Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, April 17, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Cultural shift on marijuana tracks along the same lines as shift on same-sex marriage
Sometimes and issue is more important as an issue than the question the issue presents in itself. If that sounds circular, just consider the issue of marijuana. The legalization of marijuana is a deadly serious issue. But the issue of marijuana and its normalization is a bigger sign of cultural change than the mere legalization of marijuana, whether it's styled as medical or recreational, may at first represent.
The issue is simply bigger than the pressing question. And when you consider that, just understand how the issue of marijuana and its normalization represents a very clear sign of a fundamental change in American morality.
One thing that was virtually universal at the midpoint of the 20th century, was understanding that any kind of drug that would bring about a hallucinogenic effect, would be something that should be controlled and limited by the government. The use of any kind of drug or substance that was intended to bring about a shift of consciousness was understood to be, if legitimate at all, to be under the control of doctors in specified medical context or something the government should forbid.
Thus, you had the rise of the Drug Enforcement Agency and an entire regime of laws at the national, state, and local level, criminalizing the use, the possession, and the sale of controlled substances.
What's really interesting to note is that right now, today on April the 17th of 2018, under the authorization of the United States Congress, it remains a Schedule I drug, explicitly illegal according to Federal law, to grow, to possess, to use, or to sell. But of course, we have seen how the moral situation has changed, and has changed so much that several states have already gone so far as to legalize what was first called medical marijuana, and then of those states have already proceeded to move to either the legalization or the perhaps less controversial, decriminalization of the possession of what's been considered to be a personal amount of marijuana, an amount that would be for personal use.
And then the state goes on to regulate the sale of marijuana in order to obtain taxes. It has to come up with a way of legalizing the sale and the growing of marijuana, the authorized retailers, and it has to specify exactly how much a person can own and under what terms marijuana might be sold.
Back during the 1920s, '30s and '40s, the use of marijuana was generally restricted to a very well identified extreme fringe on the culture. Back during the 1960s and into the 1970s, the early baby boomers made one of the central aims of their moral revolution bringing about the use of drugs in general, and that would include even stronger narcotics, and the routine legalization of marijuana.
All of that was basically put on hold for an entire generation, until just in time for the baby boomers to reach retirement age, there seems to be a massive cultural shift on the entire question of marijuana. Is there a bigger cultural shift on the generalized question of hallucinogenic substances? Probably not. But what we are seeing is that, on the issue of marijuana and the public acceptance of marijuana, that massive transition in morality, from something that was absolutely forbidden to something that is now being normalized.
The sequence of how this is happening on the question of marijuana is tracking almost exactly in time, in argument, and in structure the same moral revolution on the question of same-sex marriage.
Now on the question of the legalization, the normalization of same-sex marriage, we have noted several times that it was the velocity of that moral change that remains absolutely breathtaking. You're talking about seven years. Seven years in the experience of the American people in which we shifted from a majority of Americans saying that same-sex marriage should not be legal, to at least a bare majority of Americans saying that same-sex marriage should be legal.
On the question of marijuana, a similar kind of trajectory over a similar kind of period. In less than 10 years, we have gone from a majority of Americans saying that marijuana should not be legal, to at least a bare majority of Americans saying that some kind of use of marijuana should be legalized.
What's hard to explain is how that fundamental a moral change can happen in such a short amount of time. We can understand moral change over a process of centuries, perhaps generations. We can understand a shift on a policy position over decades, but when we're talking about something as fundamental as redefining marriage? When we're talking about something as instinctively important as the use of hallucinogenic or mind-altering drugs?
Well, we're looking at a moral revolution that's happening at breakneck speed.
Former Speaker John Boehner ‘evolves’ on marijuana, joins board of cannabis company
But in order to understand this, we don't just have to look at the polls, sometimes we can look at a "pol", a politician. One in particular who made the headlines just in recent days on the issue of marijuana. And I refer here to the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Republican member of Congress and then Speaker, John Boehner.
John Boehner resigned as Speaker of the House in 2015. This capped his service, decades of service in the House of Representatives, and his leadership post as Speaker of the House by our Constitution, third in line of succession to the Presidency. And we also have to understand that every single day that John Boehner was in office, including every single day that he served as Speaker of the House ... We're not talking about ancient history, we're talking about 2015, every single day, right up to his retirement day, he was a devoted opponent of liberalizing and normalizing or legalizing marijuana.
So why bring up John Boehner? Well, less than three years after his retirement as Speaker of the House, the New York Times reports that he has joined the board of a corporation that intends to be about the business of selling cannabis. Daniel Victor of the New York Times reported last Thursday, "John A. Boehner, the Speaker of the House from 2011 to 2015, reversed a long-held stance against marijuana legalization on Wednesday, saying on Twitter, 'My thinking on cannabis has evolved.'"
Now, whenever you have a politician who decides verbally, to rub the words thinking and evolved together, what you have is going to be an explanation for a fundamental change of mind that would otherwise be considered either erratic or irresponsible.
It was during his 2012 race to be re-elected as President of the United States that then President Barack Obama, having opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage, said that his thinking on the issue had evolved, and he announced that he was supporting same-sex marriage. Actually, in order to create an accurate time-line of President Obama's position on same-sex marriage, he was for it when he was a state official in Illinois, he was against it when he ran for the Senate, he was still against it when ran for President, and he was for it again when he ran for re-election.
Hillary Clinton, when she ran for President announced that her thinking on the subject had also evolved by the time she ran the second time in 2016, but now it's a Republican who's been evolving and it's a Republican who has been evolving on the issue of cannabis, of marijuana.
And the New York Times notes that a change on a position of this consequence in such a short amount of time, must involve some kind of explanation. And that's where the words came, "My thinking on cannabis has evolved." Well, let's not how it has evolved. It has evolved very conveniently and very quickly, along the lines that the culture is headed. But note something else. It has evolved in such a way that he has joined the Board of Directors of a for-profit corporation that intends to do big business when it comes to the industry of cannabis.
According to the Times, "While the announcement might be viewed as a sign that cannabis is becoming big business that can afford to ally with prominent names in the world of politics, Mr. Boehner cast it as a genuine change of heart. In a statement, he and William F. Weld, the former Massachusetts Governor, who also joined the Acreage Holdings Board, said, "The time has come for a serious consideration of a shift in federal marijuana policy."
Now one of the other things we simply need to note here, without being overly cynical, is to understand that when someone has a major shift on a moral position that comes with a monetary advantage, perhaps we should at least say, "We should be suspicious".
Daniel Victor, writing in the Times notes that the statement was, "A dramatic u-turn for Mr. Boehner of Ohio, who had been considered no friend of marijuana advocates while in office. His only vote on legalization came in 1999 when he voted to prohibit medical marijuana in Washington."
One champion of legalizing marijuana, Erik Altieri, he's the Executive Director of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, he put that together, by the way, it's supposed to spell "NORML" in its initials. He went on to say, speaking of Boehner, "He's really just a sign of the times in terms of where the American public is going."
Meanwhile, as USA Today made clear, the opponents of legalizing marijuana say they weren't all that surprised, in a cynical sense, about the former Speaker's evolution on the question. Kevin Sabet, of the group identified as Smart Approaches to Marijuana, responded to the news about the Speaker's evolution on the issue by tweeting, "Another rich white guy trying to cash in from pot. Shocked. Shocked, I say."
Liberal New York Governor Andrew Cuomo challenged from the left by pro-marijuana, lesbian actress
But while we're following this issue and its cultural importance, thinking about the fundamental shift in morality, that kind of fundamental moral shift is reflected in politics as well, the New York times on the very same day had to do another story about marijuana and this one's also really interesting, because it's at the intersection of the shift of the Democratic party to the left, in some cases what appears to be the radical left, and the moral question of marijuana.
It all comes together in the fact that Andrew Cuomo, the current Governor of New York, has an opponent from his left when it comes to re-election as governor. And his opponent in this race is going to be Cynthia Nixon. She was rather infamously identified with a television program "Sex and the City".
As Vivian Wang reports for the New York Times, "Cynthia Nixon, on Wednesday, made legalizing recreational marijuana the first policy plank of her campaign for governor, framing at a necessary step towards racial inequalities in the criminal justice system and in doing so, bringing to the forefront", said the Times, "an issue that may help her make inroads into Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's robust support among black voters."
There is a racial background to this that needs to be acknowledged, in the sense that white user of marijuana have always faced far less legal consequence and far fewer arrests, at least percentage-wise, than African-Americans who have used marijuana.
One of the dimensions of the question of mass incarceration has to do with the fact that there is a disproportionate impact when it comes to arrests and sentences for the use of marijuana. To put the matter bluntly, white users of marijuana are less frequently arrested, less frequently sentenced to any kind of criminal penalty than are African-Americans using the same substance.
But the most interesting aspect of this story is that into the race for governor of New York state, just consider the importance of New York state, you have the incumbent liberal Democratic governor of New York state, who is the son of a former liberal Democratic governor of the state, who is being challenged from the left in what appears to be a credible challenge, by a candidate who identifies with the legalization of marijuana, who was famous, is still infamous for her role on a sexually explicit drama, and who, after the drama has identified as an out-of-the-closet lesbian.
By the time you put that story together, it looks like the entire moral revolution's been wrapped up in one election race in New York state.
Why the black market for marijuana grows where marijuana is legalized
But before leaving the issue of marijuana, I wanna turn to the big money. The April the 2nd, 2018 front story of Barron's, one of the most influential financial newspapers in the country had the headline, "Cannabis Incorporated" with the sub-head, "With legalization of recreational marijuana later this year, Canada is pioneering a new industry. Investors," warn Barron's, "May want to wait for the smoke to clear."
But from a moral perspective, one of the most interesting aspects of this Barron's article is the fact that the legalization of marijuana is often accomplished by legislators and policymakers who argue that legalizing marijuana would rid the problem of the black market. It would eliminate the black market because once the substance is legal, it can be legally sold through legal agents and legally used, so there goes the black market.
But as the Barron's article makes clear, in the states where marijuana has been legalized, guess what? The black market has not only not gone away, in some cases it has apparently grown. Why? Because anything the state regulates is gonna have a price inflated by the regulation, which means the unregulated sellers will have a market advantage, because by definition, they're not regulated, the price is not inflated and so illegal marijuana will continue to be cheaper than legal marijuana, and people are likely to buy the black market marijuana rather than the state taxed, regulated marijuana.
Well, that's a pretty significant moral insight, and it is one that is grounded in the Christian scriptures and in centuries of Christian theological and moral reasoning. You simply can't deal with the problem of sinful behavior by somehow saying you're going to regulate it. That doesn't work in any realm of human endeavor.
Those who buy the argument that legalizing marijuana will resolve the issues, well, the joke's on them. But when it comes to this cover story in Barron's, I guess the joke's on us. When the financial magazine warns those who intend to get quickly into the marijuana business, that perhaps they might want to wait, here's the joke, "for the smoke to clear."
Morality, money, and celebrity: The anatomy of a corporate shakedown over same-sex marriage in Bermuda
But next, while we're talking about how moral revolutions happen, we need to understand how that financial dimension plays such a very important role. When you look at the entanglements between moral questions and economics, we need to understand that it works both ways. First of all there's an economic dimension to every world view issue, but every world view question also has economic dimensions.
Just consider the legalization of same-sex marriage, or consider that question in the island nation of Bermuda. Remember that just weeks ago, Bermuda reversed what had been the legalization of same-sex marriage, becoming the first major jurisdiction to accomplish that kind of reversal. Bermuda was force into the legalization of same-sex marriage by a court action, but later it's legislature responded by reversing the legalization of same-sex marriage, and instead creating recognized domestic partnerships.
But of course, that won't meet muster with the moral revolutionaries, and so Bermuda, that is very dependent upon tourism income, found itself being pressured by tourism companies, and especially cruise lines. And here, the economic dimensions of a moral question were made very explicit, because we were told that when it comes to tourism in general, that when it comes to cruises in particular, there is a disproportionate consumer percentage which is openly LGBT.
So, LGBT organizations began to call for an effective boycott of Bermuda as a tourist destination, which is also complicated, in both worldview and economics, because a disproportionate number cruise lines are either headquartered in or are very dependent on business with Bermuda. So, there's a perfect circle. When you're thinking about the moral issue and the economic dimensions, we've got Bermuda, same-sex marriage, cruise lines? What could go wrong?
Well now comes a headline from NBC News telling us that the cruise line Carnival Corporation has joined the fight against Bermuda's same-sex marriage ban. Rick Morgan for NBC reports the story this way. "Carnival Corporation is taking a stand in the civil rights struggle in Bermuda."
Before we go a millimeter further, understand what that means. Here you have the reporter and NBC News simply conflating civil rights struggle with same-sex marriage. Speaking of the legislative decision to rescind same-sex marriage and instead legalize domestic partnerships in Bermuda, NBC reports, "The law created a significant problem for Carnival. It's subsidiaries, Cunard and P&O Cruises are registered in Bermuda. The ban means Cunard and P&O ships cannot conduct same-sex marriages, regardless of where the ships are in the world. After taking a hands-off approach," we are told, "Immediately after Bermuda enacted the law, Carnival announced that it will join with OUTBermuda, to contest the ban."
So what exactly does this story mean? What exactly is Carnival Cruise Lines intending to do? Well, NBC tells us. We are told that the company's engagement, "Includes providing OUTBermuda with financial, civic, and public relations support as well as involvement by our company." The company will also, "File an affidavit to support the legal action of OUTBermuda." The company statement say "While we always abide by the laws of the countries we sail to and from, we believe travel and tourism brings people and cultures together in powerful ways. As a result, we believe it is important to stand by the LGBTQ community in Bermuda, and it's many outlies, to oppose any actions that restrict travel and tourism."
Well, that's the kind of corporate language we expect these days. It expresses a high-minded moral sentiment, but what it really indicates is a corporate surrender to an activist organization. Because what you need to note in this statement is that this organization advocating for same-sex marriage, brought corporate pressure on this company, and the company now says that it will not only support the activist group's aims, but that it will contribute financially, directly to the organization.
In other arenas in life, this would simply be known as a shake-down. Now what you also expect is that after this kind of shake-down, you would have the organization say, "Oh, this is just as high-minded as the corporation said in its statement." So, OUTBermuda released a statement, "OUTBermuda is proud to work with Carnival Corporation, which includes Cruise Line brands such as Cunard, P&O Cruises, and Princess Cruises, as the company has a long history of commitment to equality, inclusion, and diversity."
Well, what should you note there? Well, you should not that that is just a commercial. You'll notice that the activist organization, having brought the protest against the corporation, now being supported by the corporation, and even funded directly by the corporation, manages to mention every major brand owned by the corporation, in what's supposed to be their high-minded affirmation of the fact that the company really is on their side. Did you miss any of the logos?
But why, exactly, would Carnival Cruises have responded this way? Well, NBC decides to explain why, and I quote, "Carnival might have feared the spending power of the LGBT community. Justin Nelson, President and co-founder of The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce estimates 80% of the American LGBT population has passports, compared with 40% of the rest of the population. He," that is, this man sited in the article, "puts the economic impact of LGBT travel worldwide at more than $100 billion dollars."
Now, just being honest, we have no idea if the actual spending is anything like $100 billion dollars, but whatever it is, it was enough money to get the attention of Carnival Cruise Lines. So here we see how the whole circular pattern works. Bermuda took an action that was opposed by the LGBTQ community.
In response, that community decided to take direct action, threatening the financial livelihood of certain corporations that operate in Bermuda, namely cruise lines. They went at the biggest of the cruise lines and effectively said, "You join our movement and your fund our organization, or we are going to call for an international boycott of your product.
The cruise line then surrenders, the activist group claims victory. They all put this in the language of a high-minded morality, and then NBC News comes along to explain it by saying, "What's behind all this, is money."
We see the same story in the United States. You see it in the story of Amazon, the giant corporation looking for what it calls HQ2, a second headquarters likely to bring billions of dollars of economic impact. And so you have the cities and the states competing with one another. One of the company's values is very much advocacy, LGBTQ advocacy, so you have states and cities trying to outdo one another, in order to prove their LGBTQ bona fides and get the company's attention.
When any matter of LGBTQ legislation comes up, major corporations are amongst those who are now saying the state, the municipality, or the federal government must bend to this issue. But then as we bring all of this to a close, it's not enough in the circle merely to talk about morality and money, we have to throw in celebrity and cultural influence as well.
So does NBC News. When you come to the end of the article, I read, "A number of celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres, Patricia Arquette, and Suse Orman called for a boycott of Bermuda on Twitter." In some situations the celebrity influence may actually outweigh the corporate influence. In the case of Bermuda, it appears to be just about the opposite. But you'll notice, where one is found, the other is never far behind.
This is how cultural leveraging works and in a fallen world it often, as we see here, works in a direction that is injurious to the health of the culture and even to an institution and its stability, an institution as basic as marriage.
A moral revolution simply can't happen without an awful lot of co-conspirators. And here we that it's not just the activists behind it, but it is eventually celebrities and corporations who decide to join in the entire process, and then to couch it in high-minded moral terms.
What kind of moral terms? The new morality. The new morality, that we will simply wink and nod has completely replaced that old morality. And everyone involved agrees to say of each other, this is all about high-minded morality. But as we come to an end, we simply remember that it's not only on this issue of marijuana where there's plenty of smoke.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.