For over a decade, author, TV host and European travel guru Rick Steves has devoted substantial time and energy into the growing pro-cannabis movement in the U.S. He was a leading force behind successful legalization efforts in both Washington and Colorado in 2012, as well as in Massachusetts in 2016. In February, he was appointed chair of the board of directors at NORML, the Washington D.C.-based marijuana advocacy group.
Steves joined Boston Public Radio today, the unofficial holiday of April 20th, to talk about the state of marijuana in the U.S., and why he’s less interested in preaching to what he calls the “tree-hugging hippies” of Bellingham than he is converting staunch prohibitionists like former Maine governor Paul LePage.
“We’re not [going to] win this just by getting pot smokers on our side,” he said during the Tuesday interview. “We’ve got to address and respect the concerns and fears of people who just don’t want their daughters dating a guy who smells like marijuana. And it’s just a different culture — it’s a subculture, and it’s a legitimate culture. And they [pot smokers] deserve their civil liberty, as long as we have strict and smart laws.”
Since Steves began pushing for an end to U.S. pot prohibition, 16 states, including Washington D.C., have legalized recreational cannabis, and dozens of others have loosened strict prohibition laws. According to polling released by Quinnipiac University last week, nearly 70 percent of Americans now support legalizing recreational pot use.
“It’s starting to snowball now,” Steves said. “All the states I worked in were hard states because you had to get the initiative, signatures, and you had to get it to the vote. But now, state legislatures are realizing that this is just common sense,” he said. “It’s not 'reefer madness' propaganda.”
Steves said he believes the crux of the legalization issue is about more than being able to get high at home.
“[For] rich white guys, privileged people like you and me, it’s not dangerous,” he said. “But for people of color and for poor people, they’re the ones who are being arrested, and they’re the ones who’re having their lives messed up.”
Steves said his devotion to the legalization cause was largely inspired by his travels abroad, and by witnessing the safe and compassionate approach that many European nations have taken to marijuana.
“In Europe, they’re not into legislating morality and incarceration, they’re into something called pragmatic harm reduction,” he said. “And in this country right now, it’s [confronting] a law based on lies, started by President Nixon in 1971 when he was mad at the hippies.”
Rick Steves is an author, television and radio host and the owner of the Rick Steves' Europe tour group. You can catch his television show, "Rick Steves’ Europe," weeknights at 7:30 p.m. on GBH 2 and his radio show, “Travel With Rick Steves,” Sundays at 4 p.m. on GBH.