Thursday, December 03, 2009

Smoking Speakeasies

Well, the new smoking ban in Virginia’s restaurants has started. Unless the dive has a separate room for smokers, and that space has its own air supply, smoking in the place is now against the law. Violators will be fined. We can expect the new law to be tested in court.

Meanwhile, in the Fan District, I expect to see this new prohibition spawn a burgeoning of private clubs, or speakeasies, in the neighborhood’s basements. Some will be properly registered, others probably not. The smartest operators will locate close to existing clusters of restaurants. That way a customer at the Bamboo Cafe can slip down the street for a quick smoke break in the speakeasy, then go back to the above-ground bar.

These new underground joints will serve beers out of coolers. They will pours shots. The fancy ones might serve highballs. Most importantly, they will allow smoking. And get this -- the most daring of them will allow any kind of smoking. So, no kids allowed.

My guess is, the daring spots will be much more popular.

This phenomenon will establish a subculture, folks using both tobacco and marijuana, who gather in private spaces to smoke and drink what they please. Some of them enjoy a smoke-filled room so much, they don’t care about the health risk. However foolish it might sound to do-gooders who want to promote healthy life choices, the hardcore smokers might say the health risks they take every day breathing polluted air, and so forth, worry them more than being in smoke-filled rooms.

The pot smokers will just say, “Huh?”


All of this would have been hard to predict 40 years ago. In that time marijuana was viewed as a hard drug in Virginia. Tobacco was still king -- in 1969 UVa. beat VMI 28-10 in the Tobacco Bowl at City Stadium.

When marijuana-smoking became central to the hippie lifestyle in the late-1960s, getting caught with it was serious business -- two joints could get you 40 years. In the Fan District, as in college neighborhoods all over the country, a subculture formed around smoking pot, to avoid the law.

Happy Hour for the stoned set was practiced in private rooms, hopefully with no narcs on hand. Draconian prohibition or not, history tells us pot-smoking flourished, anyway.

While most of those who experimented with smoking weed four decades ago eventually gave it up, there are still some old hippies alive who never quit. Other than when their supplies ran out, some have smoked marijuana on a daily basis since that 1969 Tobacco Bowl game.

Thus, whatever would happen to human beings for subjecting their bodies to such an ordeal has happened by now. Whatever damage to society that widespread marijuana smoking for decades would cause has happened, too.

So, let’s see the evidence. Where are the legions of 60-year-old pot-smokers who have contracted a nasty disease or developed a pitiful condition that shows the terrible dangers of too many bong hits?

When those convivial adults are smoking and drinking in the new speakeasy smoking clubs I’m saying will soon exist -- medically speaking -- those drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco will likely be doing themselves more harm than those smoking pot. And, I believe honest statistics would confirm that both tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption, especially when done in excess, have done far more harm to society that any amount of marijuana smoking ever has.

So, if we’re going to get real about tobacco in 2009, let’s get real about marijuana, too. It’s about time!

Virginia has absolutely no compelling interest in preventing adults from smoking marijuana in their homes, or in private clubs. Moreover, Virginia’s cities and counties can no longer afford to have their police forces and courts tied up with prosecuting people for marijuana-associated crimes.

How much money could Virginia save today, by releasing everyone incarcerated for crimes to do with pot?

Taxing legal marijuana sold to adults, in the same way legal alcohol and legal tobacco are taxed, would be a major windfall to Virginia’s depleted treasury.

So, ironically, trying to do the right thing about tobacco may be what pushes us to actually do the right thing about marijuana. The sudden existence of a new kind of night club -- where adults smoke ’em if they’ve got ’em -- may be what opens our collective eyes, even if they are a little bloodshot.


The prohibition of alcohol consumption in the Roaring Twenties created an underground culture in which speakeasies flourished. Now the tobacco smoking ban in restaurants is likely to do the same thing.

Keeping children away from tobacco smoke is obviously a righteous cause. It should be backed by the force of law. But protecting adults who choose to smoke tobacco from themselves may be little more than folly.

No doubt, to go on pretending that marijuana is anything like cocaine, heroin, or their synthetic substitutes, danger-wise, one must completely ignore the 40 years of evidence that proves it is not.

Freewheeling basement speakeasies will mean jobs, too. Makes me wonder how many of them existed in Fan District basements back in the days of Prohibition, 80 years ago.

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Anonymous said...

I think you are caught up on the past. No chance this spawns paying "speakeasys". People might hang out on friends porches in the fan, but no one is paying to smoke in someone's basement.

F.T. Rea said...


Thank you for you thoughtful comments.