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Legal pot, gas explosions, shark attacks topped news in 2018

December 26, 2018
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FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2018 file photo, Stephen Mandile, right, an Iraq War veteran from Uxbridge, Mass., is the first to purchase recreational marijuana at the Cultivate dispensary in Leicester, Mass., on the first day of legal sales in Massachusetts. Voters approved it in 2016, but the start of recreational marijuana sales was among the tops stories in the state in 2018. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
1 of 10
FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2018 file photo, Stephen Mandile, right, an Iraq War veteran from Uxbridge, Mass., is the first to purchase recreational marijuana at the Cultivate dispensary in Leicester, Mass., on the first day of legal sales in Massachusetts. Voters approved it in 2016, but the start of recreational marijuana sales was among the tops stories in the state in 2018. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

BOSTON (AP) — 2018 was a year of firsts in Massachusetts.

The first stores east of Colorado selling recreational marijuana opened to great buzz and fanfare. So did the state’s first Las Vegas-style resort casino. For the first time, voters sent a black woman to Congress. And the commonwealth saw its first fatal shark attack on a person since 1936.

A look back at those and other top stories:

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LEGAL MARIJUANA

The grass may not be greener on this side of the U.S., but it’s just as lucrative: Massachusetts’ first commercial pot shops raked in more than $7 million in their first few weeks in business. Two licensed shops, one in Leicester and the other in Northampton, opened in November — two years after voters approved legal recreational weed in a 2016 referendum — and others were opening in Salem, Wareham and Easthampton. State regulators say yet more stores will open in 2019.

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SHARK ATTACKS

Cape Cod felt like “Jaws” was playing out for real after a great white shark fatally attacked a 26-year-old man just a few weeks after, and a few miles down the coast from, a separate attack that seriously injured a 61-year-old tourist. It was the first shark attack death in Massachusetts waters in 82 years, and it left officials anguishing over how to protect swimmers — and a multimillion-dollar tourism industry.

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YEAR OF THE (BLACK) WOMAN

Ayanna Pressley headed to Washington after voters elected her as the state’s first black woman to represent them in Congress. Pressley, a Democrat, unseated 10-term Rep. Michael Capuano in the primary and cruised to victory unopposed in November’s midterms. Pressley already had made history as the first African-American to serve on the Boston City Council.

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GAS EXPLOSIONS

One after another, in rapid succession, more than 100 homes and businesses across the Merrimack Valley were engulfed in fireballs that killed a teenager, injured two dozen other people and left thousands homeless. The dramatic series of explosions was blamed on Columbia Gas, which let too much pressure build up in gas lines supplying Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

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MOBSTER REQUIEM

2018 was the end of the road, literally and figuratively, for two mobsters who spent decades terrorizing Boston. James “Whitey” Bulger, 89, was serving a life sentence for 11 murders and other crimes when he was bludgeoned to death just hours after being transferred to a federal prison in West Virginia. Earlier in the year, “Cadillac” Frank Salemme was convicted and sentenced to life for the 1993 killing of a nightclub owner.

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2020 VISION

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren vowed to take a hard look at challenging President Donald Trump in 2020, and while she didn’t definitively declare, the liberal Democrat increasingly sounded like a candidate on the stump. Warren released DNA test results that provide some evidence of a Native American in her ancestry — an attempt to rebuff Trump, who ridicules her as “Pocahontas” for claiming native heritage.

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HARVARD ADMISSIONS

A lawsuit accusing Harvard University of racial bias in the way it admits students was tried in federal court, with many expecting the case to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Harvard was accused of intentionally discriminating against Asian-Americans through a personal rating score that measures character traits such as “courage” and “likeability.” The school says race only boosts an applicant’s chances.

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SEXUAL MISCONDUCT

In a scandal that played out beneath the golden dome of the Statehouse, former Senate President Stan Rosenberg resigned after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against the Democrat’s estranged husband, Bryon Hefner. An ethics report concluded that Rosenberg failed to protect the Senate from Hefner, accused by several men of sexual assault or harassment.

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WESTERN WAGERS

Massachusetts’ first resort casino with expansive gambling and entertainment options opened with a Las Vegas-style flourish. The $960 million MGM Springfield occupies a section of downtown hit hard by a major tornado in 2011. More gambling options are on the way: Wynn Resorts is planning to open a $2 billion casino in Everett, on the outskirts of Boston, next summer.

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DEVASTATING STORMS

Four powerful nor’easters in three weeks knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses, trashing many properties and public infrastructure along the battered coastline. Damage from hurricane-force winds, floodwaters and heavy snowfall prompted the federal government to declare the March storms a disaster .

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Follow Bill Kole on Twitter at https://twitter.com/billkole .

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