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Travel guru Steves throws his name into the pot

Rick Steves to visit Beaverton to discuss legalized marijuana in Oregon


In his longtime advocacy for the legalization of marijuana for recreational as well as medical use, European travel guru Rick Steves maintains his stance has more to do with freedom and common sense than the mild euphoria associated with smoking pot.

"I'm by no means pro pot," Steves said over the phone on Tuesday afternoon. "I'm anti-prohibition, pro civil liberties, pro teaching kids common sense. We spend a lot of precious time, resources and law enforcement arresting people (with marijuana) and locking them up."

Steves will share his views on reforming drug laws in a free forum called “Travel as a Political Act: Ending marijuana prohibition in Oregon,” at Ava Roasteria, 4770 S.W. Hall Blvd., on Wednesday, Oct. 8, from noon to 1:30 p.m. His Beaverton visit is part of a six-day, 10-city tour around Oregon to promote the "Yes on 91" campaign advocating for the passage of Ballot Measure 91. Voters will decide on Nov. 4 whether Oregon, like Washington and Colorado have in recent years, will regulate, legalize and tax marijuana for adults 21 and older.

Steves, a Seattle resident who hosts "Rick Steves' Europe" on American Public Television and "Travel with Rick Steves" on Oregon Public Radio, will share his views in forums in Portland, Gresham, Salem, Corvallis, Eugene, Medford, Ashland, Bend and The Dalles. The travel guidebook author, who co-sponsored Washington's successful 2013 ballot measure to regulate, legalize and tax marijuana, will share how travel has shown him how different societies tackle the same problems.

“One thing I’ve learned in 30 years of travel is that treating marijuana as a crime does not work,” he said. “A better approach is to regulate it, legalize it and tax it. I’m an advocate for better policy, and that’s what Oregon will get once Measure 91 passes.”

Steves, whose "Travels in Europe with Rick Steves" debuted on public TV in 1991, advocates independent travel through several books and media focusing mainly on European travel and directed at American audiences. He is known for encouraging visits to villages and hamlets off the beaten path in addition to major cities and destinations.

In addition to his travel-oriented endeavors, Steves advocates and supports organizations dedicated to the homeless, the arts and serves on the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

While he believes no one has the right to drive or harm others while under the influence of pot or alcohol, Steves views the current state-by-state push for pot legalization as akin to the prohibition era of the 1920s. Then as now, he argues, draconian laws fail to reflect the general public acceptance of a particular intoxicant.

"As we discovered then, the law can cause society more trouble than the drug it's trying to deal with itself," he said. "The most dangerous thing about marijuana today is that it's illegal."

He believes Oregon and eventually the rest of the U.S., whose federal pot prohibition laws run counter to state legalization in Washington and Colorado, would benefit from the approaches he sees in parts of Europe.

"The best way to lose control of something is to make it illegal," he asserted. "It would be much more effective for (marijuana) to be in a legal, regulated market. We could learn a little bit from the European approach, where once you take crime out of the equation, it becomes less of a challenge and not such a big deal."

Of all the arguments he hears against legalization, the one that baffles him the most is the notion that throngs of people with little or no prior interest in smoking pot will suddenly want to light up once marijuana is openly sold over the counter.

"I think a lot of people think the world is going to be one big hemp fest if it's made legal," he said. "But I don't think there is this deep reservoir of people who are going to go out and (become regular users). The only difference is they'll be buying it from shops, it will be regulated and not sold to kids in the street, and it will be taxed rather than enriching the black market."

"The fact is," he added, "anybody who wants to smoke pot today does."

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