Even Tobacco Smoke-Free Bars Are Ridiculous Abridgments of Freedom

In my last rant, I went off about us cannabis consumers being barred from having our own public venues in which to enjoy marijuana and each other’s company. In response, one commenter noted “Like cigarettes, nobody wants to breathe second-hand cannabis smoke… what pothead in their right mind would go to a bar to smoke a joint?”

At every bar in America, there are “potheads” smoking joints—they’re just doing it in the alley or in the parking lot. Meanwhile, in the covered outdoor patio adjoining the bar, they’re drinking and smoking cigarettes and cigars, chatting up attractive people and enjoying the sounds of the live music or the sights of the sporting event on television.

Why should we be barred from that place? Why should a place allowing cigarettes not allow a joint?

I understand the concerns about indoor smoking, but I don’t agree with them, even for tobacco. I think we’ve gone too far into trying to Nerf the world so nobody is ever threatened by anything anywhere.

I’m someone who grew up with parents who worked in restaurants and bars in the 1970s and 1980s. This crusade to make them all smoke-free was promoted on the idea that the poor working-class people slinging drinks, cooking and delivering food and playing songs onstage shouldn’t be subject to lung hazards while working. Both my parents smoked at the time; how does a smoke-free workplace help their lungs?

Meanwhile, in West Virginia, coal miners inhale more toxic crap daily than I ever suffered in 30 years of working and playing in smoky blues bars and country bunkers. So, it’s OK for a poor Appalachian man to hurt his lungs to feed his family, but the server in Seattle can’t be forced to endure such hardship?

But Russ, what’s the harm in making her workplace smoke-free?

Other than demonizing and ostracizing nicotine addicts, I guess nothing. And I support the smoke-free restaurants, airplanes and other public places. I just draw the line at bars serving alcohol, something more likely to immediately harm the consumer’s health and much more likely to harm others than cigarettes. There should be some place to publicly accommodate people who choose to use harmful substances and that should be a bar.

Part of the reason I think this is because the extent to which we demonize other substance consumers and fail to stand up for their rights is the precedent that can be used against cannabis consumers’ rights in the future (see: Niemöller poem). Already, England has banned smoking in cars if children are present. How long before this doctrine of second-hand smoke is used to punish cannabis consumers in legal states who toke around their own kids in their own home (which, of course, is the only legal place to toke, right?)

I always thought that in America, we should be free to do things so long as they don’t harm others and even be free to do things that may harm others so long as we take reasonable precautions. The short track speedway in my old home town subjected people to plenty of noxious gases and the occasional chance of a flying piece of wrecked car debris. But we’re free to drive ridiculous cars fast around dirt circles in front of bleachers full of potential victims, because America!

I’ve also heard from many people who are thrilled about smoke-free bars because they hated having to inhale second-hand smoke. Many people would also likely prefer not to inhale marijuana smoke. That’s great – America! – but it shouldn’t be the forced default setting for all bars.

If I could wave a magic wand and make it so, we’d have tobacco licenses like we have liquor licenses. Every jurisdiction would have its own system, like liquor, but basically it would work like this: You have a club, and if you want to allow smoking, you have to get a state tobacco license. There’d only be a certain amount of them, like liquor licenses, so their value would skyrocket. The requirements for having a tobacco license would include ventilation and air-scrubbing standards. Employees of such establishments would have a higher minimum wage and would each receive quality health care coverage paid for from the fees for the tobacco licenses.

So, not every club could afford to have a tobacco license, and not every club would want them, anyway. The clubs that do would have to mitigate the effects of second-hand smoke on the establishment and take care of their employees’ health care. The employees could choose to work at a smoke-free club or get a better-paying job at a smoke-allowed club. Then, you just apply this logic to cannabis when it is legalized, and a club could have a liquor, a tobacco and a cannabis license for onsite consumption.

Whoops, sorry. Logic. I forgot. This is America!

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