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Recreational Pot Use Starts Monday in California; 2017 International Snow Sculpture Art Expo. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired December 29, 2017 - 00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ISHA SESAY, CNN HOST: This is CNN Newsroom live from Los Angeles. Coming up, President Donald Trump off the cuff with new threat to China over North Korea and why he thinks the Russia investigation makes America look bad.

Plus from the pitch to the presidency a legendary footballer finds the third time really is the charm, he's elected president of Liberia. And, a new year for California with legalized marijuana sales just days away but what will it mean for the state's economy and pot smokers.

Hello and welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm Isha Sesay. Newsroom L.A. starts right now. President Trump appears to be embracing the Russia investigation. He spoke to the New York Times on Thursday while on vacation in Florida and despite calling it a witch hunt in the past, if the president is to be taken at his word, it would now appear his only concern about the probe is quote, "That it makes the country look very bad and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it's worked out the better it is for the country."

Mr. Trump also took a swipe at Jeff Sessions his attorney general saying that he should not have recused himself from overseeing the probe. He implied he was unhappy that Sessions was not protecting him. And he repeated 16 times in the interview that there was no collusion with Russia.

So, plenty to talk about. Peter Mathews is a political analyst and he joins us now. Peter, welcome. Sixteen times he said there was no collusion in this piece with the New York Times which was an impromptu 30 minute sit down, down in Florida and it quite remarkable the sudden change in tenor and tone regarding the Russia investigation.

And specifically Bob Mueller who is special council which is particularly notable when you bear in mind European lawmakers have been calling for his out (ph) the president said this, let us read that for our viewers. He said, "As far as Mueller, I think that he's going to be fair. There's been no collusion but I think he's going to be fair."

So, Peter, is it - would it wise to say Mueller could stop looking over his shoulder now? That his job is safe?

PETER MATHEWS, POLITICAL ANALYST: You never know with President Trump because what he says and what he really means can be two different things a lot of the time and I would be very, very careful. Even more careful. And, I think he's protesting too hard. He's like, 16 times. That tells you something doesn't it to some extent.

So, I think this is very the beginning stage still. This investigation is going to go much further than what he thinks. He thought it would be over by what, December, January. He said that.

SESAY: Yes. We've heard different - yes.

MATHEWS: Wishful thinking on his part. No, there seems to be a lot of leads coming up here and lot more look at and I think he should be - President Trump should be concerned about things and I'd say he should leave the investigation alone and just do his job as president.

SESAY: One thing he did say in the interview was that he didn't have a problem that the investigation was underway and in the end it would be a good thing because his base is so much stronger for it. Is that true? Do we see that in the data that his base is stronger because some would argue that if you look at some parts of the data it's softening?

MATHEWS: Yes. If you look at his base of those who voted for him which would be 46 percent, he's down to 32 percent approval rating, Isha, 32 percent. So, he's actually lost part of that base but the most firm part of the base, of course, if fighting back and saying - digging in and saying this is our president and we don't believe about the fake news and all that.

So, he's right about that base but the base has shrunk to where it doesn't even really give him a real foundation for the next election or anything else.

SESAY: And, it would appear from his actions and words that his focus is not on expanding that number.

MATHEWS: Not at all. Unlike what most presidents do when they come in. If they come in with 43 percent like Bill Clinton first did he expanded it to 49 percent by reaching out to other groups, republican women in the suburbs. President Trump should have been doing that all along but that's not his modus operandi.

He just doubles down and he says - I think he's also very defensive about having lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

SESAY: That's right because that comes up again in PC (ph).

MATHEWS: Absolutely.

SESAY: If you (ph) litigate, if you will, the election.

MATHEWS: Constantly and then he says it's because the Electoral College he played it really smart, he knew how to handle it and that's all that counts. And, also, he was very concerned about the fact that the electoral vote, you know, is the only vote that counts but he didn't get the popular vote because what that means is they did not get a mandate and he's already worrying (ph) also angry about the media questioning his legitimacy if there was Russian interference which that's the other part when you talk about.

SESAY: Which is the other part.

MATHEWS: Yes.

SESAY: He seems to lay the blame squarely for this Russia investigation at the doorstep of the attorney general.

MATHEWS: Yes, Jeff Sessions.

SESAY: Poor Jeff Sessions because he's still seems to be in the doghouse.

MATHEWS: Yes.

SESAY: And the president goes as far as to compare the relationship that President Obama had with his attorney general. Let's read what he said on that - on that front. He said, "Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him. When you look at the IRS scandal, when you look at the guns for whatever, when you look at all the tremendous or real problems they had not made up problems like Russian collusion, these were real problems. Holder protected the president and I have great respect for that." Your take.

MATHEWS: Very telling. You can see how he just hates the fact that Jeff Sessions had some integrity and recused himself. He thinks that's loyalties above everything else. Loyalty to him is above the constitution, it's above the rule of law and this is very important, actually, for a democracy. The rule of law says that everyone - no one, I'm sorry, no one is above the law including the president.

He thinks that he is - sometimes he thinks he's above the law. When he says, for example I'm in charge of this Justice Department and I'm paraphrasing this.

SESAY: Yes.

MATHEWS: And therefore, I can decide to do what I want to do about it but I'm just being nice and kind, I want to be fair. So, that's why I'm holding back on it but I can do what I what I want to.

SESAY: Which is not -

MATHEWS: Which is not the way a democracy should work or does work at all.

SESAY: Yes.

MATHEWS: So this is very dangerous.

SESAY: Speaking of which, he's already banking on another four years and counting on the media being in his corner. Let's put this quote up from the piece. It says, "Another reason that I'm going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I'm not there. Because without me their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me

the New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times but the failed New York Times. So, they basically have to let me win and eventually, probably six months before the election they'll be loving me because they're saying please, please don't lose Donald Trump."

To me it is fascinating and what it tells about the president's view of the presidency still being something akin to a TV show with ratings and him being the star that, you know, norm (ph) salutes.

MATHEWS: He certainly seems to be looking at it that way the way he's behaving, has been behaving. But I think it's not only bombastic but absurd what he just said. I mean, how could he say that the New York Times wouldn't be around when it's been around for hundreds of years before him and will continue to be around.

It's a major newspaper, it's got a lot of credibility. He thinks that he's the only one keeping it afloat. That's really amazing.

SESAY: I mean, there is a point where we could - we acknowledge he has been a boon for media.

MATHEWS: Of course. For all the media.

SESAY: But it's interesting that point they will just let me win because they need me.

MATHEWS: That's - he doesn't even understand - look, that's very amazingly put because you're looking at the democratic process not even counting at all. It's all about me. Let me win because they need me to be out there so they can sell more newspapers. That's not what democracy is about. It's about a competition of ideas, of different sets of ideas.

He should be debating ideas and not just going after people on a (inaudible) basis, tweeting against people, vilifying them. He needs to really get back to begin president in my view.

SESAY: He also went after China in this interview.

MATHEWS: Yes.

SESAY: China of course was on his mind earlier in the day when he put out that tweet about what he said was China helping Pyongyang, North Korea contravene U.N. sanctions by transferring oil. And this is what he said on China in the New York Times piece, "China's hurting us very badly on trade but I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war referencing the tensions with North Korea."

I guess my question to you is do you feel we are at the point where the relationship between the U.S. and China is about to turn, that it's about to get rockier?

MATHEWS: It very well could because it looks like Trump is reaching the end of his rope. He kept saying that China will fix this problem for us, I'll work with them, I like President Xi and all this personal relationship. Now, he's seeing that China has its own national interest.

He doesn't want a whole flood of refugees coming from North Korea. It would actually ended up creating policy that would actually making North Korea fall. So, China wants to go in a measured way. I think President Trump should be a lot more measured and should actually look to negotiate with North Korea.

Let Rex Tillerson take the lead. He's been doing a good job about trying to open diplomatic channels and keeping them open. Trump says no need for diplomacy, we know how to fix this problem. And I think he's misreading the situation quite a bit. I'm not sure he even knows the history of North Korea.

Does he know the United States has never signed a peace treaty with North Korea? And that's part of the whole problem.

SESAY: (Inaudible).

MATHEWS: He should take positive steps in that regard.

SESAY: Well, as some would say that Rex Tillerson is in that doghouse with Jeff Sessions so I'm not sure how (inaudible).

MATHEWS: That's a good point.

SESAY: That is what they would say. You know I think it's appreciated. Thank you very much.

MATHEWS: My pleasure.

SESAY: All right. Well, an early morning tweet on China raised eyebrows earlier on Thursday that we were just referencing. Mr. Trump wrote this, "Quarter at hand. Very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen."

Well, Alexandra Field is in Beijing and joins us now with more. Alexandra, how we gotten reaction from Beijing to this accusation made by the U.S. president?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Isha, even before the president sent out that tweet that certainly pointed a very strong finger at China the Chinese foreign ministry has already denied these claims. That's because this tweet actually followed reports in South Korean media that there were satellite images of Chinese vessels exchanging oil with North Korean vessels which would of course be a sanctions defying activity.

The president did not reference those South Korean media reports when he made those allegations on Twitter overnight here in Beijing, but that was followed up by seat (ph) department officials who say that they are aware of sanctions defying ship to ship transfers that North Korean vessels were participating in. They said the other vessels that were involved in those exchanges appeared to come from several different countries including China, but again, all we've heard from China is a strong denial that any of their ships are engaging in these activities.

They have said repeatedly that they are upholding the wide ranging sanctions that you have seen leveled against North Korea in recent months, and the Spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry went on to say that if any Chinese vessels were found to be participating in these kinds of activities, if there was evidence of sanctions violating activity that that would be dealt with.

But, of course, the issue here, Isha, is that flow of oil into North Korea. That has been the focus of the Trump administration when it comes to round after round after round of sanctions that we have seen over the course of the year since President Trump came into office. He's really been trying to stop that flow of oil into North Korea. Of course, North Korea depends on foreign oil, particularly from China, to fuel its economy also for its military.

You had a previous guest there who talked about the fact that China wants to see this happen in a more measured way. They don't want to spark a refugee crisis on their doorstep, but they have committed to tamping down on the flow of those resources into China. The president very publically wagging a finger now at China. Regardless of what you think of the strategy, Isha, we should say that certainly this is something we've seen before. We have seen the president go after China on Twitter saying that they've really failed to do all that they can do when it comes to reigning in this rouge regime. Isha -

SESAY: We shall see what happens in the days ahead. Alexandra Field joining us there from Beijing. Very much appreciate it. Thank you.

Well, as the world prepares to celebrate the new year, millions of people around the globe have nothing to cheer about. More corruption, atrocities, famine, and natural disasters made 2017 an extremely difficult time, and the new year promises no better. International aid agencies expect 2018 will be one of the most challenging ever. United Nations estimates almost 136 million people, mostly in Africa and the Middle East, are in dire need of assistance. Aid agencies believe they can reach and help about two-thirds of them. That's about 90 million people if enough money can be raised. About $22 billion is required. Sadly, only half that amount was raised last year.

Two of the most critical places are the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

For more, I'm joined by Sasha Lezhnev in Washington and Brian Abdeba in Krishna, Ontario, Canada. Both men are with the Enough Project, a human rights organization working to prevent genocide and other mass atrocities in Africa's deadliest conflict zones.

Sasha, welcome. If I could start with you, I want to start with a situation in the DRC which you have long focused on. Conflict is nothing new to this huge country, so how is the moment in time different? SASHA LEZHNEV: Well, displacement is at an all time high in Congo. 4.1 million people displaced now. I think that the new dynamics in Congo are that there is new conflict in the Kasai region which had not been previously - was mainly focused in Eastern Congo, but I think the new, interesting twist in Congo is that there is a mass movement for Democratic change to try to change the situation in Congo.

And so what you have now is a many different youth activist across the country who are fed up with war and corruption in Congo and the displacement and the violence and the billions of dollars that have been stolen trying to get the president out and have new leadership in Congo. However, the president has delayed elections once again, and so the international community needs to do much more to really get a proper Democratic transition on track so that the conflicts that are metastasizing across Congo can finally be resolved and corruption be brought to a halt as well.

SESAY: All right. So I want to talk with Levan (ph), this is self and the corruption (ph). Let's start with the violence. Do you have a sense of who is perpetrating the violence? By that I mean how much of this is non-state actors, rebel groups, militas versus state actors, the army, security forces? I mean, what's your sense is to who's actually carrying out the violence, the rapes, the losings, the killings?

LEZHNEV: It's really a war on all sides against civilians. So, by all accounts from local human rights actors and U.N. investigators, in fact, the Cognolese Army is one of the chief perpetrators of abuses against civilians. It was a Congolese local parliamentarian who was found guilty of rapes against children last month. There was a Congolese Army officer who was financing and aiding in a betting the ADF rebels. There was another Congolese general who was distributing arms and ammunition to armed poachers and other arm groups.

Of course, there are other arm groups out there that are also committing abuses, so the FDLR, the remnants of the Rwandan genocidaires are still active. The ADF, the Allied Democratic Forces, the Ugandan organization is also active in the Kamwina Nsapu in Kasai, but this combination really victimizes civilians the most, and that's why you have right now intense numbers of children dying, you have what could be the world's worst humanitarian crisis in 2018. Right now there are 49,000 cases of cholera that had just broken, and so there's a lot more help that's needed, but more importantly to resolve the structural problems of conflict.

SESAY: Yes, and this conflict you said is being fueled by a corrupt system of banking and gold. Can you explain that further?

LEZHNEv: Yes. Well, in fact, the reason that the - that conflict and corruption continue in Congo is that the president and his family and business partners are profiting from the situation, something that we at the Enough Project have termed a violent cleptocracy (ph) so that, in fact, an investigative team, the Congo research group, found last year that the president and his family control 80 companies.

Last month the Carter Center released a report saying that the state owned mining company lost 750 - suddenly lost $750 million over the last four years. We, ourselves, found that the same company mysteriously lost $95 million last year. The list goes on. There's $400 million worth of gold that's stolen every year, and so there are various armed groups that make money off of that and, of course, there are government contracts for copper, cobalt, diamonds and gold that are fueling these crisis in large parts.

SESAY: Those are staggering figures that you just shared with our viewers there. Sasha, do stay with us. I want to bring in Brian now. This brings us to the situation in South Sudan, world's youngest country which has been in the grips of violence for the last three years. What is happening there on the ground is devastating to behold, and once again it's being fueled by resources and corruption, correct?

BRIAN ABDEBA: That is correct. I mean, we at the Enough Project have investigated corruption within the system in South Sudan. We've found it to be very prolific and it goes to the highest level so far of P (ph) individuals in government. These individuals have associates and contents and cross border links that habituate this corruption and allows the looting of financial resources from Sudan - from South Sudan and packing these resources in neighboring countries. So it's a prolific game, and we have a system similar to what Sasha described in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We do have a cryptocracy (ph) - a violent cryptocracy (ph) in South Sudan at the moment and that is part of the reason that there is this fighting going on in South Sudan.

SESAY: But South Sudan, just to let our viewers know, had agreed on a cease fire - a negotiated cease fire that was set to go into effect on Christmas Eve only for a day or so later violence to break out once again and for South Sudanese military to wind up dead. I mean, with money on the table, with wealth on the table, what is the impetus on both sides as you sit down and agree to a lasting deal?

ABDEBA: Well, the impetus here, of course, is that without any external intervention, any external pressure, the punish (ph) of the conflict if left their own devices are unlikely to actually reach a deal, and we commend, of course, steps taken by the international community, notably the United States, to escalate financial pressures because when we talk of what's happening in South Sudan, we really need to get at the incentive structure that is in existence, that is perpetuating this war. And financial pressures on the individuals and the associates that are involved in this corruption are essential to change the calculus of the way they think.

ISHA SESAY: And I just want to get a sense - build a sense of views of the humanitarian toll. The cost of all this to the citizenry there in South Sudan. I mean once again we're talking about a great humanitarian crisis which, at points in 2017 slipped into famine by some accounts. I mean talk to us about the cost to lives there in South Sudan of this endless fighting for the past three years.

ADEBA: Well units are being displaced there's a total of about 4 million people displaced around 2 million internally displaced within the country. These people leaving very precarious living conditions in what they call (inaudible) camps within the country. So this is a larking the United Nations is struggling to provide the resources to sustain these people. Disease is rampant, there's lack of housing, there's lack of education for kids.

And any other ill thoughts - any other abnormalities that you can think of exist in these camps. On - across the borders billions are being displaced into - into refugee camps in Uganda and a few (PI)(ph) neighboring countries and in the Congo and they live in the same precarious conditions that their counter parts inside the country face. So the humanitarian crisis here is very, very huge.

There's no death toll right now, but there's no exact figure on how many people have died in this conflict. And yet when you talk to humanitarian workers the idea - the pictures that you get, is one of a huge number of people killed.

SESAY: Yes the situations both in DRC and South Sudan require us - I would say a greater mount of urgency in terms of an international response. There's no doubt about that. Sasha Lezhnev and Brian Adeba, thank you so much. We really appreciate the incite and analysis, thank you.

SASHA LEZHNEV: Thanks so much for having us Isha.

SESAY: Stories will continue to follow for you. Well rather than celebrations in the West African nation of Liberia as a former football superstar has now claimed a new prize, the presidency. George Weah (inaudible) declares a cheering reporters(ph) in the capital Monrovia after election officials announce his decisive win in the countries (inaudible) election.

But can Weah's success on the pitch bring success in the presidency? CNN's Patrick Snell has a look Weah's past and future.

PATRICK SNELL: Dancing on the streets in Liberia. Supporters of formal football star George Weah celebrate a hard fought victory over vice president Joseph Boakai in Libera's presidential election. The country held a run off vote on Tuesday after neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the initial ballot in October. This weeks election was also delayed after claims of fraud were investigated and later dismissed.

Weah was extremely popular with the countries youth who wanted to see change in the countries government. Which was criticized for not doing more to tackle problems like poverty and corruption. Whether or not the 51 year old will enjoy success as president is yet to be seen. But he certainly enjoyed plenty on the pitch. Among others Mr. Weah played for Monaco, DSG(ph), and AC Milan. He was African's first and only ballot door winner and was voted African footballer of the year on three occasions. Patrick Snell, CNN Atlanta.

SESAY: A new chapter for Liberia. Quick break and then a high speed rail station opening soon in Jerusalem named for the U S president, how Israel is getting swept up in Trump mania. Plus New York mayor called it the worst fire tragedy in the city in a quarter century, details on the deadly blaze in the Bronx just ahead.

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BRIAN ADEBA: When we talk of what's happening in South Sudan we really need to get an incentive structure that is existence that is perpetrating this war. And financial pressures on the individuals and the associates that are involved in this corruption are essential to change the calculus of the way they think.

ISHA SESAY: And I just want to get a sense - build a sense of views of the humanitarian toll. The cost of all this to the citizenry there in South Sudan. I mean once again we're talking about a great humanitarian crisis which, at points in 2017 slipped into famine by some accounts. I mean talk to us about the cost to lives there in South Sudan of this endless fighting for the past three years.

ADEBA: Well units are being displaced there's a total of about 4 million people displaced around 2 million internally displaced within the country. These people leaving very precarious living conditions in what they call (inaudible) camps within the country. So this is a larking the United Nations is struggling to provide the resources to sustain these people. Disease is rampant, there's lack of housing, there's lack of education for kids.

And any other ill thoughts - any other abnormalities that you can think of exist in these camps. On - across the borders billions are being displaced into - into refugee camps in Uganda and a few (PI)(ph) neighboring countries and in the Congo and they live in the same precarious conditions that their counter parts inside the country face. So the humanitarian crisis here is very, very huge.

There's no death toll right now, but there's no exact figure on how many people have died in this conflict. And yet when you talk to humanitarian workers the idea - the pictures that you get, is one of a huge number of people killed.

SESAY: Yes the situations both in DRC and South Sudan require us - I would say a greater mount of urgency in terms of an international response. There's no doubt about that. Sasha Lezhnev and Brian Adeba, thank you so much. We really appreciate the incite and analysis, thank you.

SASHA LEZHNEV: Thanks so much for having us Isha.

SESAY: Stories will continue to follow for you. Well rather than celebrations in the West African nation of Liberia as a former football superstar has now claimed a new prize, the presidency. George Weah (inaudible) declares a cheering reporters(ph) in the capital Monrovia after election officials announce his decisive win in the countries (inaudible) election.

But can Weah's success on the pitch bring success in the presidency? CNN's Patrick Snell has a look Weah's past and future.

PATRICK SNELL: Dancing on the streets in Liberia. Supporters of formal football star George Weah celebrate a hard fought victory over vice president Joseph Boakai in Libera's presidential election. The country held a run off vote on Tuesday after neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the initial ballot in October. This weeks election was also delayed after claims of fraud were investigated and later dismissed.

Weah was extremely popular with the countries youth who wanted to see change in the countries government. Which was criticized for not doing more to tackle problems like poverty and corruption. Whether or not the 51 year old will enjoy success as president is yet to be seen. But he certainly enjoyed plenty on the pitch. Among others Mr. Weah played for Monaco, DSG(ph), and AC Milan. He was African's first and only ballot door winner and was voted African footballer of the year on three occasions. Patrick Snell, CNN Atlanta.

SESAY: A new chapter for Liberia. Quick break and then a high speed rail station opening soon in Jerusalem named for the U S president, how Israel is getting swept up in Trump mania. Plus New York mayor called it the worst fire tragedy in the city in a quarter century, details on the deadly blaze in the Bronx just ahead.

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SESAY: At least 12 people are dead after fire swept through a New York City apartment building, four others are critically injured. The fire commissioner said the flames erupted Thursday evening on the 1st floor and spread fast. The youngest victim was only a year old.

BILL DE BLASIO: This is the worst fire tragedy we have seen in this city in at least a quarter century base on the information we have now.

SESAY: Investigators are trying to find out how the fire started. In Mumbai, India at least 14 people died in a fire at a roof top restaurant, most of those killed were women attending a party including one woman celebrating her birthday. 21 more people were injured and police say the restaurants manager and owners could be held responsible for homicide.

Now to Israel, where you can soon drive on Donald Trump Street, visit a park named after the U S president and even visit a rail station baring his name. It's a big thank you to Mr. Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital earlier this month. Orin Liverman has more.

ORIN LIVERMAN: Salah Addin Street in Jerusalem one of the main arteries to the old cities famed Damascus gate. The large lead Palestinian street named after the great Muslim leader goes straight into the heart of the Muslim corridor. Now a Jerusalem city council member wants to name it after a different leader, President Donald Trump Street.

It's park of a wave of projects across Jerusalem and Israel being dedicated to the American president. Another street in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon also to be dedicated to Trump. A park in a city in Northern Israel will be called Donald Trump Park. The mayor even getting a thank you letter from the president. The biggest project of all will be right in the old city of Jerusalem.

An underground stop for the soon to be operational high speed rail named Donald J. Trump Station. The idea came from Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz.

YISRAEL KATZ (through translator): People who arrive oversees, pilgrims, Jews and Muslims. They will come on the train on the safest and quickest path to the most important places and they will hear on the microphone that you have arrived at the station of the western ward in table mount named after President Donald Trump.

LIVERMAN: Katz shows me around the plans site of the station entrance. It will leave passengers a few feet away from the western wall. Trump became the first U S sitting president to visit the holy site in the old city, in May. A move that was hailed by the Israelis as a diplomatic victory who saw it as acceptance of Israel's control of the holy site.

But not nearly as big as Trumps recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

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Donald Trump: Today we finally acknowledge the obvious that Jerusalem is Israel's capital.

(End Video Clip)

LIVERMAN: Israel has lotted(ph) Trump as a hero even as the majority of the world overwhelmingly rejected Trumps decision. Any change to the status of the old city can set of demonstrations and protests across Jerusalem and the region. And a high speed rail project has already ran into its share of controversy since the Tela Viv-Jerseulm line runs under part of the west bank.

This underground stop in the old city for its location and its name sake is no less controversial no matter how deep it's buried. Orin Liverman, CNN Jerusalem.

SESAY: All right, coming up the grass is greener in California these days. Where recreational marijuana is soon to be legal, how the state is prepping for the pot. How the state is prepping for the pot rush.

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SESAY: You're watching CNN live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour:

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SESAY: It's almost high time here in California. On January the 1st, the largest U.S. recreational marijuana market will be open for business since voters approved legislation -- legalization last year, California has created a system for growing and selling cannabis.

To buy weed, you must be 21 years or older and for the most part you can't toke up in public places. Meanwhile, maritime businesses will need a license issued by the state's Bureau of Cannabis Control and Permission from their local authorities.

California is expecting pot to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars with a 15 percent excise tax on every cannabis product purchased plus additional state and local taxes.

(INAUDIBLE) is the CEO of MJIC (ph), a multifaceted company dealing in all parts of the cannabis industry.

Serges (ph), thank you for joining us.

SERGES (PH): Thank you for having me.

SESAY: So proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use was passed more than a year ago. And between that time and now effectively they've been working on this regulatory framework.

Talk to me about the difference, if one exists, between how recreational use is regulated versus marijuana use for medical purposes.

SERGES (PH): Sure. Well, those actually bills signed into law in 2015 by Governor Brown, which was going to govern in a uniform basis across the state, medicinal use of marijuana and production and distribution and cultivation.

With the passage of proposition 64, the legislation has been integrated to cover both of those. And so I think what we're going to see probably the most difference is in the retail experience for the customer and in the pricing --

[00:35:00]

SERGES (PH): -- that they're paying because the primary difference will actually be taxation.

SESAY: OK. Primary difference will be taxation; talk to me about what California stands to make in terms of taxation. First of all, let's start with how big a market do we expect in terms of adult use and growing of that, how much money could the government make?

SERGES (PH): A lot is the short answer to the question.

(CROSSTALK)

SESAY: Which is good for you. SERGES (PH): It's good for everybody. All those dollars are

ultimately going to go theoretically into education programs, into a lot of things for public health and public works. So obviously it's good for the state. It's good for the cities. It's good for everybody, including the patients.

But projected right now it's about a billion dollars' worth of tax revenue --

(CROSSTALK)

SESAY: Billion dollars?

SERGES (PH): -- correct. And in addition to that, you also see a lot of knock-on social effects beyond just the tax revenue as well. It's also lower incarceration rates, reduction independence. There's a lot of social benefit as well --

(CROSSTALK)

SESAY: -- pushback against that in terms of benefits and express concerns, especially for younger people taking up use of marijuana and concerns being that, according to some research, again, early stages of research, but certainly there was a report done by Northwest University that suggested that it could have an impact on short-term memory for young people.

How much of a concern or how much should that be on the minds of people as this happens?

SERGES (PH): Obviously, responsible use is part of the entire program, no matter how you legislate it. As far as kids are concerned, actually a lot of statistics show, for example, in Colorado, that teen dependence is at an all-time low with marijuana and usage since enacting of the legislation.

So I think we're actually seeing some enlightened kind of approach to the use of the product and, by virtue of that, I think that -- I don't think there's really as much to be worried about.

It's obviously a personal thing and a parental thing.

SESAY: But there is a concern of people smoking and getting behind the wheel. That is one big point that keeps coming up over and over again that, right now, being able to monitor how much TCH is in one's bloodstream is difficult.

And the concern is there is a knowledge that it will impair your abilities in some way but no one knows how soon that will kick in or how long that will last. Again, as we look to the change coming within the New Year, what are you hearing from -- what the expectation from law enforcement?

SERGES (PH): I haven't heard as much about the law enforcement angle as far as being under the influence. Obviously public consumption, there will be restrictions and limitations on that. But in terms of THC levels in the bloodstream, I that ultimately what we will see is exactly what's been happening in the industry, everywhere, which is a lot of innovation. So all of these problems as the industry matures and evolves and starts to approach looking like more mature industries in other areas that we will see a lot of innovation and a lot of development of concepts and solutions to address exactly those issues.

It's still a very young industry but it's still a lot to work out.

SESAY: And the federal piece to all of this, the fact that it's still seen as -- it's still considered illegal (INAUDIBLE) one drug on the federal level, are there fears as you speak to people and the space that, at some point, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has made no bones that he's against legalization that they will come after sellers and buyers in states?

SERGES (PH): It's always in everyone's mind. But at the end of the day, I think what we choose to do is focus on the good things that this industry does for everybody, whether that's looking at the criminal justice system, whether it's looking at the therapeutic properties of the plant, all the patients it's helped, all the tax revenue it has generated and can generate, I'm hoping that the federal government eventually will come to its senses and take a practical view on all the good things that this can do systemically for every level of society, from the local to the state to the entire country.

SESAY: It's great to get you perspective. As you know, there's some people take a very hard line (INAUDIBLE) but the fact of the matter is, come the first of the year...

SERGES (PH): It's going to be a very exciting New Year.

SESAY: Will you be lining up?

SERGES (PH): I think there are lines probably already forming as we speak.

SESAY: (INAUDIBLE), appreciate it. Thank you.

SERGES (PH): Pleasure to be here. Thank you.

SESAY: All right. Quick break here. Apple is trying to make amends after admitting it slowed down the performance of some of its older iPhones, what the company is offering some customers -- just ahead.

Plus (INAUDIBLE) China (INAUDIBLE) its annual display of snow and ice. But this year's show has a whole new element. We'll have it next for you on NEWSROOM L.A.

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(MUSIC PLAYING) SESAY: Apple is scrambling to counter customer outage (INAUDIBLE)

after it revealed it deliberately slowed older model iPhones. Apple says chemical aging of batteries could be one reason behind the lower performance of iPhone 6 and 6s devices. They say they will cut the price of battery replacement and issue a software update to help monitor battery health.

The company issued a letter to customers stating, in part, "We know that some of you feel that Apple has let you down. We apologize. We have never -- and would never -- do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades."

Now to Northeast China where a dazzling art expo is on display for those willing to step out into the bitter cold and it's packed with amazing creations all made of snow and ice. CNN's Amara Walker has a look.

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AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A dazzling 3D light show complete with polar bears, tigers and melting ice effects debuts in Harbin, China. The lights adorn a model of Harbin's St. Sofia (ph) Cathedral, made completely of snow.

This is the first time a 3D light show has launched at the 28-year-old International Snow Sculpture Art Expo, known as the global leader of snow sculpture art.

The main sculpture this year is shaped as a sphere with angel wings atop a snow mountain. Anticipating the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022. The annual exhibit is a main feature at the famous Harbin Ice Festival, luring curious sightseers from all corners of the globe to a series of enchanting winter activities, competitions and glittering light shows.

There are penguins that slide, Siberian tiger sightseeing and palaces fit for a snow king, a wonderland saturated with rainbow colors, sure to bewitch any adventure seeking travel willing to brave the cold of the frosty months ahead -- Amara Walker, CNN.

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SESAY: That is pretty cool. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay. Stay tuned now for "WORLD SPORT." You're watching CNN.