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Zion Williamson brings rare potential to New Orleans

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Eventually, as with every NBA Draft, there will be a “re-draft” of the Class of 2019. That’s the irresistible exercise in hindsight from media outlets that rank a particular year’s prospects not on their projected value but on actual demonstrated value five, 10 or more seasons into their professional careers. Some players will rise. Others will fall. “Bust” and “sleeper” tags will be dispersed accordingly. This team or GM will be lauded for an especially savvy selection, that one will be razzed for the quality player or players on whom it whiffed. But the through line of the dreams-come-true event Thursday night (Friday, PHL time) at Barclays Center, the lone selection that will not or at least should not change, is Zion Williamson. Williamson is the sure thing, the “can’t miss,” consensus No. 1 pick bound for the New Orleans Pelicans. He’s a 6'7", 285-pound freshman from Duke whose comps aren’t merely established players currently in the NBA but some of the game’s legends. So think Blake Griffin, sure. But also think LeBron James. And Charles Barkley. And, for that matter, every other wide-body who’s ever played with muscles on muscles, above-the-rim explosiveness, balletic body control and an instantly recognizable game that’s as charismatic as it is freakish. Yeah, awfully small subset. “I’m looking forward to playing against everybody,” Williamson said soon after his selection. “I want to be the best. I feel I have to earn everybody’s respect.” It’s not just a matter of Williamson’s game tickling NBA fans’ fancy, either. He managed, in almost his first official pro moment, to capture a lot of their hearts too. No sooner had Williamson – the first No. 1 pick to be born in this millennium (July 6, 2000) – strode to the stage in his cream-white suit, tugged on a Pelicans draft cap and embraced NBA commissioner Adam Silver, he dropped his guard to let the world share his emotions in the moment. His status as college basketball’s best and his draft position had been established months ago. There was no new mystery as to when his name would be called by Silver at the podium. And yet, when the first ESPN microphone was poked in front of him, with his mother Sharonda Sampson at his side, the big guy lost it. He choked up and blinked back tears, not quite winning that battle. “My mom sacrificed a lot for me,” Williamson said. “I wouldn’t be here without my mom. She did everything for me. I just want to thank her.” Several interviews and maybe 20 minutes later, Williamson explained how the horribly kept secret of his No. 1 selection could trigger his response. “Because I love the game of basketball,” he said. “You can hear people say things like, ‘Oh, it was likely I was going to go No. 1.’ But I guess you don’t know until you actually go through it.” What mattered most to Williamson about his mother’s role in his life? “Tough love,” he said. “She was always be the first one to keep it real with me. … She put aside her dreams just so me and my brothers could have a chance at ours.” The love already heading Williamson’s way in New Orleans was less tough and more unconditional at this stage, for the teenager represents a re-birth for a Pelicans franchise rocked by the loss of All-Star forward Anthony Davis. Davis, coincidentally, was the No. 1 pick in 2012 and generally considered the top prospect to hit the Draft before Williamson. But after six-and-a-half seasons and only two trips to the playoffs, Davis asked in December to be traded, despite having more than two-plus seasons left on his contract. David Griffin, the Pelicans' new vice president of basketball operations, had hoped that Williamson’s arrival might convince Davis to stay. When that didn’t happen, Griffin swiftly shifted to Plan B, arranging to trade the discontented big man to the Los Angeles Lakers in a deal that won’t be official until July. Now New Orleans, which has won just two playoff series in its 17 seasons and failed to qualify 10 times, has a new cornerstone. Williamson figures to be under team control contractually for as long or longer than Davis stuck around, with teammates relocated from L.A. such as Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart to run with him and Pelicans holdovers. “What excites me the most is the fact that they’re young and they’re close to my age,” said Duke’s third No. 1 overall pick (Elton Brand in 1999, Kyrie Irving in 2011). “So they can help me a lot more, like how to deal with this transition. I think we can build something over there.” The essential block is Williamson, who swept college basketball’s major awards with a game that strains credulity. At 285 pounds, his listed weight is greater than almost every big man in the NBA, but he has quick-twitch speed and thrives in the open court. He can stare down into the rim before slamming home dunks with unnerving ferocity, and he is a deft and willing passer. Williamson averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 30 minutes for the Blue Devils, while making 68 percent of his shots. He and fellow Top 10 picks R.J. Barrett (New York, No. 3) and Cam Reddish (Atlanta, No. 10) helped Duke reach the Elite Eight, with Williamson earning ACC Tournament MVP along the way. He’s not a perfect player – his jump shot and range need work – but he already is working to complement his transition and low-post repertoire. Defensively, Williamson has the motor and mobility to switch assignments and quick hands to dislodge the ball without fouling. As a rebounder, his verticality is matched by, well, his horizontality in controlling the air space above and around him. “His size, his athleticism, his power is visible,” former St. John’s coach and Naismith Hall of Famer Chris Mullin said. “But to me his speed is really incredible from end to end. “I would morph Charles Barkley and Shawn Kemp and put them together [as a comparison]. When he gets to the NBA and he plays with that extra space they have in the wide key, he’s going to be a monster.” Williamson arrives with hype – no, make that expectations, because of all he’s shown already on courts around America – that rival what James shouldered when he arrived from high school in 2003. His plan for lugging that responsibility: “Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m willing to do it, because I feel people remember winners.” The selections immediately after Williamson were nearly as predictable, based on intelligence and mock drafts that solidified in the days before the Draft. Murry State guard Ja Morant was chosen by Memphis at No. 2, and Barrett’s ensuing selection by the Knicks delighted their always boisterous fans in the stands at Barclay. The order of the next four choices was jumbled from some predictions. Yet by the time the smoke cleared, sure enough, the seven players projected to come off the board soonest had slotted into the night’s top seven spots. That included Virginia forward De’andre Hunter to Atlanta at No. 4 (via the Lakers, in the aforementioned Davis trade that has yet to be completed), Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland to Cleveland at No. 5, Texas Tech wing Jarrett Culver to Minnesota at No. 6 and North Carolina guard Coby White to Chicago at No. 7. Just because there wasn’t a lot of suspense at Barclays didn’t mean there was no intrigue. Much of that came from unusually heavy trade action – all technically unofficial – that had teams moving up, down and all around to snag picks, dump picks or clean up their salary-cap positions in anticipation of free agency that starts June 30. The timing of the Draft, relative to when the NBA’s new business year begins, had players donning caps of teams they’ll never play for, while speaking guardedly about those for whom they really were picked. A reported nine trades impacted draft decisions made in the first round alone. There even was a moment when Morant, in his post-Draft media session, gave a shout-out to veteran Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, whose spot he’ll presumably be taking once Conley’s trade to Utah officially goes through. But there’s no such uncertainty about Williamson, the through line of this year’s class, the true line in his heartfelt reactions Thursday (Friday, PHL time) and broad-shouldered hope of a Big Easy franchise in need. Williamson showed his grasp of the NBA’s and sports’ need for fresh icons, in effect accepting his status as a legend in waiting. “You know, times change,” he said. “That’s why there are so many debates about who people think the greatest players of all time are. If you were in the time of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, you’d probably say one of those two. If you were in the time of Jordan, you’d say Jordan. In our generation, a lot of them say LeBron. “So times changes and I think younger fans like younger players.” You don’t have to be young, though, to have your eye on Zion. Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 21st, 2019

Warriors injuries create opening with Finals in balance

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com OAKLAND, Calif. — From now until further notice, each game of the 2019 NBA Finals will be largely influenced not by a go-ahead basket or a big stop or a rally-induced comeback, but a hot-off-the-press medical update prior to tipoff. Is Klay Thompson's tweaky hamstring a go? Will this be the day Kevin Durant finally shakes that lingering calf strain and suits up? The hints and subtle signs seem to point toward the positive for Golden State. Thompson was a late scratch Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) because the Warriors -- with a mixture of confidence and arrogance and concern -- felt the guard missing Game 3 was perhaps best for his recovery without proving deadly in the long run. And as for Durant, he’s still “ramping up” his workouts, in the description of coach Steve Kerr, and so his status has been upgraded to "stay tuned." It has become must-watch after a 123-109 loss. Yet if the answer is negative to all of the above, the next entry on the medical report might be the grim health of the dynasty built by these two-time defending champions. Their still-under-construction monument now teeters, prone to a nudge from Toronto. The Warriors find themselves down 2-1 to the Raptors, lacking any guarantee they’ll see two of their three leading scorers back in the lineup Friday (Saturday, PHL time) for Game 4 ... or for however long this series lasts. Thompson joined Durant on the sideline, and the Raptors (as could be anticipated) pounced on the gift to seize control of the series. It was a game the Raptors had to win, and they did. The production came from multiple players, with Kyle Lowry finally making an imprint on this series and Danny Green rediscovering his long-lost three-point touch. Meanwhile, the Warriors consisted of Steph Curry and not much else. The two-time Kia MVP dazzled and fought through traps and triple-teams all night to drop a career-high 47 points, some of it on shot-making wizardry. But the short-handed Warriors were doomed when Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins in particular were underwhelming on a night they needed to be stellar for Golden State to have a chance. As a result, the atmosphere inside Oracle Arena was flatter than most of the shots taken by Curry's teammates, and this was partly due to the introduction of the starting lineups, when Thompson’s name wasn’t announced. The fans knew then, officially, that their eyes and the home team were in for a long night. While the Warriors fought, scrappy doesn’t win games at this point in the postseason, not when the other team is good and opportunistic. Playing in a hostile building for the first time in the Finals, the Raptors made a collective decision to greet fire with fire. Or, as they wrote on the blackboard inside the visitor’s locker room: Let It Rip. “I think we all kind of followed that advice,” said Danny Green. “We hadn’t really had a good team shooting night and I knew we were due.” For Toronto, it wasn’t just that they won, but that they did so with their most impressive outing in the series. And now, the question for the Raptors is this: Will their inconsistent players use this outing to turn the corner and push the Warriors, even if Thompson and/or Durant return? This is aimed, first and foremost, at Lowry. He took the “let it rip” plea personally. Entering this game, he had six baskets total in this series and at times suffered defensively. Challenged by a pregame talk from coach Nick Nurse, Lowry embraced his inner pit bull and was relentless all night. The All-Star point guard took 16 shots, making eight, for 23 points and nine assists while making his presence felt for the first time this Finals. “For me, it was just not being so passive and trying to get everyone else involved and get myself going and let everyone else feed off that,” Lowry said. He and Green re-introduced the three-pointer to the Raptors’ offense. The two shot 11-for-19 and repeatedly stole whatever momentum Golden State could generate by responding with long-distance daggers that forced fans to slump back into their seats. This from the same player who had five total three's in his previous five playoff games, ruining more than a handful of runs with momentum-deflating misses. There’s no other way to describe the last three weeks of Green’s postseason shooting but dreadful. He has only one job: Stand in the corner and shoot open 3s. He’s made a career of that. So what do the Raptors make of Green shooting 6-of-10 from deep Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time)? In the short term, it helped win Game 3. In the big picture, will this confidence carry over from one night to another, or does it depend on whether Green hits his first few? Nurse said: “Danny’s buckets boosted our whole team’s confidence because we were used to relying on those most of the year.” With better production from players who had been mostly missing, the Raptors had the balance needed to deliver their highest-scoring and most efficient (52 percent shooting) contest of the series. Green and Lowry joined Kawhi Leonard (30 points) and Pascal Siakam (18) and Marc Gasol (17) to take turns pummeling the Warriors from all different directions and manners. One reason for this was Thompson’s absence. Not only is he a proven outside shooter, but his defense is top-notch as well. You could even argue that Thompson’s missing defense was just as costly as his jumper. Yet the 109 points Golden State did manage were mainly because of Curry providing nearly half the offense. Given the circumstances of being without Thompson and Durant, and the constant pressing by Toronto whenever he had the ball, this was Curry’s finest post-season effort. His shooting was superb all across the floor, making three's (six) and free throws (13-14) and in general (14-31). “It’s the Finals,” Curry said. “You give everything you’ve got, sacrifice your body when you have the opportunity. Just competitiveness and trying to play until the buzzer.” “He does things that honestly I don’t think anyone has done before," Kerr added. "The way he plays the game, the way he shoots and the combination of his ball-handling, it’s incredible to watch.” If only he had someone riding shotgun. Cousins was sloppy on both ends, with three turnovers and one basket, and a step slow on defense against Gasol. This came one game after he seemingly regained his legs and confidence to gave Golden State a much-needed lift. Green’s continued recklessness was mystifying; he often made questionable decisions as a playmaker, suffered four turnovers and once again struggled to contain Siakam. The Warriors needed Green’s best, given their missing parts, and received something less. “We’ve got to be more solid with the ball and it starts with me,” he said. “I’ve had a bunch of turnovers in every game of this series. I think if I played better with the night (Curry) had, we would have won.” And so the Warriors, while talking bravely about their next-man-up mentality and embracing their “Strength in Numbers” slogan, must realize, deep down, that preventing the Raptors from winning two more games with a handicapped team might be difficult, if not impossible. Keep in mind that Golden State hasn’t sparkled for four quarters since the first game of the Western Conference finals. The last three games of that series, and the first three of the NBA Finals, the Warriors trailed by double digits. Thompson has an off day and Friday's (Saturday, PHL time) pregame period for therapy on his hamstring, although such strains are unpredictable and tricky. Will he be able to cut and fight through screens and be bouncy for 35-plus minutes through the intensity of an NBA Finals game, or will the injury restrict him and cause Kerr to seek a healthier, yet less productive replacement? “The whole point was to not risk a bigger injury that would keep him out the rest of the series,” said Kerr, explaining a decision made in consultation with the team doctors. “I feel very comfortable with it. I never would have forgiven myself if I played him and he had gotten hurt. So you live with the decision you made. The good thing is Klay has done well the last two days; hopefully he’ll be out there Friday.” Then there’s Durant, who last played May 8 (May 9, PHL time). After doing nothing but individual drills the last few days, he’ll go through a more normal practice session that will be simulated with the help of some assistant coaches and bench players. They'll see how Durant holds up. But that won’t match the stress level of a real game. And even if Durant gets clearance for Game 4, he hasn’t played in roughly a month. What about his timing? His wind? His touch? His ability to bring the same energy on defense? All legit questions and concerns for the Warriors -- until they’re not, whenever that is. “No one cares if guys are hurt,” Green said. “Everyone wants to see us lose anyway. So I’m sure people are happy they’re hurt.” Chances are that basketball fans, even if they’re against the Warriors, want to see stars on the floor this time of year. That’s what the NBA Finals is always about: Premium players doing premium things, or failing to do so, and letting the championship odds rise or fall on their performances. This year’s Finals have been denied one star for every game, and an additional star for one game. The battle with star attrition finally cost the Warriors a postseason loss, and at the worst possible time. The flow of the remainder of the NBA Finals, then, could rest with aching tendons and muscles and the recovery powers of those who own them. “We’re missing 50 points with KD and Klay, but we’ll adjust,” said a confident Curry. “It’s a long series, you know. It’s going to be fun for us.” The next Warriors medical update will arrive Thursday afternoon (Friday, PHL time). And another one Friday (Saturday, PHL time) just prior to tipoff. All along, the Warriors have led everyone to believe that it’s only a matter of time before they’re fully healthy. But will it be in time? And even then, will it be enough against a Toronto team suddenly thinking big? Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here, and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 6th, 2019

Common threads: Warriors and Raptors

The Golden State Warriors are back in the Finals for a fifth straight year, but standing across from them is a new face: the Toronto Raptors, who are playing for the Larry O'Brien trophy for just the first time in franchise history. [Watch the Playoffs on NBA League Pass for 30% less with this limited time offer! Select Annual package and use code SAVE30 at checkout to redeem] Warriors versus Raptors isn't exactly a matchup that screams "historic rivalry." Golden State is 28-17 in the overall series against Toronto, with Canada's club winning both their encounters this season. Still, the two clubs do have some overlap - players having suited up for both teams, plus some on- and off-court history. Here are eight common threads between the two teams in the 2019 NBA Finals. 1. Patrick McCaw Patrick McCaw has made the NBA Finals in all three season of his NBA career, something not many players can say. The first two years, he was with the Warriors, but now, he's facing his old club as a Raptor. McCaw was a second round pick by the Warriors in 2016. The team's long-term hope was that he could possibly succeed Andre Iguodala as a versatile, defense-first swingman, but he opted not to re-sign with GSW this past offseason. Sitting out most of the latter part of 2018, he eventually inked a loaded offer sheet (he was a restricted free agent) with Finals rivals the Cleveland Cavaliers, which the Warriors did not match. The Cavaliers waived him after three appearances, but he eventually found his way to Toronto. McCaw has averaged 2.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.0 assists up north, but has only logged seven appearances, norming 5.1 minutes, in the postseason. With his ex-teammates decidedly miffed about his decision not to come back to the Bay, things could get interesting if he sees playing time in the Finals. SAY WHAT YOU WANT 3 STRAIGHT NBA FINALS APPEARANCES?! I CAN'T MAKE THIS UP ... MY FAITH GOT ME HERE, NOTHING BUT GOD!!! ???????? ZERO WORRIES ZERO DOUBTS ???? — Patrick McCaw (@PMcCaw0) May 26, 2019 2. Jeremy Lin We're a long way from the highs of Linsanity with the New York Knicks, but let's not forget that it was the Golden State Warriors that first had a roster spot for the Harvard product. After going undrafted in 2010, the Warriors snapped up Lin, fielding him as a backup behind Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis. In his rookie season, Lin managed 9.8 minutes, 2.6 points, 1.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.1 steals in 29 games. Golden State opted not to keep Lin following the 2011 lockout, which paved the way for him to sign, first with the Houston Rockets, and then with the New York Knicks. We know what happened there, right? Recently though, Lin has struggled due to injuries. He started this season getting traded from the Brooklyn Nets to the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks then bought him out in February, which allowed the Raptors to sign him after he cleared waivers. He put up 7.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 23 regular season games for Toronto, but has played even less than McCaw in the Playoffs (7 games, 3.7 minutes, 1.3 points). 3. Alfonzo McKinnie 4. Chris Boucher Same story, different teams. Warriors swingman McKinnie and Raptors big Boucher began last season with the opposite ball club, though they actually spent more time with their respective G League affiliates. McKinnie, who went undrafted in 2015, bounced around playing as an import in Luxembourg and Mexico, before landing in the G League in 2016 with the Windy City Bulls. He signed a multi-year deal with the Raptors the next season, but got waived last July. McKinnie bounced back as a training camp invitee for Golden State, but with McCaw not signing, that opened up a roster spot for the journeyman. He's made the most of the opportunity since, averaging 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in 72 regular season games, 3.3 points and 2.5 rebounds in 16 postseason games. Boucher got a two-way contract from the Warriors last season, but was waived this past offseason. He got another two-way contract from the Raptors shortly after, before having his deal converted to a standard contract back in February. Appearing in 28 regular season games, Boucher normed 3.3 points and 2.0 rebounds. He really made his presence felt on Raptors 905, the G League affiliate of Toronto, getting named G League MVP and DPoY. He's been fielded in a pair of postseason games, amassing a total of 5 points and 1 rebound. 5. Stephen Curry The first time Stephen Curry shot hoops in Toronto was not as a Warrior, but as a kid. Curry's father Dell closed out his NBA career with three seasons in Toronto, and Steph and his brother Seth were a familiar presence in the arena, shooting hoops with their dad. The team's star back then, Vince Carter, even played 1-on-1 against him back in the day. In addition, Steph's wife Ayesha was born in Toronto and lived there until the age of 14. 6. Phil Handy He's far from a household name, but Phil Handy might be an x-factor in this series. The long-time player development guru was an assistant coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2013 to 2018, which includes those four straight Finals matchups against the Warriors. Handy's worked with names like Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and LeBron James, before bringing his talents to aid Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam, among others. Ironically though, Handy's a California native, and lived in Oakland until the age of 11. 7. Kawhi Leonard The journey that saw Kawhi Leonard go from San Antonio Spur to Toronto Raptor began in a series against the Golden State Warriors. Back in the 2017 Western Conference Finals, Leonard's 26 points had the San Antonio Spurs up big against the Warriors, before he landed on then-Golden State center Zaza Pachulia's foot. That re-aggravated an ankle injury he suffered in the previous series against the Houston Rockets, and Kawhi subsequently missed the rest of the series. Leonard would play just nine more games for the Spurs, due to a right quadriceps injury. The extent though of said injury is something we'll probably never know. Some Spurs players believe Kawhi could have played had he wanted to, while Leonard himself opted to rehab on his own, away from the Spurs medical staff. Regardless of the origin of the animosity between the franchise and the player, the Spurs moved to trade Leonard to the Raptors this past offseason. Safe to say, it's a deal that's worked out swimmingly for Toronto. 8. Will they stay or will they go? Speaking of Kawhi, he's in a similar boat with the currently-injured Warriors star Kevin Durant. Both Leonard and Durant could become free agents this offseason, with both possessing player options. It's largely believed that should they opt out and test the market, they would be the two top options for teams seeking a superstar. Who knows? No matter what the outcome of the Finals is, there's a possibility that a team like the Clippers or the Knicks could put the two of them on the same squad come 2019-20. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or ABS-CBN Sports......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 27th, 2019

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