By Hannah Pitzl
The criminalization of marijuana in the United States creates more harm than good, and the drug itself isn’t the issue, travel-writer Rick Steves said during a speech advocating the reform of the nation’s marijuana laws.
“I’m not in favor of using marijuana,” he said. “I’m in favor of the civil liberty of using marijuana.”
Steves spoke in Schofield Auditorium at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. He presented his speech, “European Takes on America’s War on Marijuana,” as part of UW-Eau Claire’s 75th The Forum Series.
Steves, a board member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, speaks around the country because he believes many American
s are unable to do so for fear of losing their jobs or damaging their reputations, he said.
He compared the illegalization of marijuana to the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s-30’s, and he explained that he isn’t pro-marijuana, but is simply anti-prohibition.
“There was recognition that the law [against alcohol] did more harm than the drug itself,” Steves said.
The criminalization of marijuana supports the black market which makes millions of dollars off of the drug simply because it is illegal, he said.
“That money is going to fund gangs and organized crime — It empowers organized crime,” Steves said.
If marijuana is legalized, this portion of the illegal black market will morph into a highly taxed and highly regulated legal market, he said. It also allows law enforcement to focus on higher risk issues instead of “cracking down on pot smokers,” he said.
An estimated 450 tickets were sold for the event. Throughout Steves’ informal speech he threw in quick quips. The audience reacted with laughter and applause.
He separated his over an hour in length speech by asking trivia questions and giving away prizes to the responsive crowd. Among the audience were university students who may not necessarily stand for the marijuana drug but agree with reforms on drug laws.
“I don’t smoke, and I don’t have any interest in smoking either tobacco or pot,” a UW-Eau Claire student who attended the Forum, Kyle Welbes said, “but I see that there’s a lot of issues with racial discrimination, especially with the black community.”
Welbes believes a simple conversation is a step in the right direction for the nation.
“If people are being imprisoned for doing something that doesn’t really hurt anyone else I think that’s really criminal in that of itself,” he said. “That’s worthy enough of just starting a conversation, and making a change.”
Europe takes crime out of the equation when it comes to the issue of marijuana and equates it to alcohol and tobacco, Steves said, Europe views addiction as a sickness not a crime.
“If you’re advocating to change a law,” Steves said, “it doesn’t mean you’re advocating to break that law.”
Steves concluded his speech with a question an answer session. At 9:30 p.m. a reception immediately followed in Davies Center at UW-Eau Claire at approximately.