Guidebook and travel TV host Rick Steves said he wants to legalize the laws for marijuana.
“I have been at this for 20 years and it’s very easy to make jokes about marijuana but it’s a very serious issue,” Steves said. “And that is why I spend a lot of my time and energy in support of reforming America’s marijuana laws.”
Steves’ spoke to a friendly audience in the 75th forum at Schofield Auditorium in the University of Eau Claire on November 16 at 7:30 p.m. He said the law was causing more harm than the drug itself.
“It’s baffling to me how many decent people you sit next to in church,” Steves said. “who you work with every day, who you teach with, can’t talk about something they enjoy doing because it’s criminalized.”
He said the fact is millions of good Americans smoke marijuana. Millions. There are dads who enjoy smoking pot secretly who have sons who enjoy doing the same thing who both don’t know they both smoke pot, according to Steves.
“This is one of the reasons I got into this because we’re just embracing a lie and we can’t even talk about it,” Steves said. “It needs to be talked about with respect.”
He said he’s in favor of legalizing marijuana but not in favor of using marijuana other than as a civil liberty.
Steves said the war on drugs is really expensive and no one is talking about it. He said it’s been about 40 years since President Nixon declared the war on drugs and since then the country has spent a trillion dollars fighting it. It’s a huge failure, Steves said.
He said this year 700,000 people were arrested for having marijuana in their possession. According to Steves, in Wisconsin between 15,000 to 16,000 people arrested. He also said today there are 20,000 Americans in prison for non-violent marijuana offenses. He said this is a real serious issue.
Steves said nearly half of all drug busts are related to marijuana.
“It’s a huge part of our war on drugs and it’s quite racist,” Steves said. “Black people smoke just as much as white people do and they’re arrested at about triple the rate.”
Steves said the is a Civil War going on in Mexico, which is driven by the demand in drugs. He said it’s a massive black market that empowers gangs and organized crime.
Steves said what most European have in common is a focus on education and prevention. He said they handle marijuana issues as a public health problem than a criminal one they’re able to minimize the harm it causes both to the person using it and society as a whole. While, the United States is afraid to grapple with the issues the drug causes, Steves said. He said the Europeans are doing it right.
The audience reaction to Steves’ approach on the marijuana issue around the world seemed tohave a profound impact on the attendees.
One interviewed attendant even came out of the forum swayed to see Steve’s point of view on the matter more-so after his speech than he was going into it.
UW-Eau Claire student Alex Franxman said he learned it’s not so much the issue but the small percent a people.
“It’s a huge issue and a lot of people are making it seem only like one out of a million people smoke pot,” Franxman said. “but in actuality a lot of people do it and now it’s time we have to look at the majority and start working on that.”
Another forum audience member said she was pleased with Steves’ overall message.
UW-Eau Claire Student Madeline Gorg said, overall, the forum wasn’t what she was expecting, but in a good way. Gorg said she felt Steves’ was very informative and educational on the marijuana issue. She also said she learned a lot more facts about the issue that she didn’t know actually know.
“This event is important for people to go to because it feels none-biased and is straight information that is not supposed to sway you either way,” Gorg said. “It’s just to present you with information and that is really important.
Overall, Steves said, like Europe, marijuana isn’t going away and instead of criminalizing it, we should adopt a sensible policy that focuses on the legalization of it and be smart about it.