Rick Steves addresses decriminalizing marijuana at 75th forum

Rick Steves believes America needs to create a soft drug policy that legalizes, taxes and regulates marijuana for adult use because it is a civil liberty and should be treated as such.

“It’s baffling to me how many decent people you sit next to in church…who can’t talk about something they enjoy doing because it’s criminalized,” said Steves, a noted author and television personality who advocates for the decriminalization of marijuana.

Rick Steves, a pro-smart drug policy advocate, spoke during the 75th Forum Series at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire campus this past Wednesday at his talk entitled “European Take on America’s War on Marijuana.”  Rick Steves addressed university students, staff and community members on the topic of decriminalizing marijuana and his stance on the matter.

“I am a hardworking, kid-raising, churchgoing, taxpaying American citizen.  If I work hard all day long, go home and just wanna smoke a joint and just stare at the fireplace for three hours, that’s my civil liberty,” said Steves.

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Rick Steves, a “pro-smart” drug policy advocate from Washington, discussed why he believes America would benefit from decriminalizing marijuana in Schofield Auditorium on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

Steves advocates for the decriminalization of marijuana because of the wasted time, effort and money spent enforcing these laws.  Steves argues that instead of wasting money on arresting people simple for possessing marijuana, we should be taxing it.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in 2010, 52 percent of all drug arrests made were for pot possession.  It was also estimated that states cumulatively waste over three billion dollars enforcing marijuana laws every year.

“You take an existing black market and you turn it into a highly regulated, highly taxed legal market,” said Steves.

Although the majority of the crowd seemed to be in favor of Steves point of view, Crispin Pierce, a professor of Environmental Public Health at the university, commented on the seeming lack of research behind Steves talk.

“I think he’s a real smart advocate,” said Pierce.  “I was a little concerned that he didn’t base his work on statistics.”

Pierce went on to elaborate on how Steves had used some statistics from the ACLU and other organizations in the beginning of his speech but had lacked some basic statistical research and information later on such as a DEA study done on the rising of DUI’s in Colorado since the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Although Pierce critiqued the lack of quantitative evidence in the forum, he said he appreciated other aspects.

“I think it’s an important discussion to have and we can have different opinions on civil liberties,” said Pierce.

There are multiple contradictory studies online.  One article published on the Washington Post claims that the number of highway fatalities in Colorado are at an all-time low.  Another article published on Science Daily claims that fatal road crashes involving marijuana have doubled after Washington legalized the drug.

In order to regulate driving under the influence of alcohol, a testable blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent is what determines whether or not a driver is under the influence.  With marijuana, however, there is yet to be a single, effective way of determining what is means to be under the influence enough to not be able to drive.

In California, law enforcement officials have come up with a marijuana field sobriety test that consists of things like the one leg stand or walk and turn tests.  Though steps are being made in determining how much is too much when it comes to being a driver, there has yet to be something as comprehensive and definite as a blood alcohol level test developed for the use of marijuana.

Steves believes in a pragmatic approach to drug abuse.  By following European models that measure success in harm reduction rather than incarceration, Steves believes we can successfully and safely bring this approach to the United States.

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