Not being much of a traveller, I'm kind of ashamed to admit that I'd never heard of Rick Steves before learning he was touring Oregon to talk about "Travel As a Political Act: Ending Marijuana Prohibition in Oregon."
Steves wrote a book with that title, Travel As a Political Act. His interest in making marijuana legal comes partly from his co-sponsorship of Washington state's successful 2012 ballot legalization measure.
Last night my wife and were part of a packed house, 300 people or so, in downtown Salem's Grand Theatre. This photo was taken before the event started. Eventually the balcony area and lower level were both almost filled.
It was pleasing to see way more people here than attended any of the misleadingly-named Oregon Marijuana Education Tour meetings featuring anti-marijuana legalization zealot Kevin Sabet. Sabet doesn't tell the truth about cannabis, while Steves was pleasingly honest, humorous, and candid.
Steves' 90 minute or so presentation started off on the travel as a political act theme. He said that travel opens our eyes, showing Americans that just as we think the United States is the greatest country in the world, so do people all over think their country is the best.
Europe is his main travel focus. Steves talked about how Europeans are much more advanced that we are in many areas -- such as high speed trains, social equality, food appreciation, quality of life, and, yes, drug policies.
Steves went on to say that Europe produces the same economic output as the United States with 400 million people rather than our 300 million. So they are willing to be 25% or so less wealthy in order to have time and the opportunity to enjoy life more.
That's a tradeoff most in Europe are happy to make, while Americans overwork themselves with fewer vacations, fewer benefits, longer work hours, and more stress.
He gave several examples of how Europeans are much less moralistic than we are, which leads to wiser social policies. We lead the world in imprisoning people, often for victimless crimes like drug use. Europe helps drug users break their habit through education and other means, rather than viewing them as moral failures.
Likewise, he showed photos of Amsterdam's "red light" district where prostitution is regulated instead of being driven underground where a woman has to call her pimp if a customer gets abusive, not a police officer.
Download Rick Steves campaigns for marijuana legalization in Oregon: Q&A | OregonLive.com
Here's some excerpts:
...As far as my business goes, I have been talking about this quite candidly for a long, long time. Every once in a while somebody is going to say, 'I know what you think about marijuana and I am not going to buy your guidebooks. I am not going to take your tours.'
All I can think is Europe is going to be more interesting and fun without you."
I have smoked very casually ever since I was a student.
It’s not a big deal in my life. I just really believe in civil liberties. I am a tax-paying, kid-raising, church-going, hard-working American citizen.
If I work hard all day long and I want to go home and in the privacy of my own living room and smoke a joint and just stare at the fireplace for three hours, that is my civil liberty.