Tuesday, March 23, 2021
It's Tuesday, March 23, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Marijuana Policies Reveal the Nation’s Moral Confusion on Marijuana — and Ground Zero for the Confusion is the White House
As we observe the society around us, one of the things we note is that different moral issues jockey for different kinds of priority over time. We also see that some issues that were a really big deal, morally speaking, sometime back are not such a big deal now. Issues, on the other hand, that weren't considered matters of such a high moral interest become issues of very high moral interest. Now, Christians understand, this doesn't tell us anything about subjective moral truth, whether our society considers, for example, adultery to be a serious issue or not. If adultery waxes and wanes, goes up and down on the scale of moral interest or outrage in our society, that doesn't tell us actually anything about the moral status of adultery. It tells us something about the moral condition of our society.
But that moral conditions of interest, we're watching it, we're a part of this society. We've seen some issues that were not taken seriously in recent decades come to be taken far more seriously. Take the issue of driving under the influence of alcohol. If you go back to the 1960s, drunk driving, as it was then called would sometimes be a matter of comedy. You would have someone like Otis the Drunk on the Andy Griffith Show. You would have people in sitcoms who would be referring to themselves as being inebriated, and it was somehow connected with driving. You've also had the fact that amongst police forces in this country, concern for the crime of driving under the influence of alcohol had a lower priority than it does today.
All of that began to take shape about 30 years ago with the understanding of how many people were being killed and severely injured in drunk driving accidents, and thus the issue took on a new volatility and people such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, known as MADD, an activist group, they bear a lot of responsibility and credit for making that issue of far greater significance in the culture. But at the same time, we have seen other kinds of moral change. One of the things we just have to face squarely is that we have seen matters of personal sexual morality. Now, we need to note, not all matters, but some selective matters of individual or private sexual immorality, we have seen them slide down the scale of our society's concern. Premarital sex, sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage would have been a disqualification for much public credibility or even for jobs or for admission to schools just a matter of decades ago. There would be people in our society today who would wink at that or laugh at that, certainly be relieved that that oppressive morality of the old Christian past has been left behind.
But sometimes there are moral issues that the society at large just doesn't know what to do with, and this turns out to be very interesting as well. We've discussed the issue of the legalization of marijuana repeatedly on The Briefing, because it's in the headlines quite a bit. But looking just over the last several days and weeks, it is clear that our society has no idea what to do with this. State after state, the vast majority of states have legalized at least something that would be considered as the medical use of marijuana. As I pointed out early in that process, that medical use is pretty expansive. You can come up with just about any justification for some kind of prescription for marijuana or cannabis.
But at the same time, an increasing number of states are also legalizing so-called recreational marijuana, and we see a burgeoning market in marijuana. We see even more outlandish promises made by politicians about the future of the marijuana business and what it will mean for their state coffers. We also are looking at the intersection of the social justice movement and marijuana with many people declaring that restrictive marijuana laws are not only wrong from a libertarian perspective, binding human behavior in a way they say is unwarranted, but the enforcement of marijuana laws, specifically, and drug laws, generally, they say reflect a racial disparity, and in the name of justice, we basically need to see the decriminalization of much drug use, and in particular marijuana use, in order to eliminate those disparities.
Fascinating conversations. But one of the things I want to note is that if you look across the landscape, it is clear that our society really doesn't know what it wants to do on the issue of marijuana, ground zero for our society not really wanting to know what it wants to do and how much responsibility it wants to take for legalizing marijuana. Ground zero is none other than the most famous residents in the United States at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, that house otherwise known as the White House. Headline in the New York Times on Saturday, "White House shifts rules for past use of marijuana." Shifts rules for whom? For those who would work within the White House and administrative positions.
Reporters Katie Rogers and Zolan Kanno-Youngs report, "In February, the Biden administration signaled that past marijuana use would not necessarily disqualify a person from employment by relaxing longstanding policies that have barred some past users of the drug from working in the White House." That's an uncharacteristically opaque lead paragraph for a report in the New York Times. It uses phrase such as not necessarily, disqualify, relaxing, not eliminating, long standing policies that have barred some but, not all past users, not current users of the drug from working in the White House. If you look at that paragraph, it is filled with equivocation.
Clearly, the White House doesn't know what it intends to do on the issue of marijuana and is now doing virtually the opposite of what President Biden and his administration said it was going to do in, using the language of this report again, relaxing policies that would have disqualified a person from appointment in the White House for past marijuana use. Well, as the story develops, it turns out that the White House was intentionally trying to change the policy to open the door "for younger talent" from parts of the country where marijuana has been legalized. But as the Times tells us, it took only a few weeks for the new guidelines to be publicly tested. Well, publicly tested by what? Well, publicly tested by reality.
The Daily Beast reported just the last week that dozens of young staff members at the White House had been "pushed to resign" or had been reassigned to remote work based on their past marijuana use. Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, confirmed that some White House employees had indeed been sidelined, but says The Times, "She said that it applied to fewer people." The bottom line is this, and by the way, when a Press Secretary for the White House says the bottom line is anything, it rarely is actually the bottom line. But she said, "The bottom line is this, of the hundreds of people hired, only five people who had started working at the White House are no longer employed as a result of this policy."
Now, what's missing from the bottom line there? Well, how many people had not yet actually started work, but nonetheless are never going to start work because of this new policy. When we are told as the result of this policy, what other policies might have been invoked? But here's where the story gets really, really interesting. Let me just give you a little background here. Let's just remind ourselves. Numerous states in the United States have legalized so-called recreational marijuana use. President Biden and his administration wanted to say, "Look, past marijuana use should be no necessary barrier to employment in the White House."
Let's put it another way, the reality is that if you are a Democratic President trying to staff a Democratic administration, and especially if you want to hire young people coming from states, like let's just say California, Oregon, Washington, that would mean the entire West Coast, just an illustration of the states that have legalized recreational marijuana, if you say that you cannot historically have used or even recently used marijuana, well, you're cutting down the opportunity for you to employ the young people that you say you are seeking for talent from much of the United States of America.
That's a quandary. Why is it such a quandary? As it turns out, states like California have legalized recreational marijuana, but according to the federal government headquartered in its executive branch at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, according to yes, that federal government of the United States of America says that the possession and use of marijuana violates the law for a Schedule I drug. It is a major crime. So as it turns out, you see the Biden administration here. By the way, this could apply far beyond the White House, but it certainly applies, first of all, to the White House because the President of the United States has taken the oath of office to uphold the laws of the United States of America. Yes, laws restricting marijuana use, sale, possession are a part of the legal code of the United States of America.
So then you get down some really interesting things that come out in this article. So the Biden administration has been trying to figure out how recent recent use of marijuana might be. Hint, hint. Not too recent is better than recent. How recently? Well, they're not exactly saying. What about frequency? Frequency might come up as some kind of moral issue when you're talking about the use of a consciousness altering kind of substance. Well, as it turns out, hint, hint, less frequent is evidently better off if you're going to work in the Biden administration than more frequent. But again, just how frequent? Because we are talking about a violation of federal law.
We're told in this article that the Obama administration had required past use to have been six months old or longer, or only two or three uses in the past year. Okay, maybe actually using cannabis makes this policy make more sense because we're told that yes, it's a federal crime, but if you did it only a couple of times in the last year, two or three times, and if indeed your last use was just six months ago, well, maybe you're not enough of a criminal not to work in the White House. Oh, and remember, that was the policy of President Barack Obama, who famously in contrast to his next previous Democratic President, Bill Clinton, admitted that he used marijuana and inhaled.
If you're not old enough, I have to know what I'm talking about there, President Bill Clinton claimed to have smoked marijuana as a college student, but not inhaled. Basically, no one was inhaling that as the truth. We're told that this is a conflict now between the younger progressives who want to work in the administration and the president who has historically a "more moderate stance toward the drug". A statement from Kathleen McGettigan, who was speaking half of the United States Office of Personnel Management said, "It would be inconsistent with suitability regulations to implement a policy of finding an individual unfit or unsuitable for federal service solely on the basis of recency of marijuana use. Past marijuana use including recently discontinued marijuana use should be viewed differently from ongoing marijuana use." Yes, that is your federal government speaking there.
Now, I want to admit it's quite easy to make fun of this policy because after all, it is itself full of contradictions and value judgments that aren't even well expressed. If you are talking about the violation of a federal law and we are, how is it actually materially different than you did it two or three times last year rather than say three or four or five, or dare we say more? It's also in interesting that you're talking about a federal crime and of course some in the Biden administration want to eliminate the fact that it is a federal crime, but right now it is a federal crime. Thus, if you did it six months and one day ago, is that really materially different than doing it six months ago minus one day? Plus one day, minus one day, is that really the distinction as to whether or not one is morally disqualified from working for the federal government?
Would it then make a difference, by the way, if you delay your application a day or hope that some bureaucrat loses your file for a day one way or another? Evidently, a day can matter. But again, that just points to moral confusion over an issue like marijuana. I've also on The Briefing discussed in past editions the moral meaning of marijuana. We are talking about a consciousness altering substance. We are talking about something that we know poses real danger, particularly for young brains that are in the process of development. We've seen documented irrefutable evidence that college students using marijuana suffer academically by the use of marijuana as compared to students who do not use marijuana. Of course, we were just talking about a society that is now taking, for instance, driving under the influence of alcohol with greater seriousness. Well, what about marijuana?
In the bigger picture, Christians need to understand that this confusion over marijuana is a symptom of a society that is increasingly detaching itself from any objective morality, that would be the biblical worldview. By the way, the biblical worldview doesn't give us chapter and verse on every particular issue and every particular context. But the biblical worldview has the supreme virtue of not presenting morality as something that is variable and relative and up for negotiation, let's just say one rule or another, one day or another. The fact that the Biden administration has now had to backtrack on its attempt to try to revise the marijuana hiring policy, well, it turns out that that's a symptom of the fact that the White House is pretty much in the same position as the rest of the country in not knowing exactly how it intends morally to evaluate this issue.
But here's what's interesting. Evidently, the Biden White House has had to admit maybe this is actually a bigger moral issue than we said during the campaign. Maybe once the fog of all the smoke in the room clears, someone said, "Maybe we're going to have to take this a little more seriously."
Moral Confusion on the Marijuana Issue Is International — What We Learn by Looking at Recent Developments
But before leaving the issue of marijuana, there are so many headlines of late. One of them is coming from Mexico. Oscar Lopez reporting for the Times, again, tells us that Mexico is considering a federal decriminalization of marijuana, and we're talking about what, if made legal, would undoubtedly be the world largest cannabis or marijuana market and economy.
But even as Lopez indicates in this report, many people in Mexico are being driven towards the legalization of marijuana by the promise of all kinds of income, of riches, of tax revenue, and profits to be made out of an exploding marijuana business. But it turns out that promises of an exploding marijuana business have basically fizzled. As this article indicates, they have largely fizzled in Canada, where there has been some positive economic growth for marijuana, but not the spectacular growth and certainly not the spectacular tax revenue that was promised, partly because here's another fascinating angle of the marijuana question, it comes down to the fact that when you create a legal market for marijuana, the illegal market doesn't go away because the illegal market offers a product that many marijuana users consider to be quite superior to the legal product.
It also turns out that if you have a legal product that charges taxes, you still have a black market for an illegal product that doesn't come with the tax bill. Go figure. But the fact that you also see an economy, a consumer economy that begins to conform its morality to a new kind of moral impulse, you have people who are saying, "Look, marijuana." Again, could be big business, Investor's Business Daily, a major financial newspaper in the United States had a front page, The next chapter for legal pot. The subheads, as cannabis stocks run wild, analysts are working to keep investors' hopes in check. Cannabis stocks run wild. Does that mean that there is a huge increase in value? No, it means there's a huge increase in anticipation. But many of the other headlines remind us that that anticipation is rarely actually turned into the profits that have been promised.
Then there are a couple of other things. Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, who you might know is in a certain amount of trouble for things unrelated to marijuana. He has nonetheless decided that he's now going to push for the legalization of marijuana in New York and he's using it as political leverage to try to say, "Look, you can get your piece of the pie over here. Someone else can get his or her piece of the pie. Everybody's going to be happy." This is very equivalent or parallel to what we have seen as state governments try to negotiate, distribute and divvy up the proceeds from legalized gambling. In both cases, you're taking things that are injurious to the total population and saying, "Look, they might be dangerous, they might actually be immoral, but after all, there's money to be made for the state coffers. Who else is going to pay the bills for our huge pensions?"
But then in recent days, USA Today ran an article that is datelined from Virginia. The headline in a nod to racial justice, Virginia votes to legalize pot. The governor there who you might remember, Governor Ralph Northam was caught in a very embarrassing black face scandal earlier in his administration. He has now learned how to turn some issues used to his advantage, arguing for the legalization of marijuana as a matter of racial justice. Now, as I began, there is a racial disparity when it comes to arrests and convictions and criminal records as you look at the issue of race. But legalizing, decriminalizing marijuana and other drugs is not the only argument to be made to remedy that racial disparity. But it is a very advantageous argument, particularly for the political left.
But then the Washington Post Editorial Boards, I'm not just talking about an op-ed piece, we're talking about an official statement from the Editorial Board of the Washington Post headlined its opinion piece, If Virginia is going to legalize weed, it should do it right. What's the point of this editorial? If Virginia is going to address the issue of marijuana as a way of addressing the problem of racial inequities and arrests and convictions, even as in Virginia, the proposal is to phase this in with an eventual full decriminalization a few years in the future, they're saying, "No, it can't wait 2024. They need to have a regulated market, decriminalization and legalization right now."
These issues are not specifically related, but the increased moral acceptance of marijuana in this country was almost exactly parallel when polling data to the increased acceptance of the idea of same-sex marriage. You can look at virtually the same beginning time and ending time where there was a huge shift in the society. But as you look at the issue of marijuana, it is clear that there are many people in this country who are having second thoughts, or like the White House, having to come up with a second policy. But the lesson for Christians is this, the most fundamental lesson is that if you sever the making of your moral judgments from an objective morality, grounded in norms that are publicly accessible, then you inevitably end up with a process of negotiation that has its ups and downs, its progress and regress, its yes and its no. Just ask the White House.
Better Not Give this Cross-Stitch Book to Grandma — Controversy Over Foul-Language Feminist Cross-Stitch Book at Major Retailer
But finally for this addition to The Briefing, as we're thinking about other moral confusions of our day, here's one. Controversy about Michaels, that would be the art and craft supply store found in much of suburban America. Evidently, the company is now in hot water for withdrawing, or at least temporarily withdrawing, a cross-stitch book that actually included a profanity that wasn't known until you made the cross-stitch. Well, you might imagine that there's more going on here and the more has to do with feminism. It turns out that this cross-stitch pattern book is in a series by a feminist cross-stitch author or artist or whatever you call someone who comes up with the patterns for cross-stitching.
The report by Christine Hauser tells us this, "Hunkered down because of the pandemic, craft activists have recently drawn inspiration from challenges to equality, social justice and gender rights. But last month, Michaels, the large craft retailer in the United States became an unlikely source of controversy when it ordered stores to trash a book of cross-stitch patterns with feminist messages, some of which contained salty language." Or how salty? Saltier than I'm about to approach on The Briefing. Let's just say bad words, really bad words.
We're told later in the article that as Michaels locations were stocking the book titled Feminist Cross-Stitch for women's history month, at least two employees noticed that four of the 40 patterns contained a specific obscenity, that according to the explanation that was sent by the company. So the management of the company got ahold of the managers of the stores. They were told to take this cross-stitch book out of the inventory, though it remain in the inventory online. They were actually told to trash the book and that turns out to be a controversy because feminists are mad that their cross-stitch pattern with the bad words in it would have been trashed. After all, that's like the Nazis burning books in Berlin. You toss my feminist cross-stitch with dirty language and you're just like a Nazi.
Some of the language is so bad I can't even read the statement that came from the company explaining why the books were withdrawn and tossed, but Michaels went out of its way to say that it wasn't offended by the feminist message, only by the vulgarities and obscenities that some of its customers would, here's a surprise for you, find objectionable, and for that matter, not want to hang on their wall. The article also tells us that the retailer offered an apology for throwing the books in the trash and said that it had actually, in repentance, ordered additional copies that the company would sell in its website with the disclaimer, "Warning, contains adult language." The artist in this case was the feminist Stephanie Rohr. She does roar in her messages, amongst those that I can't share with you on The Briefing are patterns for statements such as cats, not cat calls, carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man, resist, nasty woman and bad hombre.
The artists said that even as she sells many books, they were being sold online by Target, Barnes & Noble and by independent sellers on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the Pacific. Speaking of changes in the culture, this is an interesting section of the report, "Protests committed to cloth jarringly dash the stereotype of a circle of ladies engaged in small talk, heads bent over ornamental embroidery. Centuries ago, girls used needlework to practice the alphabet. Pioneer women in the United States documented their history in needlework. Now, too, designs are templates for the times. Be it a quilt or cross-stitch, needlework is likely to be a canvas for women to express themselves, demanding the right to vote, to be paid equally or to enjoy economic freedom. Or we might just say, adding to that paragraph, to use bad language.
So this is the America we live in. Just try to figure this out. A world in which it's possible, evidently, to make money writing obscene jargon for cross-stitch patterns to be sold online and at least intended to be sold in stores where people going into cross-stitch will find themselves facing feminist cross-stitch patterns from which they can choose those that do and do not use the very worst of the English language. It's another sign of the times that here you have an American company basically apologize for trashing books that were doing trash talk. Yeah, that's where we live today. It tells us something, again, about the moral confusion of our times and the fact that even a company in this kind of a situation can't figure out just how big an issue this is, or even what to do about it.
My grandmother, by the way, did cross-stitch. She was good at it and she would have known what to do about this controversy. She would have been the first to throw these cross-stitch patterns in the trash. Then the best you could hope for was that your mouth will be washed out with soap. But maybe as we come to the end of the program today, where all this is taking us is the development of cross-stitch patterns to use bad language to promote marijuana.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
Let me remind you that this Friday, that's right, this coming Friday, Friday of this week, we're going to hold a virtual preview day for Boyce College. I really look forward to talking with prospective college students and parents of prospective college students, youth leaders, and others about the worldview education, the Christian worldview education, to which we are committed, an education of the top quality at Boyce College, the undergraduate college of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The virtual preview conference will be this Friday, March 26th at 4:00 PM Eastern Time. It's going to include a special Ask Anything Live, which I will do with the students, live faculty discussions, a live virtual campus tour. We can't wait to get you to the campus, but until then, this is the next best thing. In order to participate, just register at boycecollege.com/preview. That's www.boycecollege.com/preview.
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.