Wednesday, May 1, 2024

It’s Wednesday, May 1st, 2024. 

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Will Marijuana Make President Biden Cool? Democrats Look to Court Young Voters by Loosening Drug Classification of Marijuana

Sometimes when you look at big moral issues, the change comes fast. Sometimes it seems to come slow. But as we’re going to talk about today, there have been two issues of vast moral significance, not the same moral significance, but both vast moral significance, that have followed a very similar trajectory. That has been the rise of LGBTQ rights and the rise of normalization of the use of marijuana. And on that second story, quantum leap yesterday.

Major media are reporting that the Food and Drug Administration and other federal agencies are moving towards a reclassification of marijuana so as to reduce it from a Schedule 1 drug, which is very highly restricted, the use of which is illegal in certain circumstances. Any use has to be justified by some special circumstance or state law. You’re looking at the fact that the Food and Drug Administration is announcing it is looking at moving marijuana from Schedule 1, very, very restrictive, to Schedule 3, restricted in one sense under some circumstances, but a completely different lesser category. Now, behind this is a lot of really interesting history, but in the present we really are talking about some very big moral issues that also relate to the rule of law. Just giant issues here. So let’s get started.

First of all, in history. The use or abuse of certain kinds of substances for some kind of physical effect or psychological effect, that’s very, very old. And indeed it goes back in many cultures into pre-history. That is before we actually have a lot of records, certainly before you have any kind of law enforcement or pharmacological records. The use of marijuana in the United States became a very controversial issue earlier than you might think in the 20th century. It was known as Reefer Madness at one point at about the middle of the 20th century, and there was a tremendous amount of public uproar over marijuana. In the United States, marijuana became a part of the hippie culture and the student revolutions of the 1960s. By the way, no one was making arguments back then about a medicinal purpose for marijuana. It was instead seen as a part of a cannabis subculture that in many ways dominated the cultural left and increasingly made inroads in other parts of the society in the 1960s, ’70s and beyond.

One of the basic facts that’s in operation now is that many of those who were hippies in the 1960s, and in the similar period, they really are pretty much pro-marijuana. And so it’s interesting that even as you think of marijuana as a young person’s issue, it often continues through the age span. We wouldn’t be talking about this if so many people who are now baby boomers had not experimented with marijuana, if not more than that actually, during the time that they were teenagers, college students, and beyond. But the big point here is that marijuana was seen as a symbol of cultural and moral rebellion back in the period of the hippies, the 1960s and the 1970s. It’s really hard to transgress if you normalize the behavior, and that’s exactly what’s taking place on marijuana.

But we also need to understand that even as the federal government has expended a vast amount of time and energy in trying to limit marijuana, and even as state governments and local governments had made millions of arrests when it comes to marijuana, there has been political pressure to lower its rating in terms of its illegality, to change it from Schedule 1, which is after all where some of the most dangerous drugs known to humanity are classified, and to move it down the scale. But there’s been resistance to this, and we need to understand that resistance is not irrational. The resistance to this, on the one hand, has been that the Schedule 1 drugs are those that have a particular danger to society, of physical danger to individuals, and also that have no clear medicinal purpose. And that’s where the moral shift on marijuana probably couldn’t have taken place without the rise of the argument of so-called medical marijuana. So going back say even 20 or 30 years in the United States, you had some governments at the municipal and state level experimenting with the so-called medical use of marijuana.

Now, quite honestly, that medical use was very generously defined, and yet at the same time you also had a change in marijuana. And by that I mean an actual change in the composition of the substance. Because marijuana as it is sold now, or cannabis as it is more formally known, is a quantum stronger in terms of its potency than it was back in the 1960s. And this is not accidental, because there has been an effort to try to accentuate and exaggerate the potency of marijuana, or cannabis, as it has become sold. Now, there’s a lot to unpack here, but one thing is that you have states that have turned from the legal opponents of marijuana, to the legal supporters of marijuana. And a part of that’s just the politics of the situation, changes in terms of cultural values and cultural convictions, moral convictions on marijuana. But the other part of it is, that the states have decided that they can look to marijuana like they look to many tobacco and alcohol products, as opportunities for revenue.

So if we’re going to be talking, as we have to talk on this program, about the morality of marijuana, it gets really complicated. Because you have state governments that in the main were given the responsibility of protecting people from threats, who have now decided they’re going to line their own coffers with revenue that will come by the commercial licensing and legal distribution of those same substances, even if the substances are now much more potent than they were when they were originally made illegal. But another aspect of this is the fact that general cultural resistance to marijuana has been going down pretty fast. As a matter of fact, remarkably fast. I mentioned the fact that it has moved at least largely in tandem with the moral change on the issue of homosexuality, or the larger LGBTQ movement. But in particular, let’s just say L&G, and it comes to lesbian and gay rights as they have been presented and argued for in the United States.

We went in a period of just about 15 years, indeed you could say a period of even fewer years, say the years of the administration of President George W. Bush, we went from a moral position on homosexuality that was overwhelmingly negative in terms of the population, to one that was almost by the same survey numbers reversed. 70/30 by some calculations. A change from 70%, for example, against same-sex marriage to 70% for same-sex marriage in a period of no more than five to seven or eight years. On marijuana, quite frankly, it has been similar. And as Christians we need to reflect on the process of moral change, recognizing that eventually a society in which there’s not really a consensus that something is wrong, it pretty quickly moves into a consensus of “you know, there’s money to be made here.”

Now, there’s another footnote to this, and that is the fact that as we’ve talked about in states like New York or California, there is open conversation about the fact that the majority of marijuana sold today is sold illegally, not legally. And there’s a reason for that. Once the state begins to collect revenue by charging taxes, well, the black market just becomes all that much more attractive. But there’s something bigger than a footnote here as well. And that is, that as you look at marijuana prosecutions, they take up an awful lot of time, they take up an awful lot of police time, they take up an awful lot of legal space in the courts. And I think at this point, even though I think this is wrong, I think it is simply a fact that the vast majority of Americans don’t believe that a marijuana offense is all that morally significant. And so eventually this becomes an opportunity in political terms for somebody.

And right now it looks like that opportunity is being seized by President Joe Biden, no surprise there, who is in trouble with younger Americans at the same time. No one’s going to be able to tell me these things are not connected. The President’s in big trouble, as a Democrat, with his own base, particularly with young adults, many of whom are very upset with him over the war between Israel and Hamas. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Joe Biden, by definition, isn’t cool. And frankly, no one in his position and at his age can be cool, but you can at least play some cool moves, according to the cultural left. And it’s not coincidental that just in the course of the last few days, there have been open calls from prominent Democrats for the Biden administration to take the lead, precisely because they’ve been arguing openly it will be to the President’s political advantage.

So let’s just look at an article that appeared. It’s more than half a page in the print edition of this Monday’s New York Times. So this is just two days ago. Here’s the headline, “His Farewell Message to Fellow Democrats, Embrace Pot Legalization.” In this case, we’re talking about a man who’s retiring after serving a very long time in Congress. In this case, it is Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, and he is now retiring, but one of his causes all along has been the legalization of marijuana. And he is now, in this article, this was just this past Monday, arguing openly that President Biden can repair a lot of the political damage that he has now experienced with his younger base if he will just move to legalize marijuana. And in this case, what we’re talking about with this FDA proposal, it’s not a full legalization, but it’s a massive step in that direction.

Representative Blumenauer spoke of his advice to President Biden, saying, “I take every chance I get to nudge my friends in the Biden administration. The quickest way to engage young people, minority voters, to break the mold is to come out four square for legalization, for compassion, for people who have been caught up in the legal morass of the failed war on drugs and make a clean break of it.” So here you have a retiring senior Democratic member of Congress, long known for his advocacy for the liberalization of marijuana, and now just a day after that article appeared, you have this announcement. Coming, by the way, leaked from the DEA. That is the Drug Enforcement Agency. And when you have a leak like this and a political season like this, that’s a pretty big tip-off.

Based upon the leaked information, the Associated Press last night ran with an article that said, “The proposal, which still must be reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget,” by the way, I think that’s not going to take too long, “would recognize the medical uses of cannabis and acknowledge it has less potential for abuse than some of the nation’s most dangerous drugs. However, it would not legalize marijuana outright for recreational use.” So if this is true, then the step taken by the Biden administration is not yet equivalent to what Representative Blumenauer called for in terms of full legalization. But let’s face it, if you do reclassify from Schedule 1 to Schedule 3, you are coming pretty close to putting marijuana on the same kind of rank as cough syrup.

Now, another big issue that we simply have to mention before moving on is that there are a lot of accusations that the prosecution of marijuana crimes has been disproportionate when looking at certain minority populations. And that raises, at least in part, the question of cause and effect. But it also adds, we need to note, to the political momentum towards the Biden administration taking this kind of action. And in the midst of a presidential campaign, doing so in a way that is clearly calculated to maximize its positive political effect. It is likely indeed to have a very positive political effect. And for Christians, that in itself is a very revealing development.

Part II

Check Your Health Insurance Plan, It Might Fund Transgender Surgeries: Federal Appeals Court Rules Lack of Coverage for 'Gender Reassignment' Surgeries is Discrimination

Okay. Now we have to shift also on the subject of moral change and trying to track and to understand what’s taking place in this moral change on LGBTQ issues, and in particular on the T, the transgender front, a massive number of headlines just in the last several days. You have the President’s proposal, that is to say the Biden administration’s proposal in terms of a revision of Title IX rules when it comes to higher education. And by the way, it’s not just higher education, it’s wherever tax support follows education. And you’re also looking at the fact that the Biden administration has also revised rules at the United States Department of Health and Human Services. And as the headline of the Washington Post said, “Biden administration reinstates LGBTQ+ protections in healthcare.” You have numerous news articles about that and other developments. And then you have the decision that was handed down just in recent days in Richmond by the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals, saying the healthcare coverage must pay for certain forms of “gender-affirming surgery.”

Now, to look at this is to understand we have a couple of big issues here. One of them has to do with the court making this decision. This is no insignificant court. The District Court held for those who were suing, saying that the healthcare plans should be forced to pay for their sex reassignment surgeries, as they were called, or gender-affirming surgeries in the Orwellian sense that terminology is used these days. But it was reaffirmed just in recent days at the Fourth Circuit, which covers a good many states, or portions of states, including Maryland to Virginia, the Carolinas. Just think middle Atlantic here and add West Virginia to the mix. So you’re looking here at a development that technically is binding only on the jurisdiction of the Fourth Circuit, but quite frankly, this is likely to influence other federal appellate courts as well.

Now, as you look at the arguments that were made in this case, from a Christian perspective, this is really interesting stuff. Now, I’m going to read to you a sentence that is uttered by David Caleb, who is an attorney for the state of West Virginia in this case. And I’m just going to read you the sentence and let it settle in for a moment. This attorney, for the state of West Virginia said, “There is no service that is covered for a cisgendered person that is not covered for a transgender person meeting the same criteria.” So here you have the attorney for the state of West Virginia, I think pretty brilliantly arguing that, look, this is not discrimination against so-called transgender people, because so long as the physical need for the surgery presents itself, it doesn’t matter to us the sexual identity or orientation of the person. Again, “There is no service that is covered for a cisgendered person that is not covered for a transgender person meeting the same criteria.”

Now here’s the point. When you look at that particular language, we’re looking at a world that wouldn’t make sense, probably to you. And by the way, it shouldn’t make total sense now in terms of understanding rationality. But understanding the way language is being used these days, my guess is that you go back five or six years and very few listeners to The Briefing would’ve ever heard the term cisgendered, which in this context means that you’re biologically male, and you identify as male. It’s very sad we have to even explain the term, but that’s where we are. And it was used by an attorney against the forced inclusion of transgender procedures in these healthcare plans.

But looking at this further, it’s also clear that the attorney is making the point, “Look, here is a list of surgical procedures. These are surgical procedures that are covered by insurance. In the state of West Virginia, we require insurance carriers to cover these surgical procedures.” When are they deployed? They happen whenever the medical personnel gives an adequate justification for the necessity of this surgery. These are the covered surgeries. If you are transgendered and you qualify for the surgery, you qualify for the surgery. If you’re not transgender and you qualify for the surgery, you qualify for the surgery. Now, left off the list of approved surgical operations was anything specific to the whole category, which is now called gender affirmation or gender reassignment. So in other words, the attorney for the state was saying, “Look, whether you are transgender or not, the same rules apply. This is not a covered surgical procedure.”

Now, I have to say, I think that’s pretty much an evidence of invincible logic. That’s simply the case. You have no discrimination between transgender and non-transgender person, because you’re just talking about a list of covered surgical procedures. But the majority of the judges on the Fourth Circuit went with the other argument, ruling in favor of “trans rights.” Judge Roger Gregory, writing for the majority, reports the Washington Post, “called the restrictions obviously discriminatory based on both sex and gender.” So there’s the big thing. The Biden administration and the cultural left have been pushing the redefinition of sex and gender, and now you have a major appellate court, a major circuit in the United States, in our federal judiciary, saying those definitions now pertain. Why? Because we say they do.

Meanwhile, one of the conservative judges who voted the other way, that would be Judge J. Richardson, said that there was no role at all for the federal courts in the entire question. This is an insurance matter, and if it is a legal matter, it is a state matter. It’s not a matter for the federal courts. But once again, you have the division between the activist judiciary that is really seeking to make new law, that’s what’s taking place here, and you have a more restrained judiciary. That’s evidenced by Judge Richardson. Judge Richardson went on to critique the majority opinion. Again, this is from the Washington Post. Judge Richardson wrote that the majority “treats these cases as new fronts upon which this conflict must be waged. But not every battle is part of a larger war. In the majority’s haste to champion plaintiff’s cause, today’s result oversteps the bounds of the law.”

That judge is absolutely right. But I’m also absolutely convinced that the majority of the court in this case doesn’t care that the result oversteps the bounds of the law. They have a very different conception of the court and of the law. I mentioned also, of course, that the Biden administration was pushing through this redefinition of Title IX, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to protected classes. Even though the administration is not saying this out loud, and certainly not underlining the point, this does mean that you’re going to have biological males on girls and women’s teams. That’s inevitable, given the logic and the language of this proposal.

So just in a matter of a few days, all of these developments coming at once, and I think we recognize this is not an accident. We’re looking at what happens in cultural change when a certain momentum is reached and when cultural authorities gain the majority. And in this case, elections have consequences. The Fourth Circuit was a conservative US appellate circuit for a long time. Just recently, it has flipped to liberal, and that’s all because of the consequences of presidential elections. Elections have consequences, and now it’s coming right down to these states and even who is covered for what medical procedure on what terms. Another point here is that this also means that in the covered territory here, your insurance plans are going to have to recalibrate, which means you, if covered by one of these plans, are now going to be caught in a system whereby you are helping to fund and to underwrite these very same procedures.

Part III

One If By Land, One If By Sea, One If By Elephant? Determined Indian Voters Will Withstand Sweltering Heat and Creative Travel Arrangements So Over 900 Million Citizens Can Vote

But finally for today, we can often think of the complexity of a federal election in the United States. For one thing, even though it is a national election, it takes place at the state level, and most voting still takes place very much at a local level. This is a very complex system in the United States, and frankly, in recent years it’s been quite controversial. But there is a worldview reason behind it. And that is, most importantly for conservatives, federalism. Meaning, that we are not a nation that accidentally has 50 states. The 50 states have their own absolute rights and responsibilities that are not specifically granted in the Constitution to the federal government, and the administration of elections is one of them. And thus, you have 50 states. In one sense, you have 50 different elections going on. And that also fits the presidential election with the understanding of the electoral college; state by state. But in the United States, that means looking at between say 200 and 300 million Americans who at least should have the right to vote, could be registered to vote.

So let’s just take a mid-range here. Let’s just say something like a little over 200 million voters. What about a situation in which you’re trying to conduct a national election when you have not say between 200 and 300 million voters, but you have something like 970 million voters? That’s almost a billion voters. And quite frankly, you’re looking at a nation that is both geographically and politically, historically and sociologically very complex when it comes to trying to carry out such an election. But that’s another trivia question. What is the world’s most populous democratic government? It would be India. India is the nation, according to the list of those that are democracies and non-democracies, India is the biggest, most populous of the nation’s in the category of democracies. And India is right now undergoing a vote. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is running for a third term.

And just looking at the challenges of undertaking a vote, a plebiscite, a voting process, a voting system under these circumstances, do you know that some of the poll workers arrive by train? Some arrive by bus, some arrive by foot, some arrive by elephant. And this election is going to be particularly hot. And I mean politically hot, yes, but I mean it is going to be very hot. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “The India Meteorological Department has warned that during this year’s election, which started earlier this month and runs until early June, most parts of the country will face higher than usual temperatures for the time of year, and potentially twice as many heat-extreme days. That includes multiple days, in which the ambient temperature might reach as much or exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit.”

You have to love this description. “Held in stages, India’s elections are, by their very nature, a feat of endurance. Voters can spend hours listening to local candidates at outdoor rallies or waiting in lines to vote. Election workers crisscross the country by helicopter and boat, hitch rides on elephants, or trek on foot in the Himalayan Mountains to ferry the country’s 5.5 million voting machines to the far-flung hamlets due to vote next.” Now, Americans in various precincts can vote in unusual contexts, but I think it’s fair to say no voter in the United States is waiting for a voting machine to arrive by elephant. If so, give me a call.

Modern India’s first Democratic election was held over the years 1951, 1952. And I say over that period, because that first election took four months to conduct. India’s tried to have faster elections, but it just doesn’t work. It takes an awful lot of effort. You have to go to an awful lot of trouble to get voting machines and all the tabulation and the workers and all that is required across such a vast country with such a varied terrain. Thus, the elephants. This year’s election is scheduled to last about six weeks. And on the one hand, that sounds like a very long time. On the other hand, when you look at the challenge, that seems like a remarkably short amount of time. But there’s something very important for us to recognize here, and that is the preciousness of the vote, the stewardship of the vote. This takes on such importance because voters in India understand that the vote is a privilege. It is a right. It is a stewardship. They are determined to fulfill, even if that means waiting for hours in sweltering 120 degree heat.

And so I mention this not just as a matter of curiosity, but as a matter of encouragement to Americans who have far less excuse for not voting. And I appreciate this kind of news coming out of India, because it is a reminder to all of us of what is driving so many of those Indians to the polls. And that is the importance of what is at stake. And as you know, the issues are important not only in India, but right here and wherever you are.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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