Blowing smoke

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Blowing smoke

by Ari Armstrong

The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on March 16, 2006.

My wife and I saw the Valentine's concert by DeVotchka (devotchka.net) at Boulder Theater. It was a fine concert at a fine venue. Think rock 'n' roll with a tuba and exotic dancing.

And we enjoyed the concert in utopian Boulder, where there's never any racism, all the SUVs run on solar power, the wealthy share their money equally with the poor, economic controls never have unintended consequences and there's never any smoke in public places. Except for the faint purple haze of marijuana smoke at the concert. Because, like, some smokers are totally more equal than others, dude.

I was sorry to see Gary Lindstrom exit the race for governor. I met Lindstrom at a Feb. 21 event where he took the side of property owners in condemning eminent domain. I caught Lindstrom for a quick audio interview, and he said that he wants to legalize marijuana. He supports a guest-worker program for migrant workers from Mexico, equal benefits for gay couples and other "progressive" causes.

Except that he wants to limit the fundamental human right of self-defense, and he wants to impose smoking bans. So he wants to protect the property rights of some by limiting eminent domain, and he wants to violate the property rights of others by imposing centralized state controls over their property.

His perspective is fairly typical of the left: marijuana good (or at least tolerable), tobacco bad. Of course, Lindstrom and other supporters of smoking bans don't want to allow marijuana smoke in places open to the public, either, and they don't want to ban tobacco in the home or outdoors. Still, there's something peculiar about wanting to legalize the smoking of marijuana on some private property and ban the smoking of tobacco on other private property.

At least the hard-core prohibitionists are consistent: They want to ban the smoking of everything everywhere. Such prohibitionists take their ideas seriously. That's more than can be said for those conservatives who oppose smoking bans but want to keep marijuana illegal for adults. How can conservatives claim to support property rights when they blatantly violate the fundamental right to control one's own body, from which all property rights flow?

A fantastic scenario arose during this most interesting of political years. Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (saferchoice.org) wants to put an initiative on the state ballot to remove criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults over 21. Meanwhile, the prohibitionists threatened to put a smoking ban on the ballot.

In late February, Rep. Mike May, an anti-property Republican who sponsored a smoking ban, told the AP, "If we're unable to do our jobs, I'm sure the citizens will do it for us in the fall."

And Pete Bialick, director of GASP of Colorado, told the Rocky Mountain News, "I'm already getting e-mails and calls saying let's forget the legislature and put something on the ballot."

Realistically, the marijuana initiative has little chance of passing. But it would be something if Colorado simultaneously "legalized" marijuana and banned the use of tobacco on select properties. Jay Leno had enough fun when Denver voters eased the city's marijuana restrictions last November.

It's not too hard to figure out the prohibitionists or the conservatives, who think that people are inherently morally weak and need to be controlled by a powerful state. But what explains the self-described "progressives"?

Mostly, I think, it's a class thing. People who smoke marijuana are cool hippies and leftist reformers. People who smoke tobacco tend to be red-voting working class. And obviously anybody stupid enough to have voted for Bush deserves to be punished and controlled by the elite. (I do have left-wing friends who are tobacco holdouts, and of course Hollywood once glamorized tobacco.) Conservatives tend to hate marijuana and support tobacco for some of the same reasons -- reasons that have nothing to do with the properties of the two drugs.

Another motive is corporate-hating. Marijuana is smuggled, grown illegally and traded informally. Tobacco is grown and distributed by big corporations. And anything associated with big corporations is automatically suspect. The left's theory of economic determinism suggests that people smoke tobacco, not because they want to, but because corporations manipulate consumers.

Finally, the left claims to support free speech, privacy and other civil rights, even as it attacks property rights. For alleged "progressives," business owners do not have rights, and so their ability to say what they want and associate with whom they want -- for instance, smokers -- may be restricted at will. So it's OK to smoke marijuana on "personal" property, but business owners who allow patrons to light up a cigarette must be subjected to criminal and regulatory penalties and the tobacco police.

But all rights fundamentally are rights to control one's own mind, body and property, so the left's war on property rights threatens to destroy all rights. Meanwhile, though, there's no need to get too uptight about the smoking bans. If somebody wants to puff some marijuana at a concert, "progressives" won't get too upset. After all, the purpose of the law is to control the ignorant masses, not the elites.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com