January 1, 2018

At midnight, California became the most populous state in the country to legalize marijuana after voters overwhelmingly approved the drug for recreational use in November 2016. "This is essentially going to eliminate prohibition on the plant of the last 400 years and return the plant back to the people," the CEO of a Santa Cruz dispensary, Khalil Moutawakkil, told the Los Angeles Times.

Still, just 49 retail licenses for pot have been issued by the state so far as the majority of cities in California have moved slowly on the rollout; Los Angeles, for example, delayed accepting applications until Jan. 3.

By the end of 2019, though, legal sales could top $5 billion, Newsweek reports — meaning marijuana could eventually bring in more revenue than beer in the Golden State. Jeva Lange

2:39 p.m. ET

Instagram's universally despised algorithm has been so widely criticized that the company announced Thursday that it is going to make significant changes to appease users. In a statement, Instagram said it will at last "ensure that newer posts are more likely to appear first in feed," which will hopefully mean you will no longer miss, well, everything. As Gizmodo puts it: "Instagram apparently no longer wants you to see Christmas Day photos on New Year’s Eve."

While that might seem like common sense, Instagram first started experimenting with a non-chronological feed in the spring of 2016. By 2018, the app was apparently rewarding posts with higher engagement, users who interacted with followers, and making tweaks based on how long other users spent viewing your post or engaging in the content, Later reports.

Other changes are coming too, like a "new posts" button "that lets you choose when you want to refresh, rather than it happening automatically." Finally! Jeva Lange

2:29 p.m. ET

President Trump says he would still talk to Special Counsel Robert Mueller even without his lead lawyer, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

Another day of legal chaos started Thursday morning as John Dowd, Trump's lead lawyer in Mueller's Russia probe, resigned. A little more than an hour later, Trump was asked if he'd still be willing to testify in Mueller's investigation.

"Yes. I would like to," he replied.

It's pretty much the opposite of what Dowd called for Saturday: an end to the investigation into connections between Trump's campaign and Russia, The New York Times reported. Dowd is said to have resigned because Trump wasn't listening to his advice; Dowd reportedly did not want the president to sit for an interview with Mueller's team, while Trump apparently feels he should. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:33 p.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The House passed the $1.3 trillion spending bill Thursday, approving the massive package to fund the federal government through September.

The 2,232-page bill was released late Wednesday after congressional negotiators finalized its terms. The proposal increases spending on the military and border protection and provides $1.6 billion for President Trump's proposed border wall — a fraction of the $25 billion the president sought. It does not address the DACA immigration program or defunding sanctuary cities, two hotly-contested provisions, though it does include provisions to increase school safety.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle applauded victories achieved in the omnibus bill while some criticized the ways it fell short. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) called it "the worst bill I have seen." The Senate will vote on the bill next, as lawmakers move quickly to meet a Friday night deadline to prevent a government shutdown.

Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

1:13 p.m. ET

Republican Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) questioned if the GOP "has lost its soul" during grave comments Thursday ahead of a vote on the $1.3 trillion budget bill. "For the Republican Party to have the presidency, and for the Republican Party to have the Senate, the Republican Party to have the House of Representatives, and for us to be passing a bill today — obviously it couldn't happen without us, we control the agenda here — for us to be in a situation where we're getting ready to pass a bill that adds $2 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years … does have to be a wakeup call to people as to whether that's the case," he said.

Corker added: "[If] we had a Democratic president and [Republicans] controlled the House and Senate, I can't imagine us being in a situation where we would vote tonight or tomorrow for a bill that's going to add $2 trillion in debt without offsets. Matter of fact, I can just tell you, that would not be the case." Watch his sobering speech on the Senate floor below. Jeva Lange

1:00 p.m. ET

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 500 points by noon Thursday ahead of President Trump's announcement of new China-specific tariffs. Trump said the tariffs "could be about $60 billion" and come in response to complaints that Chinese companies "force U.S. companies operating in the country to transfer technology and intellectual property rights to local business partners," CNBC writes.

Supporters of the tariffs, like White House adviser Peter Navarro, argue they combat China's "forced transfer of intellectual property." China has responded by threatening Trump-friendly Farm Belt states with retaliatory tariffs that would target American soybean, sorghum, and live hog exports.

"This is the first of many," Trump vowed as he signed the memorandum. Watch some of the president's comments below. Jeva Lange

11:56 a.m. ET

John Dowd, President Trump's personal attorney, resigned Thursday, The New York Times reported. The news comes just days after Dowd called for the end of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian election interference and whether the Trump campaign was involved.

Dowd reportedly resigned after concluding that Trump was ignoring his advice. The president "lost confidence" in Dowd's handling of the investigation, and sought to bring new attorneys on to help, The Washington Post reported. Trump downplayed rumors that he was looking for new blood on his legal team last week, tweeting that he was "VERY happy" with his lawyers, including Dowd.

Dowd had reportedly considered resigning before, but continued to urge the president to cooperate with Mueller's investigation. Dowd and Trump clashed over whether Trump should sit for an interview with Mueller, however; Trump reportedly wanted to do so, while Dowd advised him not to.

It is not clear who will take the lead in Trump's legal team. Summer Meza

11:43 a.m. ET

A floating clump of garbage in the Pacific Ocean has grown to be more than twice the size of Texas, research published Thursday found. That's at least four times larger than previously thought, the researchers noted.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch lies between California and Hawaii and comprises at least 79,000 tons of plastic, the study found, spanning across 617,763 square miles. To track the patch's growth, researchers flew over the area and used 18 boats to survey its true size and density.

"Ocean plastic pollution within the GPGP is increasing exponentially," they concluded. Microplastics, which are tiny fragments of plastics, make up the bulk of the 1.8 trillion pieces of debris in the patch, though the number of fishing nets present has also alarmed scientists, reports The Washington Post. The nets account for at least 46 percent of the patch's mass — a concerning statistic given sea life often become entangled in them.

The size of the patch is not changing as rapidly as is the sheer amount of trash, the study noted. The patch is becoming more dense, as plastics travel from all over the world on ocean currents and settle in the Pacific.

The findings present a daunting challenge to organizations seeking to clean up the mass. The United Nations estimates that there will be more plastic waste in the world's oceans than fish by 2050 without a major reduction in single-use plastic consumption.

Read more about the research at The Guardian. Summer Meza

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