “We do things that support the Athens music scene. This office has always had a strong music tie. It’s not always official, but it’s a big interest we have, it’s a big tourist component to things, it’s a big economic boost for downtown.”

And the economic salience of the music industry in Athens, Montgomery said, is evidenced by the low closure rates of true music venues in Athens.

Montgomery said ACC pays attention to the arts in general as well — among other things, there is a public art component that is part of any capital program through our SPLOST program, which is the sales tax program, meaning a percentage of every project that’s done though SPLOST 2011, has to have a public art component to that.

“I would say there is a policy component to that,” he said. “In terms of when it comes down to laws or other things like that, sure that’s always considered when there are laws or ordinances that have the potential to affect the creative community; they tend to make their voices known. And then it is weighed against other factors, like public safety.”

Montgomery said on top of being a political consideration, the Athens government stands behind the music scene through little things.

“If you were to call City Hall, and you get put on hold, all our hold music is Athens bands. Also, the government access television that our office runs, Athens music is what plays in the background of that when we are on our bulletin board system,” he said. “We do things that support the Athens music scene.”

Student campaign for arch accessibility moving forward

By Clay Reynolds

Senior Khaled Alsafadi heard a lot about the tradition of passing underneath the arch after graduating from the University of Georgia at his freshman orientation nearly four years ago.

But Alsafadi, bound to a wheelchair, will be unable to take part in that rite of passage when he graduates unless a ramp is built through the structure, which is currently impassible for students who, like him, are mobility impaired and can’t walk up or down the stairs in front of it.

Last month, he and two other UGA students, sophomore Marquise Lane and junior Carden Wyckoff, organized a movement to make the arch accessible by building a ramp through it.

The group is now making its first set of strides toward bringing their proposal to fruition. They will take their ideas before the Student Government Association on Tuesday, and bring with them the apparent support of thousands of students.

Though not the first to come forward with this idea, the team’s case for a change and widespread support of their cause could make them the first to win many of the battles that stand in the way of accomplishing the goal – especially overcoming opposition to the proposal that still exists from top officials.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure that all alumni have equal access to the tradition,” Wyckoff said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, governs standards of handicap accessibility in public facilities, and prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities by limiting their access to or mobility within “places of public accommodations” – for example, buses, courthouses and doctors offices.

The arch does not fall under the category of a public facility in which accessibility is required, according most experts, since it serves no more than a symbolic function in the university’s day-to-day operations. Alternate access points to north campus are also available nearby for those unable to walk by or through the arch.

The need for a ramp comes in such times that students like Alsafadi, Lane and Wyckoff would want to return to campus and pass through the arch as alumni, particularly after graduation and at football games in the fall.

That sentiment has led some UGA officials to propose installing a temporary ramp during those significant times of year, though the students are pushing for a more permanent solution.

“I’m not just coming back for graduation and not just coming back for a football game,” Wyckoff said. “We want to have access to it at any point in time, regardless of when and where.”

They say a proposal similar to this one has come up and gained popularity among students once about every four or five years in the last several decades, according to what they’ve learned in research and through interactions with UGA’s disability resource center.

In about a month’s-worth of organizing the campaign, the three have mostly worked to organize support and gain publicity through petitions, social media and local and national news outlets.

As of March 19, the group’s Facebook page had received 2,136 likes, and a petition to make the arch accessible had garnered 1,185 signatures.

“It’s mind-blowing to me,” Lane said of the support he’s seen for the movement. “I never really thought 2,000 people could like a page that just three people were a part of.”

Social media, a tool many groups who took on this issue before them didn’t have, could end up making a difference in whether or not the movement gains traction and sees results.

“It’s our main point of access,” Wyckoff said.

The group has discussed their ideas in detail with the Disability Resource Center, University Architects and Student Government Association. Those meetings have produced three design proposals, all which feature a ramp being put in place through just two of the arch’s three pillars, but only one providing direct access to and from the sidewalk on Broad Street.

Photo gallery: design proposals

In communications with many higher-ups about the campaign, they have experienced some pushback.

“We’ve gotten some resistance from top administration,” Alsafadi said. “But we’re not going to take no for an answer. We’re going to keep going with it until it’s done.”

The counter-argument to theirs is not one of cost. Alsafadi said the representatives of the DRC believes cost of improvements wouldn’t be an issue, and even if it were, the group would be willing to raise the necessary funds themselves.

“We would raise money in a heartbeat,” Wyckoff said.

The primary issue many administrators have deals with aesthetics, and preserving the current look of the arch in accordance with procedures for making improvements to historical sites. The project would also require cooperation of the Athens-Clarke County unified government, which owns the sidewalk in front of it.

The students insist they’re concerned with maintaining the arch’s appearance as much as they are about creating equal access to it.

“We don’t want to do anything that’s going to mess up the appearance and make it look not as appealing,” Alsafadi said.

An accessible arch would perhaps be even more in keeping with history than the current arch is. Wyckoff has uncovered photos from before the 1900s that prove the original arch was on level ground with the rest of north campus. Stairs were not added until after the turn of the 20th century.

Alsafadi, Lane and Wyckoff are optimistic that their campaign will produce results several months down the road, although the immediate outlook for their plan is uncertain.

Their case for making the arch accessible is one of equality, but it’s not as much about convenience as tradition – enabling everyone to take part in the simple, yet meaningful tradition of passing through the arch.

“The pillars, on their own, they stand for moderation, wisdom and justice,” Alsafadi said. “You have to give justice to all your students, not just the able-bodied ones. We all go through the same work and even have to go through more obstacles that we overcome, so we should be able to partake in the tradition.”

What a potential gun expansion means for Athenian nightlife

By Eli Watkins

The state of Georgia is a bastion of college football fanaticism, church attendance, and gun ownership. In keeping with one of these traditions, the Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill in February easing restrictions on concealed carry in colleges, churches, and bars. The bill has teetered back and forth in the legislature since then.

This legislation could carry real ramifications for downtown Athens, an area predominantly composed of bars.

(Pictures of The Globe, a beloved and gun-free bar in Athens)

The gun rights expansion would bring many changes to Georgia if it becomes law. As the law stands now, gun owners of legal age (21 or over) can register with the state of Georgia and receive a concealed carry permit. Permit holders may then keep a weapon on their person. They can carry the weapon in many places with few exceptions. The proposals flying through the Gold Dome seek to remove some of these exceptions and reduce the penalties for violating the rules.

Republican legislators in Georgia have pushed hard for some expansion of gun rights with last year’s failure behind them and elections in front of them this year. HB 875, the “Safe Carry Protection Act,” and its more recently amended counterpart, HB 60, have become the substance of that push in this legislative session. The original proposal was broader in scope, and observers will have to wait for the current legislative session to end today to see what form the final bill takes, if any.

Legislators have backed down on some points so far. They curbed potential concealed carry expansions to public places, like colleges.

One of the proposed changes could affect downtown Athens more than all the others could, and so far, legislators have not taken it off the table. Georgia may remove the ban on carrying firearms in bars, instead leaving that decision up to bar owners. The question remains: Will the bar owners of Athens welcome gun owners into their establishments?

When asked about a broader proposal last year, Athens bar owner Paul DeGeorge came down as a clear “no.” He owned firearms, but that did not mean he thought they belonged in bars.

“It’s a bad environment to have access to something like that. There’s too many brawls,” said DeGeorge.

A third year journalism student and occasional bar-goer, Skye Rubel, echoed DeGeorge’s concerns.

“People drink and do stupid things. Guns and alcohol are a horrible combination,” said Rubel.

Other Athenians in the bar industry were not so critical. Norman Scholz, the general manager of The Globe, did not have a problem with the idea of concealed carry in his place of work.

“As long as it is legally concealed carry, then it’s not our concern,” said Scholz.

Opinions vary on this controversial legislation, with viewpoints ranging from outrage to skepticism to full support. Discussions over the potential expansion of concealed carry have taken a decidedly chill tone in Athens, as one would expect. However, the controversial aspects of this bill have invited statewide and national scrutiny.

The gun control advocacy organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns wrote, “This bill [HB 875] would dangerously expand the scope of the state’s existing Stand Your Ground law.” People on different sides of the debate have disputed the accuracy of this letter’s claims. However, the text of the bill they referenced did provide the legal opportunity for fights in bars to end in justifiable homicide involving firearms.

State Representative Scott Holcomb is one of the bill’s skeptics.

“As far as bars are concerned, I think that any of us that have had that witches brew touch our tongues get that you don’t want to mix guns with that,” said Holcomb.

Gun possession in bars does have its advocates. John Monroe of, Inc. said his organization supports carrying firearms in bars, openly or concealed. “We think safety would be enhanced in bars if carry were allowed,” said Monroe, “Carry already is allowed in restaurants that serve alcohol… So, people already are carrying in many places that are essentially bars and there are not issues with it.”

The push from Republicans, particularly in the state house, has been strong. Almost all of the Republicans in the state house voted in favor of the bill, and they almost comprise a supermajority in that chamber. The vote in the GA house split the members from Athens. Democrat Spencer Frye voted “Nay,” and republican Regina Quick voted “Yea.”

A gun bill of the kind discussed so far may pass in the waning minutes of this session and move swiftly thereafter to Governor Nathan Deal’s desk. If it does not, observers can guarantee a similar push next year.

The Georgia state government may soon make its decision, then the bar owners of Athens will make the ultimate call.

People know the bars of Athens for eclectic music and underage drinking. These welcome frat brothers sporting identical popped-collar polos and townies sporting identical vaudevillian mustaches. Will bars open their doors to concealed firearms too? It looks like someday soon, the people of Athens will find out for themselves.

The trashy issue of downtown Athens

By Lacey Davis

The smell of downtown Athens on a Sunday morning is familiar to pedestrians who frequent the city. It’s a thick stench of old beer and garbage. Attention is turned from the beautiful, historic buildings to the smell rising from the sidewalks.

The issue of garbage in downtown Athens is different than most cities. There isn’t a place behind the businesses to put dumpsters or trash cans. This means that businesses are forced to leave their garbage bags on the sidewalk at night when there are already crowds of people spilling into the parking spaces and road. There have been attempts to fix this problem in the past, however few ideas have succeeded.

According to Jim Corley, Director of the Solid Waste Management in Athens-Clarke County, “Roll carts were used at one time and the carts were left on the sidewalks all the time. Dumpsters had been placed around the downtown area when the service was tax supported, but when it became a customer paid service it was changed to the current bag service.”

Corley explained the current system by saying, “The customers pay a fee for the bags that covers the cost of disposal. They also select a level of collection services based on the type of business they have. For example, restaurants have a mandatory seven day-a-week service, whereas a small business may only have two.”

Although the city picks up garbage three times a day, seven days a week, the current system of trash disposal leaves pedestrians with an unpleasant feeling after walking the streets of downtown.

Gemma Formby, a junior majoring in accounting, said, “When I think about what I’m stepping over at night or if I ever go downtown early in the morning, it’s just disgusting, really.”

Shayna Brandi, Formby’s roommate from Sandy Springs, agreed. “I don’t really understand the issue, honestly. I realize there aren’t side alleys near every business, but why can’t the employees just walk the trash down to a dumpster that is kept on the side?”

The department of sanitation can longer use the system that Brandi suggested because, at the time the plan involving the roll carts was implemented, there were few bars and restaurants. There are now over 100. Corley said another problem was that “very few workers are going to carry heavy bags of bottles or food waste for any distance. Additionally, there is not a way to track who is using a dumpster that is not in a controlled environment.”

Although pedestrians such as Formby and Brandi are dissatisfied with the way downtown Athens handles its trash, few complaints are filed overall.

Corley noted that the only times that the city receives complaints is when trash is outside at unauthorized times, meaning more than hour before scheduled pickup. Trash pickup is every day at 2 p.m., 11 p.m., and 4 a.m.

Residents are also told to put their garbage on the sidewalks. Dana Heyman, a sophomore living in a downtown apartment, said, “We can put our trash out any day of the week. It’s pretty convenient. We have specific times to put it out. It can’t be on the sidewalk for an extended period of time.”

However, the real issue doesn’t lie among the residential garbage. Compared to the smell and large amounts that come from bars and other late-night businesses, residents pose little damage to the overall cleanliness of downtown.

Frank Russo, a bartender in downtown Athens, said, “Some people have suggested cutting back and reducing the waste but there isn’t much we can do. The majority of our garbage comes from bottles that are a necessity in any bar.”

In Jacksonville, Florida, another college town with a popular downtown, they have a different trash plan in place. The city charges each business for trashcans. According to Fox 30 News, business owners are opposed to the idea of trash bags sitting on the sidewalk, claiming it is bad for business and downtown. The plan is losing money.

If Athens is looking to revamp its current system for trash pickup, they need innovative ideas. Learning from Jacksonville’s failing system and the former system of Athens that will no longer work, there aren’t many obvious options remaining.

There have been several meetings over the past year and more planned for the coming months between Waste Management and the Mayor and Commission to discuss options, according to Corley.

Regardless of the plan that results from these meetings, Corley added, “if the customer does not follow the rules there will always be some problems as a result.”

Here is a video of trash in downtown Athens during the day. This video shows how, even during one of the least busy parts of the day, trash is still an eyesore littering the streets. In a short, 30 second walk, there were multiple piles of trash.

Multiple bags are on the street corner at night in downtown Athens.

Multiple bags are on the street corner at night in downtown Athens.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A bag of trash on the sidewalk, making the streets of downtown appear dirty and cluttered.

A bag of trash on the sidewalk, making the streets of downtown appear dirty and cluttered.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

Athens working to solve downtown traffic congestion

By Clay Reynolds

The UGA arch looks out over the T-shaped interchange of Broad Street and College Avenue – a crossroads that is one of downtown Athens’ most active traffic junctions and a role-player in frustration many drivers experience when it comes to traffic delays.

The intersection’s activity mainly comes from the vehicles on Broad. Yet the signal governing the intersection, which runs on a fixed timer, gives what little traffic is on College Avenue just as much green time.

Except at the busiest times of the day, it’s rare to see more than a few vehicles waiting at the light on College to turn left or right onto the main thoroughfare. The 60 seconds usually afforded to them late in the afternoon on a weekday is ample time for them to move through after the waiting pedestrians cross over.

So in most instances, half of the time in that cycle length goes to waste as drivers on Broad idle at the red light watching the opposite signal remains green for no one.

These situations, at peak traffic hours, often lead to congestion around the Broad-College intersection and others downtown. This causes some minor, albeit significant, delays for motorists and other travelers through the area.

The Athens-Clarke County Transportation and Public Works Department’s approach to remedying the problem entails a technology upgrade for many of these fixed-time traffic signals downtown. Drivers, according to ACC head traffic engineer Steve Decker, could see a “major difference” in the amount of traffic congestion downtown as a result of these improvements.

The strategy, termed “actuation,” involves the addition of pavement sensors, cameras and pedestrian buttons that allow signals which previously ran on fixed time to self-adjust to fluctuating traffic patterns and run more efficiently.

Current plans call for eight intersections on Thomas, Dougherty and Pulaski Streets, which form part of the downtown perimeter, to receive these upgrades by the end of the fiscal year in June.

Actuating intersections on Broad from Newton Street to Thomas Street would be the next step in the process, although the project, taking place on a state-maintained highway, requires partnership with the Georgia Dept. of Transportation and therefore more time.

Decker says rebuilding the signals on the bordering streets will improve the flow of traffic around downtown and better complement the fixed-time system still in place at intersections inside that boundary.

“What we’re trying to do is get the traffic flow on those four roadways and eventually Broad to go around the city, then when you’re leaving it should allow you to get around much more quickly and reduce the delays and congestion,” Decker said. “I would prefer that the bordering streets all be actuated. That way I can do a much better coordination system. It’s not working to the degree that I’d like it to work.”

Actuation is the antithesis of “coordination,” whereby traffic signals run on preset cycle lengths determined by studies of traffic volume at different times of day. Athens-Clarke County currently runs 11 coordinated signal systems chains of related intersections on or adjoining major roads or in a particular area that are calibrated to optimize traffic flow and efficiency. One of these networks covers the downtown area, also known as the central business district (CBD).

Planners and traffic engineers make common practice of using coordination in CBDs like downtown Athens where intersections are equally-spaced and in close proximity to one another. Consistent traffic flow in all directions allows these signals to run efficiently together, and they’re cost-effective, according to a handbook by Robert L. Gordon on signal timing practices in the U.S.

But what’s atypical about downtown Athens is Broad Street, which is more of an arterial highway fed by tributary roads than a downtown street crossing with traffic paths of equal significance. Broad’s size and traffic volume are both greater than that of any of the streets that intersect it, yet the signals at its intersections operate as if their traffic patterns are comparable.

These signals often give more time to movements on secondary streets than is needed, forcing those on the main road to wait on traffic that has already cleared the intersection. Because of coordinated signals’ inability to sense real-time changes in traffic patterns, intersections like those on Broad operate below optimal efficiency and often intensify congestion.

“Waiting when there’s nobody there – that’s a lot of unnecessary delay,” Decker said. “That goes away with actuation. Time goes back to the main street and it reduces people sitting there.”

Decker says the plan to upgrade the intersections on the perimeter streets should amount to a 20-30 percent improvement in efficiency.

“Efficiency is fluctuating,” he said. “Our goal is to try to make it as efficient as possible.”

Congestion, while never significant, makes the difference of several minutes added onto the commute through downtown for motorists.

“It’s pretty annoying,” UGA junior Andy Bedingfield said of the traffic he’ll sometimes experience downtown around 5 p.m. “There’ve been times that a place I’d normally get to in 10 minutes would take 20 or more.”

Cars aren’t the only vehicles that have problems with congestion downtown.

Buses on Campus Transit’s East-West route shuttle passengers from west campus through downtown via Broad Street toward the main library.

Jerod Beck, a sophomore from Dacula, drives the East-West route during the noon hour on Mondays when traffic reaches its midday height due to UGA’s 12:05 class change and a tide of motorists headed to lunch.

Cars traveling east stack up on Broad between Lumpkin Street and the arch bus stop near College Avenue, making it hard for buses like his to make their way back into the right-of-way. This ordeal adds five to seven minutes to the time it takes him to get between stops at Hull Street and the Main Library, in essence doubling the time it takes for passengers to ride that portion of the route.

“All the delay is primarily due to moving in and out of the arch bus stop,” Beck said. “We’re dependent upon other buses, courtesy of other drivers or open space to merge back in.”

The plan will offer moderate benefits to pedestrians. Crosswalk signals downtown will now have buttons on them to record the presence of foot-traffic waiting to cross the road.

A number of pedestrians surveyed said they generally had no problems with delays while walking downtown.

UGA student Sophie Archer, who lives downtown, said traffic at the Broad-College intersection is bad at certain times of day, but never delays her as a pedestrian.

Another student who frequently walks through downtown said the wait time to cross is not a problem for her. “It doesn’t make me late to class or anything,” she said.

Both, however, said they would be in favor of improvements to the intersection if it made things faster.

Actuating intersections involves installation of either “inductive loops,” electronic sensors embedded in the pavement behind an intersection’s “stop bar,” or mounted cameras. Either or both of these technologies serve to detect vehicles as they roll up, and feed that information into a computer that also takes input from pedestrian “push for walk signal” buttons and adjusts the timing of cycle patterns accordingly.

Outside of programming, the process of putting this equipment in place isn’t extensive. Decker’s staff cuts their own sensor loops, and he says they can usually get everything done for a given intersection in a day or two. But gadgetry for all the intersections must be in place before they can program the network and flip the switch.

A number of factors hold his office back from completing the project. Staff limitations have forced them to make upgrading the intersections a side project balanced with other priorities related to traffic signals, street markings and signage across town.

Ill-timed construction and maintenance work downtown has undone much of their progress in the past year.

Construction of The Standard on the corner of Thomas and Dougherty streets destroyed the instruments that were already in place at the intersection. A recent road resurfacing project downtown also invalidated much of the work they’d done and forced them to start over.

“We’re doing it as we can,” Decker said. “Every time we start on it something happens.”

The costs of the actuation updates are within their budget, since signal efficiency upgrades fall within a stated goal of ensuring “maximum roadway capacity and reduced delay at signalized intersections through a comprehensive signal upgrade and signal system re-timing program” outlined in last year’s Transportation and Public Works biennial report.

Sensor loops, according to Decker, cost between 300 and 500 dollars. Combined with the cost of programming and other required mechanisms like wiring, buttons and signal heads, actuation upgrades can add up to a price tag of thousands of dollars apiece – a ballpark figure of 250,000 dollars, according to the ACC Traffic Engineering Division webpage.

Is shaving off a few minutes from the commute time through downtown worth that cost?

Decker believes the project will return on the investment once the upgrades to Broad Street are fully completed. The congestion issues that continue in the meantime, he says, aren’t serious.

“It’s not efficient,” Decker said, “but it will be once GDOT does the project. (Otherwise) the downtown central business district works really well. We’re blessed because we don’t have major traffic issues like Atlanta does.”