Friday, March 15, 2019

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Briefing

March 15, 2019

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Friday, March 15, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The new marijuana business is coming for you: How a recent flood of articles on the rise of cannabis indicates a turning point in the growing market

Earlier this week we looked at the cultural significance of the fact that the Harvard Business Review ran a major article indicating why so many American corporations, leading, influential, well-known American corporations, had become well-known of late for joining the sexual revolution, making very clear through their corporate branding and their virtue signaling that they are on the right side of history, that they are all for the LGBTQ revolution. We considered the fact that when moral change of this magnitude is reflected in that kind of article in the Harvard Business Review, we’re already on the other side of a revolution. It’s something of a mopping up operation in the minds of the revolutionaries, but with that very much in mind, consider a similar article sending a very similar signal. This time, it’s not the Harvard Business Review.

It is Fortune magazine, for decades now, one of the most venerable, respected, and influential business publications in the United States. Fortune and Forbes share the distinction of having cover stories that often indicate exactly where American business, and thus the larger culture is headed, or even announcing where it has already arrived. But in this case the issue is not the sexual revolution, it’s not sex, it’s marijuana. The cover story of Fortune magazine, Pot Goes Legit: How to bet on America’s next high growth industry. As we look at this, one of the things we need first to notice is how marijuana is over and over again being repackaged as a business issue. The business growth business, the explosive business of the future. The implication in the Forbes cover story is that you do not want to be left behind, when there is the opportunity to make untold wealth in the business. The big business of cannabis, of marijuana, and of all the related products.

A cover story at Fortune magazine is no small thing. It is sending an unambiguous kind of signal. As if we might miss the point, Clifton Leaf who is the editor and chief of Fortune, writes an editorial introduction in which he indicates that marijuana is already big business, but is largely big business outside of the United States. That’s because marijuana continues to be a scheduled illegal drug, according to the Food and Drug Administration and federal law. That is not the case across our northern border in Canada, where cannabis os already big business, and Leaf and others are concerned that America is going to be left out. He writes, “If and when that market opens, speaking of marijuana, Wall Street analysts and others say the windfall for the new pot prospectors and their investors could be immense.”

Again, don’t miss the signal. You don’t want to be left out in this revolution, and it’s no longer, according to this kind of presentation, even a significant moral issue. We’re so over that. Now it is just a giant commercial opportunity. This article and related articles we will see today are all about repackaging marijuana and cannabis as if they are simply without any kind of moral expectation, or moral kind of complication at all. It is simply a new opportunity for big business, to be embraced simply because it is a big opportunity to get wealthy. The actual article is by Jen Wieczner. The title is “Wall Street’s Contact High.” The subhead, “Excitement about legal weed turned Canadian startup Tilray into one of the world’s hottest stocks, and turned its American founders into billionaires. As big cannabis goes mainstream, it asks, will the buzz wear off?” Now just get used to hearing that, big cannabis.

We’re talking, of course, about big business getting into marijuana in a big way. Once again, inside the article, Wieczner is writing with the concern that this big money, of big cannabis, is not in the United States, but is instead moving elsewhere, including particularly Canada. He writes, “Yet for all that interest, most money invested in marijuana is leaving America. Public and private cannabis companies raised $13.9 billion in capital in 2018, quadruple the previous year’s total. That according to Veridian Capital Advisors, an investment bank, the tracks cannabis deals. Of that sum, however, 69% was invested outside the United States.” The article continues. As long as cannabis remains federally outlawed, American businesspeople have to reckon with the liability of technically aiding and abetting illicit activity, a risk many have decided is not worth taking. Helpfully, the Fortune article offers an historical review of big American capital getting into marijuana, and the story is not very old.

It goes only back to 2014, when we are told that Peter Teal, through his founders fund venture capital outfit, became the first institutional investor to announce a stake in the cannabis industry. But the major focus of the article is upon Tilray, the company now operating in Canada, though founded by Americans, that has already made billions of dollars, but leaving the Fortune magazine article, it’s interesting to look at how many articles like this have appeared just in the last several weeks. In the business section of the New York Times on Saturday, March the second, an article telling us that Martha Stewart, yes, that Martha Stewart, is also deciding to get into the cannabis business. Laura M. Holson reports, “She is better known for a love of copper pots than pot brownies, and the only cherry pie she seems to indulge in has a crust and is baked in the oven, but Martha Stewart, who built an empire as the doyen of domesticity, has teamed up with a Canadian cannabis company to create and promote a new line of hemp-based CBD products.”

The newspaper then asks the question, “Could this be a new era of cush cuisine?” By the way, just when you think this story couldn’t get more bizarre, it sounds like something written as satire, but it’s not. It appeared in the business pages of the New York Times. Consider this paragraph. Pay attention, especially to how it ends. “Bruce Linton, chief executive of the Ontario-based company Canopy Growth Corporation, says Ms. Stewart would have an advisory role and assist with the development and brand positioning of a new line of offerings for humans and animals. He said they hope to introduce something for pets soon, which they are currently developing.” Just pause and consider for a moment what this tells us. It tells us that there are people who are now falling head over heels, perhaps literally, by the way, in order to get into the cannabis industry. They need to find a new angle.

One of the new angles is getting Martha Stewart to be an advisor to the corporation and a public symbol. The other is developing lines of cannabis-based products for pets. That’s right. Fido needs his marijuana, too, and actually the article gets even more bizarre. Yeah. I have to remind myself, this is the New York Times. We are told that it was the rapper Snoop Dogg who got Martha Stewart interested in the cannabis industry, but how did that happen? Just consider again this article: “Ms. Stewart told the Hollywood reporter and her interview that Snoop Dogg had introduced her to CBD-infused cream. She recalled an episode at her estate in Bedford, New York, where she was having lunch with the rapper, and with friends, and her daughter Alexis. A rock fell on her toe, so Snoop Dogg race to his car and fetched a tube of CBD infused ointment, which he rubbed on her foot.

“I must tell you, my toe got better within two days.” I’m not making this up. I promise you, you can look at the link that goes directly to the New York Times article. Martha Stewart is now getting into the cannabis business, because Snoop Dogg introduced her to cannabis products after a rock fell on her toe, as she was having lunch with the rapper, and some friends, and her daughter, and she had such a good experience with her toe healing because she believes of the CBD cream that she has decided she’s going to get into the business. But honestly, when you put all of this article together, if you dare, you end up with pets being targeted for cannabis-based products because Martha Stewart had a toe that got hurt by a rock that healed. Meanwhile, at roughly the same time, the Los Angeles Times ran an article pointing to some of the complications of trying to make marijuana. Legit the article’s by Christina Davis, the headline, “Holding Marijuana to the Highest Standard.”

Once again, there are some quandaries here, and we see this over and over again. Very revealing in worldview terms, on the issue of marijuana. When you had politicians arguing for the legalization of marijuana, first medical marijuana, and then so-called recreational marijuana in states such as California, they said that one of the main reasons for doing so was in order to shut down the black market, but it turns out that the black market is, if anything, as big as it was before the legalization of marijuana. Why would it be so? It’s because the black market is a lot easier to deal with, and it is a lot cheaper, even than the state-registered marijuana. Furthermore, if you are going to register your marijuana in the state of California, you have to go through all kinds of tests, and you have to demonstrate the THC level of your product, and all the rest.

The black market doesn’t have to do anything like that, and thus the black market is thriving. Credit on this issue goes to USA Today for a series of very important articles in recent years indicating the fact that there are huge questions about the health and the quality of the marijuana that is sold either legally or illegally here in the United States, but then USA Today, on the front page of its money page in recent days, it ran an article with the headline, “Cannabis May Be Coming to A Mall Near You,” the subhead, “Rolling papers, CBD products go upscale.” The article’s by Charice Jones. How upscale is marijuana going? She writes this. “Cannabis is not just going mainstream. It’s going upscale. The plant whose species include hemp and marijuana is showing up in lux beauty products, sparking an array of glamorous accessories and becoming the focus of Wall Street investors.”

The next paragraph, luxury retailer, Barneys New York will unveil a shop selling cannabis-related accoutrements including blown glass pipes and 24 karat gold rolling papers at its Beverly Hills flagship next month.” Again, a sign of the times. We’re talking about Barneys New York, in its Beverly Hills flagship store, opening a shop that is going to sell the coolest and most luxurious cannabis and marijuana accessories of all, blown glass pipes and 24 karat gold rolling papers. As you’re thinking about what this means in moral change, how moral change happens, just remember that we have trace to the similar kinds of trajectories of the normalization, the vast moral change, on the questions of homosexuality, specifically looking at same sex marriage, and also at the legitimization and the normalization of marijuana. This article gets right to it: “Barneys believes that by lending its craftsmanship and cache to cannabis related products, some of the stigma may fall away.”

In using the word stigma, the article is actually underlining this process of moral change. The removal of stigma, which means the normalization, the removal of disapproval, which is replaced by cultural approval. Barneys thinks that it can be an agent of making the public come to an approving position on marijuana, because here’s another lesson in a fallen world of how an economy works, because it is going to make accessories and accoutrements for the entire CBD and cannabis world appear very attractive and upscale, including rolling papers. Remember, they’re supposedly going to be burned, made of 24 karat gold. What could be uncool about that? Another proponent of cannabis later in the article also used the word stigma, saying that there’s a lot of education needed to remove the stigma around cannabis. “When people stop seeing it as a drug, and start seeing it as a healthier alternative to alcohol for recreational use, as well as a plant with tremendous medicinal value, that’s when the stigma will be eradicated.”

That shows you how a lot of people who intend to make an awful lot of money in marijuana, or already are, who also acknowledge the fact that they want to make a moral point. The New York Times ran another article, this one by Alison Krueger. It’s seven buds for seven brothers telling us about a company that goes by the name of Charlotte’s Web. We are told that it’s a leading purveyor of the cannabis derivative CBD. The company hit the Sundance Film Festival with full force, we are told, and they also made a big public relations splash. “It had been envisioned by the seven brothers behind the company, Josh, 43, Joel, 39, Jesse, 37, John, 36, Jordan, 34, Jared, 32, Jay Austin, 27, and they all of course have the last same name. Stanley. We are told that five of them were attending Sundance with their proud mother, Kristi Stanley Fontenot, age 65, hosting screenwriters, film editors, and the like dressed in casual sweaters, jeans, and snow boots at panel discussions on the future of cannabis, and alternative healing, and at party serving CBD-infused cocktails.”

What’s the significant issue there morally? Mom. If you are in the marijuana business, if you have a new company, the leader in the field, we are told, that is led by, founded by seven brothers, and they are accompanied by a proud and beaming mom. if you can bring Mom into your marijuana business and make her proud, that requires a moral revolution. By the way, it is worth noting that in Monday’s edition, this Monday’s edition to the Wall Street Journal, there was another front page article on cannabis and the cannabis industry, but this one was pretty honest. It offers what the headline says is the sober truth about drinking cannabis. It tastes terrible. Vipal Monga and Jennifer Maloney report that the makers of marijuana-infused beverages are having a hard time selling their product, because they have to battle unsavory oils and hints of dirty socks. The reporters write, cannabis drinks are hitting the global market, promising anxiety reduction, pain relief, and better sleep. One thing none of them tout is taste.

Ron Silver, owner of Bubby’s Restaurant in New York, said of the cannabis oil used to make weed-infused drinks, “Like a barnyard.” We are told later that it tastes grassy and very funky, according to one observer, but later in the article we’re told this: “It turns out the oily cannabis extracts don’t mix with water, so getting the proper blend with each sip requires frequent shaking, and because of the way the body processes the compounds, it takes too long for the drinker to feel the effects. Then there’s the taste,” says the Wall Street Journal, “which has been compared to dish soap and urine.” I could see where it would be a tough sell, even with Martha Stewart and mom on your side, to sell that product. If nothing else, that front page article in the Wall Street Journal this week indicates just how irrational much of this energy in the cannabis market turns out to be, but Christians operating from an understanding of a biblical worldview that is so graphically, dramatically honest about sin will also understand why sin shows up in the kinds of issues that inevitably arise when you’re looking at the normalization of marijuana.

First of all, you have the profit motive, not just for business but also for government. We’ve seen the fact that many politicians see a golden opportunity for an entire new stream of billions of dollars of tax revenue. Then you see state after state saying, “If we don’t do it, and we don’t get the revenue, then state right beside us is going to do it, and the state north of us is going to do it, and before you know it, we’re going to be the losers, so we have to get into this business, and we need to get into this business first and fast.” But then we turn to a front page article in the New York Times, also this week, this time, not Monday, but Tuesday, Vivian Wang and Jeffery Mays report with a headline “Calls for Blacks to Get A Share of Pot Industry.”

The reporters tell us that black lawmakers, this is in New York, are blocking a push to legalize recreational marijuana in New York, warning that governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal could perpetuate the racial inequality fostered under current drug laws. Lawmakers say that unless people of color are guaranteed a share of the potentially $3 billion industry, that there may be no legalization this year. They want to be assured, says the Times, that some of the money will go toward job training programs, and that minority entrepreneurs will receive licenses to cultivate or sell the marijuana.” Likewise, recent articles have indicated that a gender imbalance may soon appear, in which women will not have their share of the marijuana business. Add that to the modern toxic idea of intersectionality, and just about everyone is going to argue that when the pie is divided up, it’s going to have to include them. It is very sad to see some leaders, political, religious, and otherwise who have flipped their position on marijuana because they see that economic pie.

They want their piece of the pie, and thus by no coincidence, their position on the moral issues related to marijuana seems to change. But the single most important article on marijuana in recent days, and an avalanche of articles, was a front page story in Monday’s edition of USA Today, right in the center of the front page, a headline, “High Risks,” the subhead, “As marijuana gains acceptance, opponents point to its dark side.” Jayne O’Donnell, Ken Alltucker and Shari Rudavsky are the reporters in the story. “In less than 25 years, marijuana has gone from illegal everywhere in the USA to legal, at least in some cases in all but four states. Advocates say the drug can help patients suffering from chronic pain. multiple sclerosis triggered muscle spasms, and the grueling side effects of chemotherapy. Some states are exploring whether cannabis could help wean people from addiction to opioids.

Beyond the medical claims, the reporters tell us 10 states and the District of Columbia legalized marijuana for recreational use, and more are considering it. The advocates’ long repeated argument. It’s safer than alcohol or tobacco, but then the reporter’s tell us, as cultural acceptance of cannabis grows, opponents worn a potential downside. These critics, doctors, police, and auto safety officials, parents point to stories and studies that link the drug to suicide, schizophrenia, and car crashes. Marijuana might be safer than alcohol or tobacco, they say, but that doesn’t make marijuana safe.” The next paragraph and I quote directly, “An increase in impaired driving by people under the influence of drugs including marijuana, for example, is threatening to huge progress made in recent decades to reduce drunken driving crashes.” Where are you hearing that? Credit to USA Today for putting that on the front page. Again, the paragraph says straightforwardly that an increase in impaired driving by people under the influence of drugs, including marijuana, is so significant that it is threatening all the progress made in recent decades to reduce crashes due to drunken driving.

The USA Today article cites several authorities registering their concern. Bucknell University neuroscientist, Judy Grisel, author of the book, Never Enough: It’s A New Book on Addiction, quote, “warns that laws have outpaced the science,” and her words, quote, “It’s astounding how short our memory is. We always think the next thing is the answer.” Just a few inches down in the article, psychiatrist Andrew Saxon, we are told, opposes legalizing marijuana for medical use because he says evidence that it works is scant. He’s a professor at the University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and he chairs the American Psychiatric Associations Council on Addiction Psychiatry. He said, “I just don’t think it’s a good idea. It’s not like any other medication I might prescribe. Then I can tell you exactly how much to take, how to take it, and decrease the dosage and increase.” But the most important section of this article is where Alex Berenson is cited.

He’s the author of the new book, Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence. We’ll be looking more closely at that book in the future. Berenson says there is plenty of evidence that high strength marijuana or cannabis causes psychosis. He says the evidence has only gotten stronger since he finished his book. “The stories are now so much worse than that kids failed out of school and went on to other drugs. A lot of suburban families,” he said, “Who never thought this would be a problem, are starting to tell their stories.” Indeed in his book, Berenson presents a wealth of evidence that there is an undeniable link between the use of marijuana and the development of psychosis, including schizophrenia, and once again we’re talking about an article in the mainstream media, USA Today.

The article ends with this, and it demands our attention: “Researchers at Duke University gave subjects IQ tests at age 13, before any of them had smoked marijuana, and again at age 38. They reported in 2012 that those who started using cannabis in adolescence and continued for years afterward showed an average decline in IQ of eight points. Quitting cannabis says the article didn’t reverse the loss.” We are then told, “The researchers who conducted the review by the national academies found that learning memory and attention are impaired immediately after cannabis use, but they concluded that the evidence that use impairs academic achievement is limited.” This does remind us of an article we cited from the European press a few months ago, indicating that the legalization of marijuana near university campuses had led to a deterioration in the academic performance of those students. Once again, this is the kind of information that demands our attention, because it’s morally significant, even when the world around us does not see it as morally significant, and in the rush to making money, either through capitalism, or tax revenue, or anything else that might be covered in all these articles, and in the industry, simply denies or tries to deflect away the moral considerations whatsoever.

As these articles make very clear, and as Christians know, that is impossible. It’s impossible when it comes to marijuana for that matter. It’s impossible when it comes to any issue, and we are watching a fascinating and troubling moment in our society, a moral turning point, in this case, on the issue of marijuana, but as we’ve seen on so many other issues, when this kind of turning point is reached, it will not just be on one issue. The logic will be extended to other issues. This starts right now with marijuana, but it won’t end there. The new marijuana business is coming for you, and you’ve been warned that Martha Stewart is coming for your dog.

Part II

A Mob Boss and an American Inventor: How the teenage years of Carmine Persico and Jerry Merryman pointed to the men they would become

But finally, as the week comes to an end, I want to look at two very timely obituaries, both of them for men who died at age 85, both of the obituaries in the New York Times, the first of them in a very unusual manner, ran beginning on the front page of the print edition of the New York Times.

The simple statement is “Carmine Jay Persico, 1933 to 2019.” The headline, “Teenage Hit Man who rose to a mob throne.” The story of Carmine Persico is one of the great moral dramas of the 20th century, continuing into the 21st. It reaches back into the history of organized crime in the United States, specifically amongst the organized crime families in the city of New York. Carmine Persico did indeed become a teenage hit man, and as the record shows, he got away with murder, but he died just days ago at age 85 while he was serving at 139 year sentence in the federal prison. The Times reports that his lawyer Benson Weintraub, confirmed the death at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham. He said he did not know the cause. Mr. Persico had been incarcerated nearby at a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina. Selwyn Raab, the reporter in the obituary, then tells us, “Mr. Persico spent most of his adult life under indictment or in prison, and yet even from behind bars, he managed to retain his station as the leader of a vast and violent criminal enterprise known as the Colombo family.

“Law enforcement authorities believe that he had a strong hand in the assassinations of the mob bosses, Albert Anastasia and Joey Gallo.” Carmine Perisco’s life as recorded even in just this obituary in recent days, indicates the descent into the moral mayhem of murder and violence, organized crime, and ever increasing criminality. The Times tells us his first arrest at age 17 was for murder, but employing a keen intelligence, street-bred guile, an appetite for violence, and a willingness to betray others, he quickly climbed the ladder to the top of the Colombo organization. Edward A. McDonald, a former federal prosecutor who was in charge of the Justice Department unit that investigated the Mafia in the 1970s and the eighties said, “He was the most fascinating figure I encountered in the world of organized crime. Because of his reputation for intelligence and toughness, he was a legend by the age of 17 and later as a mob boss, he became a folk hero in certain areas of Brooklyn.”

The story goes on in terms of the difficult and complicated issues related in organized crime and its own moral order. Quote, “Mr. Persico’s penchant for double crossing his mob allies earned him an underground nickname that he detested, the snake. It was a name that none of his confederates dared utter in his presence. They always addressed him by the more pleasant sounding but misleading appellation, Junior.” One of the revelations to many Americans in the late 20th century was that organized crime wasn’t just fictitious. It is real. Even though at one point it had been denied, even in its existence, by J. Edgar Hoover, longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but by the sixties, seventies, and eighties in the United States and furthermore, long before that, to anyone living in cities such as New York, there was no question that the mafia existed, and that organized crime and all of its complexities and tentacles, was very much a part of everyday life and some cities, and especially some neighborhoods, controlling entire businesses, both licit and illicit.

The obituary in the New York Times sounds almost like the description of a movie. “At the height of his power from the early 1960s to the mid-eighties, Mr. Persico, neatly attired in a suit and tie, roamed Brooklyn, particularly the Carroll Gardens Red Hook, Park Slope, and Benson Hurst sections, slightly built at five feet, six inches tall and weighing about 150 pounds. He was usually accompanied by his favorite side kick and bodyguard, Hugh Macintosh, a six foot four mobster with a frame like a tree trunk.”

But that other obituary I mentioned is also in the New York Times, Jerry Merryman, age 85, co-creator of the calculator that fit in a pocket. Kate Metz is the reporter in this case, telling us about the man who was at least the co-creator of what became known as the pocket calculator. He said, “Silly me. I thought we were just making a calculator, but we were creating an electronic revolution.”

While Carmine Persico became a gangster in his teens, Jerry Merryman became a self-taught engineer. He’d never graduated from college, and yet he became one of the most famous engineers in American history. As The Times tells us, “In 1965, two years after he joined the electronics maker, Texas instruments, without a college degree, Mr. Merryman and two other engineers were challenged to build a calculator that could fit into a shirt pocket. He designed the fundamental circuitry in less than three days, and when Texas Instruments unveiled the device two years later, the moment marked a transformational shift in the way Americans would handle everyday mathematics for the next four decades.” In the obituary published on Merryman in the Los Angeles Times, his wife said, “He always said that he didn’t care anything about being famous. If his friends thought he did a good job, he was happy.”

One of the big lessons from all of this, here you have two men who died in recent days at age 85, one of them a mobster who died in prison, the other an engineer who helped to transform the United States, who died in retirement. The important thing for us perhaps to recognize is this. Both of these obituaries go back to when these two men were teenagers, and the stories make very clear that if you knew those men when they were teenage boys, you really would have a pretty good idea of the men they would become.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Orlando, Florida, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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