by Dan Bolles
If you read closely enough, every now and then there's some pretty interesting stuff in the Burlington Free Press. To wit, today's front page featured a lengthy (for the Freeps, anyway) piece on a ballot proposal by Burlington City Councilmen Tim Ashe and Ed Adrian to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Essentially, the gist is that our law enforcement resources could be more wisely spent elsewhere. So why waste time, money, manpower and legal proceedings arresting and prosecuting stoners with little more than dime-bags? It's a fair question. And Ashe and Adrian are wisely seeking to bring the issue straight to the people — rather than directly sparring with legislators — by challenging the council to include it on the March ballot. I don't partake anymore, but I'm awfully curious to see how this one turns out.
This isn't the first time Mr. Adrian has championed a cause related to smoke-ables and their legal status. Two months ago, the Ward-1 Democrat proposed an initiative — Disney-rrifically titled "Family Friendly Smoking Restrictions" — to ban cigarette smoking on Church Street Marketplace. Initially, the resolution met with enough skepticism to be defeated by the council 8-5 — even CSM director Ron Redmond called the proposal "a solution in need of a problem." But the motion could still potentially find its way onto the March ballot. So if the cards fall the right way, smoking cigarettes could be a more serious offense than having weed. Yikes.
Before I continue, I need to admit I'm a smoker. At least until after the Super Bowl, when I've promised friends and family I'd quit.
When the bar smoking ban went into effect a few years ago, I was skeptical. Like a lot of folks, I wondered if the ban would cut into bar revenue, or worse, make going to bars suck. Obviously, it didn't on either count. And, once I got used to what drinking holes actually smell like without smoke to mask the odor, I actually found myself enjoying them just as much, if not more. For one thing, you rarely encounter self-righteous non-smokers standing outside a bar in the smoking area. I'm not saying segregation is a good thing, but it's nice to enjoy a smoke without some asshole feigning a cough like they've got Black Lung and/or telling me I'm going to die. As the late, great Bill Hicks put it, "Non-smokers die every day."
That said, I still disagree with the bar smoking ban because — drum roll, please — bars are private property. If I own a bar, I want the right to allow my patrons — who are, by the way, adults — to enjoy their legal vices.
Or, perhaps I want to provide refuge for folks who'd rather not come home from a night on the town smelling like a pack of Winstons.
The point is, it should be up to bar owners to decide what kind of bar to run, employees to choose the environment in which they work and patrons to decide what sort of establishments they visit.
At best, barring smoking on and around Church Street seems like yet another step towards the "pussification" of downtown Burlington, as I believe former Red Square owner Jack O'Brien put it — though at the time he was referring to the bar smoking ban and the enforcement of noise ordinances, if I remember correctly. At worst, it seems a thinly veiled attack, directed at alienating a specific undesirable segment of the population and sweeping them under the cobblestone.
You know who I'm talking about.
The folks who congregate around the Town Center are frequently cited as an unseemly blight on the the city's crown jewel, both in conversation and the press. Frankly, I can't say that I disagree. They're loud. They're obnoxious. They engage in very private arguments in a very public place. But they have a right to be there too. Church Street is, after all, a "commons" and doesn't exist solely for the prissy pleasures of the double mocha-sipping Eddie Bauer crowd. Besides, if the cops can't enforce loitering laws, how will they tackle smoking? Would they confiscate the Camels but leave the grass?
I have a litany of reasons why I think the ban is a bad idea. But rather than occupy the soapbox any longer, I'll point you in the direction of a rock star. This is, after all, a music blog, right? . . . Right?
Anyway, Joe Jackson — you may remember him from such classic 80s tunes as "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" and "Steppin' Out" — is an outspoken champion of "smoker's rights." He's written pieces for the New York Times and the London Daily Telegraph challenging the philosophical and scientific arguments behind anti-smoking campaigns. His latest manifesto is an interesting and (occasionally) illuminating look at a side of the debate rarely given much publicity. I can't say I agree with him completely, even as a smoker. But it's certainly something to chew on . . . and then spit out in a disgusting brown wad into an empty beer can.
Ah, nicotine. I'll miss you so.