Posts tagged ‘Colorado’

Colorado’s Pot Problem

Marijuana Leaf 1It’s really difficult to legalize something and discourage its use all at the same time. That’s what Colorado lawmakers are learning. In a state where marijuana is legal, lawmakers are faced with a dilemma: how do they uphold and support the legality of recreational marijuana use among adults while speaking out against its use among teens? Kristen Wyatt, in an article published in The Washington Post, outlines their strategy:

Marijuana isn’t evil, but teens aren’t ready for it: That’s the theme of a new effort by Colorado to educate youths about the newly legal drug.

Colorado launched a rebranding effort Thursday that seeks to keep people under 21 away from pot. The “What’s Next” campaign aims to send the message that marijuana can keep youths from achieving their full potential.

The campaign shows kids being active and reminds them that their brains aren’t fully developed until they’re 25. The ads say that pot use can make it harder for them to pass a test, land a job, or pass the exam for a driver’s license.[1]

Marijuana may be legal in Colorado, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you – at least according to the public service ads produced for the “What’s Next” campaign:

One ad shows a teen girl working out on a basketball court and the tag line, “Don’t let marijuana get in the way of ambition.” Another ad shows a boy rocking out on a drum set with the tag line, “Don’t let marijuana get in the way of passion.”

Colorado’s anxiety over the teen use of a drug that, for adults, is legal presents us with an interesting ethical conundrum. Marijuana, except in very limited cases when prescribed by a physician, is demonstrably dangerous and, in many instances, is downright deadly. But, then again, cigarette smoking is irrefutably linked to cancer, alcohol consumption impairs a person’s ability to operate a vehicle and, over the years, can also cause liver damage, and the foods we eat on a daily basis are sometimes less than nutritionally sound. Yet, these things are legal nationwide. So is it really logically responsible, or politically feasible, to support the outlawing of recreational marijuana use in Colorado?

On the one hand, we need to recognize that the moral imperative to be responsible for what we take into our bodies is impossible to legislate comprehensively. Human wisdom must play a roll. For instance, having a glass of wine with supper, which has the potential of decreasing a person’s chance of developing heart disease, is very different from guzzling a case of beer on the beach. Or, as Morgan Spurlock learned, an occasional trip to McDonald’s with the kids for a Happy Meal and a toy is very different from eating only Super Sized meals from the Golden Arches for breakfast, lunch, and supper. Even a taste of what may soon be a legal Cuban cigar is very different from a person who smokes a pack of Camels a day. Calling people to moderation in everything, as Aristotle taught in his Doctrine of the Mean,[2] is much more helpful – and, I would add, much more practical and realistic – than trying to safeguard against all potential abuses of these things by dint of legislation and regulation.

On the other hand, it is a logical error to suppose that just because legislation and regulation can’t solve every issue that affects the care of the body means that it can’t be helpful in any issue that affects the safety of a person. This is, after all, the whole reason for the existence of the Food and Drug Administration, which works tirelessly to ensure that the food we eat for meals and the medicines we take for illnesses are safe. But marijuana is not safe, which is, perhaps, why, even though it’s legal in Colorado, it’s still outlawed federally.

When I am prescribed a drug for an illness, if the list of the drug’s side effects is lengthy while its benefits are minimal, I become leery of taking it and will further consult with my physician over it. There is no doubt that the problems with marijuana far outpace its benefits.  Indeed, aside from acute medical cases, marijuana’s benefits can really only be defined in social terms. Marijuana is good for partying. And that’s about it.

It is this that leads us back to Colorado’s curious campaign to discourage teen marijuana use. The social capital associated with having, sharing, and using marijuana is deeply enticing to teenagers. After all, teenagers – at least many of them – love to party. So when Colorado makes marijuana as accessible as alcohol, does the state really think a slick public service campaign will stem the tide of teens using what is not only a dangerous drug in and of itself, but an addictive gateway drug that often leads to more serious substance abuse?

Moderation is good for many things, as Aristotle teaches. But in this instance, a little wisdom from Augustine may be in order as well. Augustine, though also a supporter of moderation, reminds us that, sometimes, complete abstinence is preferable to even perfect moderation.[3] When it comes to marijuana, we need learn how to choose between the options of abstinence and moderation wisely.

Something tells me Colorado chose poorly.

_______________________________________

[1] Kristen Wyatt, “Colorado rebrands anti-pot campaign for kids,” The Washington Post (8.20.2015).

[2] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1106a26-b28.

[3] Augustine, Of the Good of Marriage 25.

August 31, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Court of Public Opinion

Credit: rmsbunkerblog.wordpress.com

Credit: rmsbunkerblog.wordpress.com

We are a nation of polls.  We poll public opinion on just about everything imaginable – from how Congress is doing their jobs to how the president is doing his job to how many people support gay marriage to how many people support tougher gun control laws to how many people support the legalization of marijuana.

It’s this last bit of polling data that formed the focus of an L.A. Times article by Robin Abcarian, which chronicled the shifting tide of public opinion on our culture’s most famous controlled substance:

The Gallup organization released a poll showing that for the first time in 44 years, a wide margin of Americans – 58% to 39% – believe marijuana should be legalized.

Less than a year ago, only 48% said pot should be legal. That is an astonishing leap of 10 points in the last 11 months alone.[1]

The article explains that Colorado and Washington have led the curve by legalizing recreational marijuana use and their progressive policies, in turn, are moving the country forward:  “Like gay marriage, pot is here to stay.  And just like gay marriage, it seems like the rest of the country is finally starting to catch on.  Or light up.”

Personally, I find it ironic and more than a little medically disingenuous that at the same time cigarettes are increasingly controlled and decried because of the health risks associated with inhaling nicotine, tar, and smoke, using marijuana, which impairs motor abilities and adversely affects cardiopulmonary health, is increasingly accepted.

Regardless of the medical and, for the matter, moral arguments against the legalization of marijuana, I nevertheless must agree with Abcarian’s conclusion:  “Like gay marriage, pot is here to stay.”

Why do I concur with Abcarian’s conclusion?  Because we live in a society obsessed with and ruled by public opinion.  Our working presupposition is that if the majority of people approve of something, that something ought to be implemented societally.  And if the majority of people approve of something, that something ought to be considered good and right.  Public opinion, then, shapes far more than our federal policy; it guides our society’s morality.

But there is a problem with public opinion.  Because the people who proffer it are sinful, public opinion can be sinful.  One need look no farther than Pontius Pilate’s opinion poll:  “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 27:22)?  I’m not sure the public was right or righteous when they gave their opinion on Jesus’ sentence.

The apostle Paul reminds us of the stark sinfulness that can sometimes mark public opinion when he writes:

[People] have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:29-32)

According to Paul, the public delights in sanctioning sin.  Far from being good and moral, the public is sinful and wicked.  And lest we think we are somehow immune to the depravity of the general public, Paul reminds us that we too play a role in society’s degeneracy:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Romans 2:1)

It’s not just that public opinion “out there” can be wrong, it’s that our own opinions can be wrong because our opinions are stained and maimed by sin.

In a culture where public opinion shapes nearly everything, Christians have a countercultural message:  what is moral and best is not always what is popular and promoted.  Instead, what is moral and what is best is that which is revealed by God.

So what does this mean for the debate over legalizing marijuana?  It means that a debate such as this one cannot be settled by a poll.  Instead, we, as Christians, need to think about this issue in light of God’s Word.  Perhaps what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:20 is a good place to begin:  “Therefore honor God with your body.”


[1] Robin Abcarian, “Like gay marriage, medical marijuana is here to stay,” L.A. Times (10.23.2013).

November 4, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Hope in the Midst of a Colorado Tragedy

The Century 16 Theatre at which James Holmes opened fire during the movie, “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises.”

When 24 year-old neuroscience Ph.D. candidate dropout James Holmes burst into an Aurora, Colorado theatre at a midnight premier of “Batman:  The Dark Knight Rises” in full tactical gear with a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun, and a pistol, packing as many as 6,000 rounds, the carnage was nearly instant.  Twelve are dead.  Over fifty are wounded.

Almost immediately, investigators sprung into action, trying to answer the same question they always try to answer after an act of senseless violence like this:  “Why?”  So far, Holmes hasn’t left us much to go on.

One of the things that strikes me about this mass shooting is how utterly elusive Holmes’ motive seems to be.  He has no Facebook page to scour for clues.  He has no Twitter account to review.  He didn’t host a blog.  He wasn’t connected to anyone on LinkedIn.  In an era of ubiquitous social media, investigators have not been able to turn to any of these standard-fare communal clearinghouses for insight into this man’s mind.  His police record has left investigators just as mystified.  One traffic violation in 2011.  That’s it.  No arrests.  No prior investigations.  Nothing that would lead officers to believe this man could or would explode in a rampage of mass murder.

The L.A. Times has been hard at work trying to understand Holmes’ motive, interviewing several people who knew him, albeit not very well.  Here is how they describe him:

  • “A generally pleasant guy…James was certainly not someone I would have ever imagined shooting somebody.” – James Goodwin, high school classmate
  • “He was very quiet…He was a nice guy when you did occasionally talk to him.  But he was definitely more introverted.” – Tori Burton, fellow with the National Institutes of Health
  • “A super-nice kid…kinda quiet…really smart…He didn’t seem like a troublemaker at all.  He just seemed like he wanted to get in and out, and go to college.” – Dan Kim, UC San Diego student[1]

The portrait of Holmes, even if not particularly profound, is incredibly consistent.  He was nice.  He was smart.  He was studious.  He was introverted.  And he did what?  He massacred how many?

Jesus says to the religious leaders of His day, “On the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28).  Jesus knew the goodness a person presents on the outside often conflicts with the darkness he harbors on the inside.  And as it was with the religious leaders, so it is with James Holmes.  On the outside, Holmes looked like a bright, promising Ph.D. student.  But on the inside, as we are now learning, he was full of dark aspiration.

The Bible has a word for this conflict between a person’s externally righteous appearance and his internally depraved heart:  hypocrisy.  This is why Jesus begins His diatribe against the religious leaders by saying, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites” (Matthew 23:13)!  In the ancient world, a “hypocrite” was an actor – someone who put on a mask to perform in a play.   Though the actor presented himself as one person on stage, he was, in reality, another person in his day-to-day life.

What is so sad about James Holmes is that, as he burst into that theatre filled with moviegoers, he was not necessarily being hypocritical, at least in a theological sense.  Instead, he was – as the doctrine of human depravity makes all too horrifyingly clear – just being himself.  He was carrying out in a shower of gunfire the sin that, exacerbated by what seems to be an apparent mental illness, had been smoldering in his heart for a long time.  And lest we pontificate on Holmes’ wickedness from a position of self-righteous arrogance, we must remember that the same depraved root of sinfulness that lives in Holmes’ heart lives in every human heart – even in our hearts.  As the prophet Jeremiah soberly says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)?

In a situation as devastating as this one, Christians are in a unique position both to minister to the hurting on the one hand and to speak honestly about the depth of human wickedness on the other.  To the hurting – especially to those who have lost loved ones – we can offer a shoulder to cry on and a message of hope:  “Christ conquers death!”  To those who ask “Why?” we can respond with one, simple word:  “sin.”  Sin led to this act.  Sin leads to all wicked acts.  Sin leads to our wicked acts.  But, like with death, Christ conquers sin.

As this story continues to unfold, we are sure to learn more about the gunman – his background, his possible motive, and, perhaps, his personal demons.  But no matter how much we may learn about his past, we cannot change the past.  Loved ones will still be lost.  Survivors will still bear physical and emotional scars from that dreadful night.  And the hearts of so many will still be broken.  The past will stand as it is right now:  tragic.  Only Christ can take this terrible moment from our past and redeem it in the future – when He calls those who trust in Him to rise from death to eternal life, unscarred and unmarred even by a gunman’s bullets.  And so in our distress, we hope and trust in Him.  What else can we do?


[1]Complex portrait emerges of suspected Colorado gunman James Holmes,” Los Angeles Times (7.20.12).

July 23, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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