April 22, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, April 22, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
World leaders are making the argument that legalizing pot could lead to the defeat of ISIS
In the midst of a moral revolution, some really interesting questions emerge that force us to think very carefully. This is evidenced by a story that came in a headline in the Washington Post. The headline is this:
“The latest idea for defeating the Islamic State: Legalize pot.”Show Full Transcript
Now perhaps you’ve ever put those two stories together before or combined those two issues in your imagination, but there they are. Here is the point made by the Washington Post: The Islamic State and its terrorist proxies would suffer if cannabis were decriminalized. That’s the argument coming from Italy’s top prosecutor, a man who in an interview with Reuters also pointed out the links between the extremist group and organized crime in his country. The man at the center of this, the top prosecutor in Italy, his name is Franco Roberti, he is not only the chief anti-terrorism officer of Italy, but also its anti-Mafia chief, as the Washington Post says “a joint portfolio that was created last year.”
Speaking to Reuters, Roberti said that,
“Decriminalizing marijuana — or even making it legal — would dent the illicit networks that profit from its sale and production. The Islamic State, in particular, gleans money off smuggling routes from parts of Libya into Europe.”
Italy’s top prosecutor is making an interesting argument when he says,
“Decriminalization or even legalization would definitely be a weapon against traffickers, among whom there could be terrorists who make money off of it.”
Now a further look at the story indicates that it is part of a larger story, and that story includes a letter sent to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, by a group of those who are trying to legalize drugs or decriminalize drugs, or at least to end the so-called war on drugs worldwide. The list includes very interesting figures in popular culture, including Richard Branson, but also Jimmy Carter, the former President of the United States. It also includes at least one current U.S. presidential candidate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Now once again, this is a really interesting question. In the midst of a moral revolution, this is the kind of question that all the sudden bubbles to the surface having really not been considered before. The so-called war on drugs goes back as long as Western civilization—there had been efforts undertaken by virtually every country to at least to limit the sale or availability of substances that were believed to be unhealthy or, furthermore, dangerous. But the issue of the so-called war on drugs points back to the larger question of government trying to limit immoral behavior, or that which is at least understood as immoral—or at least was once understood to be immoral.
So let’s look at the argument being made here. It’s made the Washington Post and it’s made headlines worldwide. It’s interesting, after all, that here you have a headline saying that in order to defeat the Islamic State what we need to do is to legalize marijuana. Now you might think that that might be something that would appear in some fringe newspaper somewhere, but this is, after all, the Washington Post and the argument is not being made by someone who’s a pop singer, but rather the top prosecutor in Italy.
So what’s really going on here? Let’s take a closer look. When we look at the argument for legalizing or decriminalizing narcotics and drugs, what we see is the argument that we simply have to give in to the fact that people are going to use these drugs; they’re going to gain access to marijuana one way or another; and if you don’t legalize it then their only way to get it is through criminal activity, through buying it through illegal sources. This creates an illegal economy; it creates networks of crime, and these crime networks depend upon the fact that what they’re selling isn’t available in a legal format. So the argument is made, society actually cleans itself up, it improves its situation, and it removes an incentive to immoral and illegal behavior by simply decriminalizing or legalizing the issue that is at stake.
In this case let’s look at the substance known as marijuana. Well, let’s concede for a moment that the argument is at least a rational; it is an argument that says if you make something illegal, the only people who can get access to it are going to commit a crime, and that’s going to encourage further crime. Criminalizing marijuana means there’s going to be an entire network of smugglers and sellers and growers who are going to be complicit in illegal activity. Furthermore, that illegal activity is going to spawn violence and even other illegal activity. It will have economic impacts, it will have impacts on society and, furthermore, it’s going to fill up jails and it’s going to take the attention of police. And the argument being made by the prosecutor in Italy is this: it’s going to eventually put money in the wrong pockets, including the pockets of terrorist groups such as Islamic State.
So if that argument is rational, does it hold? Well, let’s look at it even more closely. For one thing, we need to note the very interesting fact that in most cases, no one is suggesting decriminalizing or legalizing all drugs, just some drugs. In this case, the headline has to do with marijuana. Now a closer look indicates that there is a difference of opinion amongst those who have signed the letter to the United Nations Secretary-General. Some are clearly calling for an end to the war on drugs in toto, for decriminalizing or legalizing virtually any use of drugs. We simply have to note that the argument to decriminalize marijuana, as is the case in so many other issues, won’t stop with marijuana. After all, if you’re going to criminalize heroine or LSD or any other substance, then that’s going to have a black market that will also have the same perverse effects upon society. This is where society has to make some very hard decisions. Is there anything we actually believe is wrong that society should not only sanction but make it illegal? Even if we understand that doesn’t mean it will disappear, is it important for society to draw some moral lines and say, on behalf of the society itself, we believe that this is right and this is wrong, and if you engage in this activity, you actually are going to bring on legal sanction? The argument to decriminalize marijuana is clearly growing in terms of the American public. We already have several states that have legalized recreational marijuana, and an even larger number that have legalized what is called medical marijuana. Generally, that’s the way to open the door to eventually decriminalizing all use of marijuana. And, of course, when it comes, marijuana is not made totally legal. That is, it is not even in a state like Colorado available for sale just like anything else. You have to have a registered seller, and the law in Colorado says you cannot sell, for example, to minors. So at this point, at least there will still be a black market when it comes to marijuana among those who can’t legally buy it.
But a closer look indicates that when there are attempts to regulate what has been prohibited, it really begins to break down. USA Today has done a very good job of demonstrating that decriminalizing marijuana in Colorado has led to all kinds of effects, including the fact that there are no health standards for the marijuana that is sold, leading to the fact that there are actually more standards for how you can buy lettuce in the state of Colorado than marijuana. It also has led to the fact that there are now more legal marijuana outlets in cities like Denver than there are Starbucks and McDonald’s combined. The letter written to the Secretary-General the UN states this,
“The drug control regime that emerged during the last century has proven disastrous for global health, security and human rights. Focused overwhelmingly on criminalization and punishment, it created a vast illicit market that has enriched criminal organizations, corrupted governments, triggered explosive violence, distorted economic markets and undermined basic moral values.”
Well, that’s quite a statement. Especially that last part about undermining basic moral values. That deserves a much closer look. For example, we can go to the Netherlands and to the city of Amsterdam, which has tried, as an example of many European cities—not only did decriminalize drug use and in this case not only marijuana, but harder drugs including narcotics. Those experiments have generally ended in disaster.
To take just one example, it turns out, as is documented in a recent cover story in The Economist of London, that in a state like Colorado that has made marijuana more available to adults, inevitably it has also become more available to young people who supposedly shouldn’t have any access to it at all. In this cover story in The Economist, the editors clearly call for the legalization of marijuana. But when you look at their actual statement, they’re not themselves at all sure as to how that might happen, what shape new laws should take. They wrote about what they call “the end of the futile war on weed”—meaning, of course, marijuana. They went on to say,
“Cannabis accounts for nearly half the $300 billion illegal narcotics market, and is the drug of choice for most of the world’s 250m illicit-drug users. Legalizing it deprives organized crime of its single biggest source of income, while protecting and making honest citizens of consumers.”
Now, once again, a very interesting argument, but does it hold water? Immediately after that paragraph, the very editors of the same magazine indicate they acknowledge it’s going to be very, very difficult and challenging to come up with a method of regulating marijuana, not to mention harder drugs, when it comes to a society keeping itself safe or, for that matter, making any moral claim whatsoever. This is the way so many moral arguments take place in the larger society. You have generalizations that breakdown when someone has to get to the specifics. Here you have the editors of The Economist clearly calling to legalize marijuana, and then in the very same editorial more or less acknowledging they don’t have a clue about how to do that. For example, the editors write this,
“Libertarians may ask why cannabis, which has no known lethal dose, should be regulated at all for adults who can make free, informed decisions.”
Just accept that for a moment. Let’s go on,
“There are two reasons for care. First, cannabis appears to induce dependency in a minority of users, meaning the decision whether to light up is not a free one. Second, cannabis’s illegality means that the research on its long-term effects is hazy, so even the most informed decision is based on incomplete information. When decisions are neither always free nor fully informed, the state is justified in steering consumers away.”
Well, if it’s going to make that argument, it has just argued against the very argument that it made earlier that marijuana should be legalized. It’s just turned back and said, “Well, maybe that’s not going to be so easy after all.” It’s also readily apparent that The Economist doesn’t mean making all marijuana available. As the editors say,
“Cannabis no longer means just joints. Legal entrepreneurs have cooked up pot-laced food and drink, reaching customers who might have avoided smoking the stuff.”
In the investigative report—remember the magazine is arguing for the legalization of marijuana—they include data that argues directly against what they’re arguing. For example, they cite the fact that marijuana currently available today in the city of Denver—that is legally available—is now about 18% in terms of its potency. That’s three times the strength of the smuggled marijuana that comes from Mexico that once, they say, dominated the market. So that illegal Mexican marijuana’s gone; the new legal marijuana is present in Denver. But that new legal marijuana is three times as potent as what was being sold on the black market.
Barbara Brohl, who is the head of Colorado’s Department of Revenue, said something very interesting in this report. Speaking of the effort now to regulate what was previously criminalized and illegal she said,
“We’re building the airplane while we’re in the air.”
That’s an amazingly revealing statement.
“We’re building the airplane while we’re in the air.”
To ask the obvious question, who would want to be riding on that airplane? But that’s what the state of Colorado is now doing. But before leaving all these recent headlines and cover stories, we also need to recognize that the argument won’t end here. As a matter of fact, in recent weeks and months we have seen a series of headlines and cover stories calling for the decriminalization of the sex trade, as it is known, for making so-called sex work legal in order to make many of the same arguments. It would remove the black market; it would remove a perverse incentive economically; it would, some have argued, increase human dignity. But just consider what that really means. Even those who are making that argument would not want to extend it, for example, to the use of young people in the so-called sex trade or in sex work as it’s called.
But what we’re looking at here is the fact that arguments for the legalization of prostitution or arguments for the legalization of narcotics come back to the same question. Does a sane and civilized society have the moral will to say we believe these things are right and these things are wrong? And we are willing to make the law correspond to that moral judgment? Now you’ll note that many people are saying that’s not what the law should now do. In a modern society, law should not be making those moral judgments. But what we need to note is that they’re not arguing to the end of the law reflecting moral judgments. They just want those moral judgments moved. A moral argument like this won’t stop with marijuana, and the interesting thing to note is that many of the people making the argument seem fully to understand that.
Canada's assisted suicide bill is not liberal enough for some because it excludes minors
Next, we shift to the nation of Canada, where a very similar argument is now underway, but as part of a bigger picture that deserves our attention. For example, Reuters, reporting from Toronto tells us,
“Canada’s Liberal government will introduce legislation to decriminalize and regulate recreational marijuana in spring 2017.”
This reflects a new effort undertaken by Canada’s relatively new liberal government headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Now we’re watching the transformation of Canada before our eyes. The shift from a conservative government of many years to this new liberal government is bringing about vast changes in Canadian society. Now, those changes aren’t completely new; they’re not coming out of a vacuum; but they have accelerated markedly since the election of the liberal government. Now in the case of marijuana, we see an effort to decriminalize marijuana in Canada nationwide. Now, in a little footnote here, decriminalizing means that laws against marijuana would remain in effect, but there would not be arrests or jailings for the use or sale of marijuana, at least under certain terms. Legalizing means that it is no longer even against the law. But the bigger point is this: In Canada, this is part of a very large social transformation. And it’s evident in the fact that in recent days we’ve also talked about the fact that the new Canadian Prime Minister is pushing a law legalizing assisted suicide. That, even more than the issue of decriminalizing marijuana, points to the vast worldview shift that is now accelerating in Canada.
But there’s an angle on this that’s even more urgent. The Economist of London has run a major story from Canada on its new doctor assisted dying law. We discussed the fact in recent days on The Briefing that that law goes far beyond even what was contemplated years ago in Canada in terms of not requiring a patient to even have a diagnosis of a terminal condition, but rather having death as a foreseeable future reality. But the really interesting thing, the really concerning thing, about this article in The Economist is the fact that it is a criticism of the proposed Canadian assisted suicide law for not going far enough. This itself tells us a very great deal.
The Economist tells us that there are many who believe that the proposed Canadian law is
“…too tightly drawn. It sets much more restrictive conditions than those proposed by a special parliamentary committee in February. The committee had suggested that anyone experiencing ‘intolerable suffering.’”
Instead, this draft a bill coming from the Trudeau government covers only those “with terminal illness for whom death is reasonably foreseeable.”
This means, and here we need to note the following language with very great and grave attention,
“Sufferers from mental illness and those under 18 will not be covered.”
Let me point out they are complaining about these restrictions. That means that they are arguing for an expansion even of the proposed legislation for assisted suicide in Canada that would allow assisted suicide, legal assisted suicide, for those who are suffering from dementia or mental illness and those who are under the age of 18. Here we see the culture of death in its own terms. We see the fact that those who are pressing for the legalization of assisted suicide in Canada—and let’s note they are winning the argument, both in terms of Canada’s highest court and now in terms of Canada’s elected government—they’re not even satisfied with the law as it’s currently proposed, and that law is itself exceedingly radical.
What we see here is the fact that human dignity is being subverted even beyond what we knew a week ago. It is now being subverted in terms of this argument, and what’s important again is where it appears. It appears in The Economist, one most influential news magazines in the world, and here you have the open argument that assisted suicide should be made available for teenagers and children, for those under age 18, and for those who do not have any kind of terminal illness and are not even suffering from what is described as intolerable physical suffering, but instead from mental illness or merely from dementia.
The Economist cites a campaigner for assisted suicide, in this case a woman who represents a group known as Dying with Dignity, as saying that,
“The age cut-off of 18 is too high, and the (rather woolly) criterion of ‘reasonably foreseeable’ death from terminal illness is too tight.”
In the case of examples from Europe, very horrifying examples, you have nations such as Belgium and the Netherlands that began with assisted suicide only for those in a terminal condition and have now expanded it even to children and young people and now for people who are merely suffering from a psychological malady that would include depression. But it took years, we should note, for that slippery slope to progress. In this case, the really telling worldview issue is this, the law hasn’t even been passed in Canada and the people who aren’t satisfied with it are already making the argument that it doesn’t go far enough. This is how the culture of death works. Once you make human dignity a sliding issue on a scale, that scale is going to change not only century by century or generation by generation, but in this case, week by week.
Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her 90th birthday as longest reigning British monarch
Finally, a story that gives us some historical perspective: Yesterday, the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, reached the age of 90. Now it’s interesting to note that the Financial Times, which is Britain’s most important financial newspaper, had noted her birth 90 years ago yesterday in a two-line birth announcement that included the fact in those very few words that her uncle was a stockbroker. The reason for that short two-sentence announcement is that Princess Elizabeth was not when she was born, 90 years ago yesterday, expected to become the Queen of England. She was, however, the grandchild of King George V. Her father, the Duke of York was actually second in line of succession. It was his brother, who became King Edward VIII, who of course abdicated because he intended to marry a twice-divorced American woman, which he did and upon his abdication his younger brother Albert became King George VI—that was Elizabeth’s father.
Now when you think about history, think back to the fact that 90 years ago yesterday takes us back to the year 1926. That takes us back to those years just after the First World War and almost a generation before the Second World War. Elizabeth and her sister grew up in the royal family and she was not in training directly to be queen. But all that changed, of course, when Edward VIII abdicated and her father became King George VI. Her father was the king during the dark years of World War II and Elizabeth became queen shortly thereafter. During her reign there have been 12 different Prime Ministers—the scope of history reflected here goes back to the fact that the first Prime Minister to serve this queen was none other than Winston Churchill.
Elizabeth, when she was born, was born a princess of the British Empire. It’s really interesting for us to note that empire doesn’t even exist anymore. Her aunts and uncles have been crowned heads of Europe, but most of those monarchies that have been hereditary monarchies for centuries have disappeared, at least in terms of their royal rule. The existence and persistence of the house of Windsor, as it was renamed in the 20th century, is one of the historical marvels of the modern world. Americans who, for many good reasons, do not have a monarch or a monarchy still look with respect at the traditions and the continuity of a royal house that goes back many, many centuries. It’s humbling for all of us to realize that in this one woman’s lifetime there have been world wars fought, empires have risen and fallen, 12 different Prime Ministers have served her. She entered a world in which the telephone was so new that Royals weren’t sure they should ever use it, and she has come to the point at her 90th birthday, where it’s plausible to believe that Queen Elizabeth herself might have a smart phone.
In the scope of world history, civilizations rise and fall, empires come and go, but rarely in one person’s lifetime. That ought to give us a little pause to recognize some historical reflection is due when we look at that lady dressed in pastel the Britons call queen, who yesterday experienced her 90th Birthday.