Big Weeds meteoric rise is a sad symbol of Rust Belt decline
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Like both of his immediate predecessors, President Joe Biden campaigned on the promise of restoring my home state of Michigan to its glory days as the nation’s industrial center, when the counties surrounding cities like Detroit and Flint enjoyed the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world.
For a lot of reasons, this promise was unlikely to be fulfilled regardless of which president was making it. Buick City will remain a brownfield. But one area of the state’s economy is surging: cannabis, which is quasi-legal in Michigan and 15 other states, despite remaining a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.
Even at the height of lockdowns in 2020, with churches across the nation shuttered or subject to other ludicrous restrictions, pot dispensaries went on hiring sprees. One man interviewed by the Detroit Free Press had spent 14-hour days furloughing workers for an auto-parts supplier before decamping to Big Dope, where he was hired as “director of legal operations and social equity.” The founder of a company that matches desperate gig workers with hourly pot-related employment opportunities explained that “people don’t want to return to a dead-end job.”
This is a sad reality. Cannabis is a $3.2 billion business in Michigan alone, and dope-peddling experience is something you put on a résumé. Last year was a disaster for manufacturing, with automakers facing chip shortages, and hotels and restaurants shuttering, many never to return. But for legal weed, the future looks bright green, which is why even conservative small towns like mine are authorizing so-called dispensaries.
This was brought into sharp relief over the July 4 weekend, when my wife and I hosted friends from the Washington, DC, area. They had never been in Michigan, and their first stop was Detroit. “I thought you guys still made some stuff here, but the only signs I saw were for weed stores,” one of them said.
This wasn’t really fair to Michigan because in addition to legalizing dope, we have also liberalized online gambling. You can place a bet on any one of our four failing professional sports franchises, or you can blow your mortgage payment playing blackjack or poker or even a facsimile slot machine from the comfort of your home.
Online gambling, which like the lottery system preys on the poor and the mentally ill, might be the only thing that our Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and the GOP-controlled state legislature agree on. Are these the blessings of liberty?
In my own lifetime, the landscape of rural America has become unrecognizable. Payday lenders charging 500 percent interest to working moms, dollar stores full of junk made by Chinese slave labor and legal head shops have replaced the stolid brick credit unions, family-owned grocery and hardware stores and mom and pop restaurants and dive bars.
Playgrounds once teeming in the summer with loud children are all but empty; the occasional elderly woman brings her bored, listless and frequently obese grandchildren, but they remain glued to streaming devices, indifferent to their surroundings. Whatever freedom means, it isn’t this.
Here is the future that Big Dope wants (Big Finance and Big Tech, too): a nation of drug-addled semi-employed morons addicted to junk food delivered by wage slaves, pornography, Internet gambling and whatever crass entertainment is suggested by the algorithm. Sit on your couch, wait for your Biden Bucks, and order takeout. Destroy your attention span with phony outrage online, shrug at the rainbow logos on your toothpaste and orange juice.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, go sell drugs at the place on the highway that opened after the components manufacturer closed — and doesn’t require a drug test.
The glory days of the Big Three and the United Auto Workers are never coming back. The question is what is going to replace them. I don’t think it’s too pessimistic to say that if we continue on our present course, the answer will be nothing.
A world in which slinging dope is a generation’s only meaningful employment prospect is one that will eventually destroy itself.
Matthew Walther is editor of The Lamp magazine.
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