Rick Steves, the popular travel writer and broadcast personality, was in Vancouver Friday night speaking to a standing-room-only audience at the downtown library. But he wasn’t talking about his latest tourist find in Europe. He was explaining why Washington voters should pass the marijuana legalization measure on the November ballot.
Steves, 57, retains a boyish animation and a suburban-dad demeanor that makes him an unlikely promoter of anything having to do with the pot culture. And, in fact, that’s what makes him such a powerful endorser for I-502, a measure drafted precisely to appeal mainstream voters who may have inhaled in college but have long since moved on.
For that reason, sponsors of the initiative launched Steves on a seven-day, 10-city tour of the state Friday beginning in the Olympia. Essentially, his message is that he’s not out to promote marijuana, but to end a regime that puts so many otherwise law-abiding people in legal jeopardy, fuels Mexican drug gangs and doesn’t do anything to reduce drug abuse. “I-502 does not say marijuana is good,” said Steves. “It says prohibition is an expensive, losing battle and we’ve got to do something different.”
Or, as he argued at another point: “If you want to control it, legalize it and regulate the heck out of it.”
Washington is one of three states – along with Oregon and Colorado – with marijuana legalization measures on the ballot this year, and Steves walked his audience through what he describes as the cautious approach of I-502. Unlike in Oregon and Colorado, Washingtonians would be prohibited from growing their own marijuana at home if I-502 passes. Adults would also be limited to possessing one ounce of marijuana and the state would strictly regulate and tax growers and sellers.
Steves said the polls bear out this approach, with the Washington measure running ahead, the Colorado measure much closer and the Oregon initiative – the least restrictive of the three – facing an uphill battle. “I don’t think Oregon has a chance,” Steves told the audience of about 150, which was a mixture of fans of his travel shows and books, pro-marijuana activists and the just-plain curious.
It was a big switch from his appearance earlier in the day in Olympia, where a group of medical-marijuana activists drowned him out when he tried to speak. The most visible opponents of I-502 have actually been pro-marijuana activists who think that I-502 is unduly restrictive and would particularly open up users to being unfairly charged with driving while impaired.
Steves got a quite different reception in Vancouver, where he charmed the audience by awarding a couple of his travel bags – made with hemp – to those who were the first to answer some trivia questions. One man who said he was a regular marijuana user had an angry exchange late in the evening with the campaign manager, Alison Holcomb, but that was about it. One woman who posed with Steves for photos afterwards wouldn’t give her name because she’s a teacher who fears for her job. She described herself as a huge fan of his travel work and shyly admitted that she agreed with his arguments about I-502.
Steves said his travels in Europe – particularly in the Netherlands, where marijuana use in specified shops is tolerated – persuaded him that a regulatory regime is better than prohibition. For example, he noted that Dutch youth have much lower rates of marijuana use than their American counterparts. Steves has been speaking out against the nation’s marijuana laws for several years and is a board member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He’s donated $350,000 to the I-502 campaign.
In an interview afterwards, Steves said he first tried marijuana when he was traveling in Afghanistan in the 1970s, but that he’s never been a regular user. “I get drunk about once in a blue moon and I smoke pot about once in a blue moon,” he said, insisting that he’s interested in the subject because he “wanted to find a cause that was true, that people could not really talk about.”
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Original post is HERE.
Mr. Steves, the kids came by to throw a salute your way. Glad to have you with us.
[image: Google images Rick Steves & salute]
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