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Travel maven joins fight to decriminalize marijuana

Rick Steves will speak at a screening of the film “Marijuana: It’s Time for a Conversation” on Monday night at the Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane. (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Rick Steves will speak at a screening of the film “Marijuana: It’s Time for a Conversation” on Monday night at the Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane. (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

In the ongoing War on Drugs, zero tolerance is the common mantra.

That applies to everything from heavily addictive heroin and crystal meth to a substance that most Europeans consider no worse than a stiff whiskey.

We’re talking here, of course, about marijuana.

“Generally, in Europe it’s sort of laughable that anybody would do hard time for marijuana,” said Rick Steves, the prolific travel writer and, of late, a supporter for the decriminalization of marijuana.

Steves will share his views during a screening of the film “Marijuana: It’s Time for a Conversation” at 7 p.m. Monday at the Bing Crosby Theater.

The event, which is free and open to the public, is being sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

“My friends (in Europe) tell me that society has to make a choice toward alternative lifestyles or building more prisons,” Steves said during a recent phone interview. “And they pride themselves in their level of incarceration compared to ours. I get them jabbing me about how enthusiastic we are about locking up people.”

Steves said he objects to America’s marijuana laws on two basic levels: pragmatic and philosophical.

The pragmatic part involves the cost that such laws pose both for individuals and for society overall.

“We are arresting more people than ever in our society for marijuana,” Steves said. “And 90 percent of those arrests are for simple possession, according to our government’s statistics.”

In addition to cluttering up the court system, such prosecution ruins lives.

“The thing is, when somebody gets arrested for marijuana, they’re usually black or poor, and that makes it more likely for them to take the wrong track and never get back on the right track,” Steves said.

“They can’t get loans, they can’t get into school, they have a record, nobody wants to hire them. …”

As a father of two children just out of their teens, Steves stresses that he isn’t advocating marijuana use. And if someone abuses the drug while driving, he said, he thinks the legal system should “throw the book at them, just like alcohol.”

He also believes, however, that marijuana use in the privacy of one’s home counts as “a basic civil liberty.”

This is why, he adds, he has taken time away from his travel business to support the ACLU and the organization NORML, which is working to decriminalize marijuana use in the U.S.

“I’m saying that we have a law on the books that’s as stupid today as the prohibition against alcohol was in the 1920s and ’30s,” he said.

Both Prohibition and the war on marijuana, Steves said, prove “that you can’t legislate morality.

“I was just in Iran for two weeks, and I saw what happens when you legislate morality,” he said. “It’s not a pretty picture, and most Americans wouldn’t like it.”

For more information about Steves and his views on decriminalizing marijuana, go to www.ricksteves.com.

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