Marijuana Legalization and Tobacco Demonization Are The Latest Salvos In The War On The Working Class
It may strike many as odd that even as local governments across the country wage war on cigarettes, drinking, tanning, fast food, and lap dances, marijuana smoking is increasingly tolerated. (I know that I used to be baffled by the phenomenon) A closer examination of the issue demonstrates that there actually is an internal coherence to these developments, however. In sum, these regulations and developments stem from the American Middle Class’ attempts to enforce its values through all of society. Middle Class prejudice, in other words, explains why a Californian can’t smoke a cigarette in a bar, but will soon be able to buy a joint from a corner store.
The American Middle Class – and particularly those sainted “Middle Class Families” – has a stranglehold on American politics and policy. Most every candidate for political office in the United States, from the Reform Party candidate for assistant Dog Catcher of Loving County, Texas, to those running for the highest offices in the land, claims to be running in order to protect “Middle Class Families.” Electoral strategies hinge on the turnout of Soccer Moms and post 9/11 Security Moms – code words for suburban, Middle Class voters. Once they’re installed in office, winning politicians continue to pander to the Middle Class, as well. Last month, our president pitched his new plans to “fight” for the Middle Class. The recently passed Health Insurance Reform bill was really a protection measure for the Middle Class. (Poor people have access to health care through Medicaid. Obama’s bill was about allaying Middle Class concerns such as health insurance portability.) Plans for a “cap and trade” environmental bill are also about allaying Middle Class environmental anxieties.
That “cap and trade” bill has not yet passed, so how (aside from buying a reusable grocery bag) is the typical suburban Middle Class American to allay her fears of imminent environmental doom? By sparking a joint, of course.
Indeed, in recent decades, marijuana has increasingly become the favored high of the Middle Class. Whether because they think it’s “medicinal” or “natural,” it is now standard and accepted for Middle Class Americans to get stoned. “Pot-growing takes root in the suburbs,” reported an AP dispatch from 2007, and Science Daily reported in 2008 that the Canadian “Middle Class is relaxing with marijuana.” Television programs like Weeds, and popular movies like American Beauty, routinely depict suburbanites getting high. The children of the Middle Class have embraced pot smoking as well. A recent 4/20 rally at that bastion of Middle Class kids, UC-Santa Cruz, brought out thousands of suburbanites demanding the “right” to get stoned. Researchers Richard J. Bonnie and Charles H. Whitebread suggest that the Middle Class acceptance of weed stems from the fact that today’s Middle Class Americans were children of the 1960’s – the time that pot smoking became widespread in the US. Whatever the reason, it is clear that the days of Reefer Madness are far behind us.
Viewed through this lens, it becomes clear why marijuana is increasingly tolerated by our political overlords: it’s yet another Middle Class pander. This also explains our government’s ceaseless attacks on cigarettes, drinking, tanning, eating fatty foods, and other “working class” behaviors.
Let’s just stick with cigarettes – after all, like marijuana, tobacco is smoked. Cigarette smoking is vilified by suburbanite Middle Class types, yet remains a hallmark of working class culture. As a Gallup survey found in 2008, “among Americans, smoking decreases as income increases.” Working class bastions Kentucky and West Virginia boast the highest smoking rates in the country, and, until last year, smoky taverns filled with working class loggers, machinists, and welders, abounded throughout my great state of Oregon. Clearing those rooms of smoke represented an imposition of Middle Class values on working class culture. Yet again, the Middle Class was able to dictate the terms of what is “acceptable” in America. This also explains the various wars being waged on heavy drinking, eating fatty foods, and tanning, for these behaviors are linked with working class culture, and vilified by the eternally anxious Middle Class.
It would be fine if the Middle Class kept its pot smoking, anti-cigarette ways back in Stepford, where it belongs. By why does its second-hand intolerance and anxiety have to waft towards the rest of us?