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Monday, September 13, 2010

Unlikely Advocate: This is Rick Steves on Drugs

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Mon, Sep 13, 2010 at 10:37 AM

As I reported last week, a national marijuana conference filled the luxury Governor Hotel with the sweet stench of pot smoke, including a kick-off speech from Representative Earl Blumenauer and a talk by none other than public television travel host Rick Steves! Who knew Rick Steves was a major advocate of drug law reform?

I sat down with Rick Steves last Friday to talk pot. Here's our quick Q&A on why changing marijuana laws is good for parents, good for Christians and good for society.

I bet people are surprised to find out you're a marijuana advocate.
In some people's minds, they have like whiplash. They say, "I didn't know you were involved in that." And I think that's funny because my persona, everything about me, is consistent. I think enjoying marijuana is perfectly consistent with being a good parent, a good citizen, a Christian or a person of faith, a creative individual who wants to embrace life and challenge themselves with creative adventures. All that's right in keeping with the someone who wants to enjoy a little marijuana.

I heard you were chosen the 2008 Lutheran of the Year. What does the church think about your marijuana advocacy?
The church knows I am not an advocate of smoking marijuana, I'm an advocate of allowing people to smoke marijuana who want to smoke marijuana. That's a big difference. I'm not saying, "Smoke pot, smoke pot, everybody smoke pot." I'm saying, "Stop arresting people who choose to smoke pot." That's a very Christian thing to be doing, I think, to respect people, not lock people up, and think about harm reduction. I don't support a lot of lifestyles that come along with smoking too much marijuana, I think that's actually really sad, but I also don't think adults should be hiding like little children if they want to enjoy a little marijuana.

So how long have you been working on this issue for?
When I think back on it, I've been interested in the fear that this brings to our society and how many people are criminalized by this law ever since I was a student. Thirty years ago, I was on the radio in Seattle, but back then I had to do it anonymously, as a small business man who was in favor of changing these laws. It struck me back then, "This is ridiculous, why should I be afraid of talking about this?" Everyone I knew was smoking, but no one could talk about it. I felt like someone had to stand up and say, hey, it's okay! We're not saying smoke pot! We're saying it should be a civil liberty if you want to smoke, as I like to say, responsible adult recreational use.

So it sounds like your opinions on pot were formed before you even traveled a lot.
No, actually, the first time I ever got high was in Afghanistan. It was great, it was just what people do in India, Nepal, Afghanistan. I went through my young adulthood thinking, like any nice conformist person would, this is the evil weed. But then through my travels, in a lot of cultures people smoke pot and the sky wouldn't fall. If you want to and you don't hurt anybody, you should be able to. If I don't want to exercise, I don't have to, it's my civil liberty. If I want to eat cupcakes, I should be able to, it's my civil liberty.

I remember I didn't want to succumb to peer pressure, like teenagers were hearing, so I stood above that business. But then I realized, in South Asia, this wasn't peer pressure, this was culture. You could buy it in the markets, it's what people do when they want to relax.

Have you seen global cultures surrounding pot change over the past 30 years?

What I've been fascinated by is America's bullying people into criminalizing pot. Other countries are afraid to legalize pot even though their populace wants to legalize it, because from an economic point of view they know it would be very expensive. A small, struggling country doesn't want to have a trade war with the United States.

What country should we be taking our cues from to craft a sane drug policy?
I think we should take our cues from drug policy in general from Europe. Which is, when you take crime out of the equation, you take violence out of the equation and you can treat drugs as a health problem. It should be evaluated not in how many people you lock up, but in harm reduction to society. For me, I like to put marijuana in with soft drugs, like tobacco and alcohol. Hard drugs should be their own category.

So do you smoke pot when you go abroad?

Um... It's really not an issue of do I smoke pot when I go abroad. I think it's funny that some people would condemn me for breaking an American law overseas, that's kind of illogical. It's the height of ethnocentricity.

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