Ever since he was a child, Rick Steves, a travel show host for PBS, has traveled to Europe for three months annually. Now he says that those “European sensibilities” are what have inspired him to campaign for laws to legalize and regulate marijuana for adults.
Steves says laws against cannabis are non-productive to harmful because of all the people currently or formerly imprisoned under them. In 2017, 27 percent of people who were arrested for drug law violations were Black, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
“These are not rich white people. These are poor people and people of color,” Steves told The News Station. “It’s just common sense to reconsider these laws and update them.”
In recent months, drug reform has become a hot topic nationwide, especially as this wild election year started winding to a close. At a recent town hall, former vice-president Joe Biden told the audience, “I don’t believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use. They should be going into mandatory rehabilitation.”
That statement felt revolutionary, but it came after progressives have continued to push their party’s nominee on these issues. Earlier this year Biden came under fire for moving the entire party away from marijuana legalization and towards mere decriminalization, which invited criticism from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and other members of The Squad.
That’s because over the last decade marijuana became the new normal for millions of Americans. Currently, 11 states and the District of Columbia have approved the usage of cannabis for adults, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Steves said the push to update marijuana laws isn’t about cannabis itself; it’s about civil liberties.
“It’s a drug. It can be abused. It should be carefully regulated, but it should be treated like alcohol,” Steves said.
Steves is currently working to legalize recreational marijuana for adults in New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota. New Jersey, Arizona and Montana already have laws that allow for medical cannabis, but South Dakota doesn’t allow any public access to cannabis.
“I want to stress these are not pro pot laws,” Steves said. “These are smart public safety laws. These are laws that protect road safety laws that keep the use of marijuana away from children and teens.”
Steves also says that propaganda from organizations working to prevent the legalization of weed should be ignored.
“If you believe in democracy, and if you believe in civil liberties, it’s a responsibility for you as a good American citizen to not be conned and duped by propaganda from organizations that are spending money to keep marijuana illegal because it’s good for their bottom line,” Steves said.
Steves calls the nation’s pharmaceutical companies “Pot Prohibition Profiteers,” because many opposed cannabis even as their opioids were killing veterans, among tens of thousands of others.
“It gives relief to veterans, and they’d rather get veterans hooked on some opioid to make some money,” Steves said. “This is heartless. This is evil.”
A 2016 study found that in states that allowed access to medical marijuana prescriptions for painkillers plummeted.
In 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services recommended that THC be moved from a Schedule 1 controlled substance to the less restrictive Schedule 3. While that was seen as progress, the federal government has barely moved since then.
Steves said that the US government needs to get away from its historic “reefer madness” propaganda and take a look at new statistics, because it will help overworked police departments focus on real criminals while also helping alleviate overcrowding in many of the nation’s prisons and jails.
“These people are not criminals that need cops and lawyers and judges. They are people who are sick. They’re enslaved to drug abuse, and they need compassion,” Steves said. “That’s what Europeans are giving their addicted population. I wish our country was that generous and smart.”