By Emilee Wentland
The United States should follow the lead of many European countries and legalize the recreational use of marijuana in order to reduce harm, said Rick Steves, travel television host.
“We’re not going to be soft on drugs,” Steves said. “We’re going to be smart on drugs.”
Rick Steves gave his “European Take on America’s War on Marijuana” speech about legalizing marijuana as part of the 75th annual The Forum series. Steves spoke to a crowd of approximately 450 Wednesday night in Schofield Auditorium at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Steves emphasized that the laws he endorses are not pro-drug, but are instead pro-public safety.
“Some people are for marijuana; some people are against marijuana,” Steves said. “What I’m talking about is drug policy reform.”
He compared the current laws against marijuana to the prohibition against alcohol in the 1920s and ‘30s. At the time, the prohibition law was causing more harm to the United States than alcohol ever was, Steves said.
Similarly, Steves said the current war on drugs is failing. Last year in the United States, 700,000 people were arrested for possessing marijuana and 20,000 people were in prison for non-violent, marijuana-related offenses.
Black people are arrested three times as often as white people for marijuana-related crimes even though, on average, they smoke just as often. Steves said the drug policy discussion is racist due to this issue.
Marijuana is legal in many European countries. The drug problems in Europe are parallel to the ones in the United States. However, some countries in Europe have decided to decriminalize marijuana to keep people out of jail and to lessen crime around the drug itself.
In The Netherlands, there are coffee shops that sell marijuana. Legally, they can only sell to people over 21 years old, they are not allowed to advertise the drug and the stores can only hold a certain amount of inventory at any given time. Even with these laws in place, the Dutch smoke less marijuana than other European countries.
In the states that have passed the public safety laws saying marijuana is legal, there have been a large amount of revenue brought in from taxing the drug. California is making upwards of a billion dollars in marijuana tax revenue per year. States such as Washington are making over a hundred million dollars per year.
The laws have also lowered the amount of arrests. Though it seems counterintuitive, these laws have not led to a significant increase in adults smoking marijuana because those who want to smoke it already do, Steves said.
Throughout Steves’ speech, the audience was laughing during his jokes and applauding when he made strong points.
One of the audience members, Brian Moehle, often watches Steves on his travel television program. Moehle said he came to the speech Wednesday night because he was interested in learning more about legalizing marijuana.
“It was a very informative speech,” Moehle said. “He talked about a lot of things I didn’t know a lot about in great detail.”
Overall, Steves said that the legalization of marijuana is about civil liberties. If there is no danger presented or not justifiable reason against it, people should be able to do things that they want to do, Steves said.
He finished his speech by once again emphasizing just because he endorses the legalization of marijuana does not mean he is in favor of the unregulated use of drugs.
“If you’re advocating to change a law, you’re not advocating to break that law,” Steves said.