Under our new authoritarian COVID reality, liquor stores are legal to operate. Marijuana stores are legal to operate. Cigar stores are not.
I defy anyone to make any logical sense of that.
Oh, there’s plenty of politics behind it, and that we can understand. Tobacco smokers are a political minority today, and not a protected or celebrated one, but a hated and marginalized minority. They are easy to push around.
Can you name a group whose legal lifestyle activity is so despised, and therefore more taxed, regulated and socially ostracized than smokers? Homosexuals, transsexuals, gun owners, hunters, cross-dressing alcoholic vegan neo-Nazi pornographers — all less persecuted than smokers.
Craft brews, boutique distilleries, and pot shops are part of the new stylized and urban-centric Colorado scene. And with urban-centric progressives in control of all levers of state offices it’s little wonder why the elites deemed them “critical.” A man-bun wearing millennial uprising would ignite otherwise.
Mind you, tobacco customers do little to help themselves. Cigarette smokers can be a rather self-loathing lot. Many would like to stop smoking and almost welcome the oppression of their activity. Cigar smokers tend to be a rather proud club. Neither type is therefore prone to demand recognition of their victimhood. They simply take the abuse, taxation and hatred, and hope to be just left alone.
The Gallagher family can trace its Colorado roots to the 1800s when they worked the fields and mines in the Boulder Valley, working hard so that the next generation could do a little better. They are Colorado.
Seeing the unfriendly treatment of smokers, they started Smoker Friendly years ago, a business that leaned into the smoking lifestyle, not shamed for it. Today they run, or should I say ran, over 60 shops in several states carrying fine cigars and every tobacco product imaginable, including their brands of tobacco.
Like a fundamentalist Christian pharmacist selling condoms, most large retailers that also sell tobacco seemed ashamed of selling the stuff. And smokers can feel it. The Gallaghers turned that image on its head, building a place where smokers can come out of the closet. They took a risk, leveraged all they had, worked hard and made a place hospitable to those uninvited nearly everywhere.
If they instead opened LGBT welcoming centers for Islamic pot smokers, the left would (rightfully) be celebrating them. Instead tobacco-hating health departments are shutting them down. State and local bureaucrats are hassling and intimidating their hourly workers until they close stores.
Over half their stores have been forced closed even though they also sell food, cleaning supplies and other critical products.
Their 800 employees are on the verge of losing their jobs forever, and the Gallaghers could lose the business that spans several generations.
Yet the pot shop next door to them is open, as is the liquor store next to that.
There is more than just hatred of smokers and their “filthy” lifestyle at play here. It’s bare-knuckled, Chicago-style politics.
The governor who has put us under coronavirus house arrest is very supportive of a proposed initiative to massively hike tobacco taxes to pay for his pledge of “free” pre-school. Rumors are he may even bankroll it with his considerable wealth.
Of course, there are obvious policy problems building a funding stream for preschool from a shrinking tax supply like smokers, unless the state is going to encourage smoking with some kind of “light up – for the kids!” campaign. But that would be the next governor’s problem.
It seems wildly convenient to use your emergency powers to bankrupt the tobacco retailers and some of the most effective voices against your tobacco tax before this fall’s campaign season.
At the very least, the governor could call on all governments including the state, to treat tobacco shops like liquor stores. He hasn’t.
Smokers who bought their cigars from neighborhood shops like Smoker Friendly aren’t just giving up smoking. In our mandated isolation they are turning to out-of-state online purchases and might never return to local Colorado shops when this crisis is over.
But that could be a small price to pay to kill opposition to a tax increase.
Jon Caldara is the president of the Independence Institute in Denver.