With many European countries legalizing marijuana, Rick Steves, travel writer, says the U.S. should follow suit.
“I’m not trying to promote drug use,” Steves said. “I’m trying to promote civil liberty.”
In front of a crowd of about 450 people, Steves spoke on the issue of marijuana. This discussion was done as a forum, titled “European take on America’s War on Marijuana,” and was part of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s 75th Forum Series in Schofield Hall on Wednesday night.
Steves has been vocal about changing the U.S. government’s stance on marijuana use and has travelled to many locations as an advocate for pragmatic harm reduction regarding the drug.
“We’re not being soft on drugs,” Steves said. “We’re being smart on drugs.”
With 700,000 people having been arrested this year for marijuana possession, Steves said the current law is doing more harm than good. He said marijuana isn’t going away. Regulating and taxing its use is more beneficial than criminalizing it.
Marijuana use is looked upon by Steves not as a crime, but as a civil liberty
“If I have a hard day at work and I want to smoke a joint and stare at the fireplace for 3 hours,” Steves said. “That’s my civil liberty.”
Steves also addressed many fears and questions that come with the de-criminalization of such a drug. In order to quell concerns that the legalization of marijuana would increase usage, Steves said people who want to smoke marijuana already do so. The argument of marijuana being a “gateway drug” to more addictive and more dangerous “hard” drugs was addressed with a look at where exactly the drugs are coming from.
“The only thing gateway about marijuana,” Steves said. “Is if it is illegal, kids have to buy it from a criminal on the street who has a vested interest in selling you something more profitable and more addictive.”
Steves related his opinions back to his experience travelling throughout Europe, hence the name of the forum. Steves took the policies of European countries who have already made changes to their stance on marijuana, such as the Netherlands and Portugal, and said they could serve as a model for the United States.
Steves took an informal approach to the forum. Many times during the speech, Steves cracked jokes and involved the audience. There was one point in which Steves held a trivia contest of sorts on facts about marijuana usage in both the U.S. and Europe with prizes handed out to the audience.
An audience Q&A session closed the forum with inquiries on both Steves’ opinions and of the ideals of the organization that he has been working closely with, the National Organization of Recreational Marijuana Laws (NORMAL). Questions ranged from medicinal uses to the religious impact of marijuana.
Shelby Muench attended the forum to see what the take in Europe is on this issue but came out with a perspective she wasn’t expecting.
“I thought it was interesting that he was talking about marijuana use as a civil liberty as opposed to it being pro-drug,” Muench said. “Being pro-marijuana is usually seen as something that’s negative to people as opposed to something that all people should be allowed to do.”
Steves’ said his goal was to drive home his belief the U.S. has a broken system. He said he wasn’t pro-drug, but was for the basic right of marijuana use.
“If you’re advocating to change a law,” Steves said. “It doesn’t mean you’re advocating to break the law.”