MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 9th day of October, 2018.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It, the last in our series on the “green rush,” that is, rushing to legalize marijuana in the United States.
As we’ve reported, corporate and political muscle is behind the push to legalize pot. That includes big tobacco, big alcohol, big banking, as well as a massive cultural shift toward accepting marijuana the same way we’ve accepted things like alcohol.
REICHARD: Today, we talk about how it takes all of these entities and more to make it all happen. For that, we have Jim Long, who headed up the investigative team researching this series.
Jim, we’ve all heard the line, “follow the money.” Can you broadly outline the money behind the Green Rush?
JIM LONG, REPORTER: Yeah, there’s really four sets of players. We have the traditional commercial interests. We have traditional libertarians, you know, pot smokers who want to just smoke their weed in peace. And then legitimate medical manufacturers like the manufacturer of Epidiolex which is a drug that’s been approved by the FDA to treat children’s epilepsy. But when we started looking at big politics and following the money, it really came down to just a handful of billionaire social activists like George Soros and his Open Society groups that he funds. And former Facebook president Sean Parker. The two of them, along with a handful of others, contributed $16 million alone to fund Prop 64 in California. That was a proposition in 2016 that legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
REICHARD: So myriad interests here, even bipartisan support, in these divided times?
LONG: That’s right, Mary. In fact last year in Congress the Cannabis Caucus was formed. These were Republican and Democratic House members. Last year they passed the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment. That’s a special spending provision in the omnibus bill. It has to be passed each year, but what it does is it actually requires that the federal government not interfere with medical cannabis laws passed by states. So, it actually provides some sort of protection for banks that actually want to receive deposits, receive monies from medical cannabis businesses so they’re not violating federal law.
REICHARD: Now, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. What’s going on with that?
LONG: Yeah, what’s happening there is there’s still some bills being passed. For instance, there was the VA Medical Cannabis Research Act. That bill would actually allow the VA to pursue the possibility of providing cannabis to—and cannabis delivery systems—to treat veterans dealing with PTSD. There’s the Hemp Farming Bill Act and what’s interesting about that is the bill’s co-sponsor was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell’s second top political donor is Altria. Well, Altria just invested in a medical cannabis inhaler. There was also the States Act, which was recently sponsored in the Senate by GOP Senator Cory Gardner in Colorado. And that act was the result of a compromise with the president after Attorney General Jeff Sessions yanked what was called the Cole Memo, which under the Obama administration gave limited protection to states who had medical cannabis laws and allowed the banks to do some sort of banking with medical dispensaries and receive their cash deposits without worrying about money laundering charges. When Sessions rescinded that memo in January, Gardner used his position on the banking committee in the Senate to block 20 DOJ nominations by the president. So they reached a deal in April to basically have the president agree to support what was called the States Act, which would respect state medical marijuana laws and get more permanent protections to the banking industry that wanted to access that market.
REICHARD: Can you give some examples of what some states are doing that might reveal what the future holds for the remaining states?
LONG: Yeah, you can look at what’s happening right now in New York and New Jersey. New Jersey, right now the governor there, he promised to fast-track the legalization of marijuana for adult or recreational purposes within his first 100 days in office. The bill that’s actually at issue is unique in that it actually instantaneously transforms all the current medical dispensaries for marijuana into recreational retail outlets. And so they’re actually trying to expand their “patient database,” future clients, future customers by increasing the number of conditions, “medical conditions” that can be used for the prescription of marijuana. And then they’re increasing their infrastructure by trying to double the number of facilities, that will handle what they expect will be an influx of customers coming over the state line from New York because the limited number of facilities there. Now what’s interesting at the same time it looks like New York doesn’t want to necessarily give up that potential profit base because they had a health department study conducted early this year. And that study this summer revealed that, voila, there’s going to be a huge boom if they legalize in New York the recreational use of marijuana. It would be a huge boon to the economy, the study concluded, there’ll be more jobs, and it also concluded that there would be an actual social justice benefit in that it would reduce the racial disparity in sentencing and arrest for low-level marijuana offenses. So those are some of the strategies or rationales you can see and probably expect in other states that are looking at this issue.
REICHARD: How might Christians interpret this? What are the dangers?
LONG: Yeah, Mary, I’m glad you said this. I think the verse that’s come to me as we’ve looked at this is just that. We call it a rush. I mean rush in the sense of rushing into something. The Bible says a wise man looks well into his going. And what’s happened is the nation is rushing into this. There’s clearly some medical benefits to the use of marijuana in terms of the THC pain relieving properties, CBD in terms of its healing properties. It is a plant that’s made by God—we should look at that in a sober way. But at the same time, there are costs and risks that we’re not carefully assessing and as a church, that’s something we need to encourage our lawmakers and decision-makers to be very, very sober and very, very slow and careful and prudent in assessing.
REICHARD: Jim Long heads up the Caleb Team, our investigative team of journalists. Jim, always interesting to talk to you! Thank you.
LONG: Thank you!