Guidebook author and TV host Rick Steves has travelled the world for three decades with an appetite for more than just new foods and cultures. He's also had a keen interest in understanding how different countries address similar problems. As he notes in his book, "Travel as a Political Act," one particularly serious issue he's had his eye on is drugs. In part, "learning why Europe has fewer drug-related deaths, less drug-related incarceration, and less drug consumption per capita than we do here in America."
In a recent op-ed for The Oregonian, Steves summarizes his findings regarding marijuana:
When it comes to marijuana, some societies simply moralize and criminalize. Others are more pragmatic and work to reduce harm by taking the crime out of the equation, treating marijuana as a health and education issue instead... And it's clear to me, we need to end our nation's prohibition against marijuana.
Based on his experiences, Steves has been a longtime proponent of marijuana reform and was one of the original sponsors of Washington's historic marijuana legalization Initiative 502, overwhelmingly adopted by voters two years ago. Rick aggressively campaigned for the initiative's passage, arguing that his travels across the world confirm that marijuana is most effectively controlled through regulation. "Like most of Europe," he said "I believe marijuana is a soft drug (like alcohol and tobacco), not a hard drug. Like alcohol and tobacco, there is no reason why it shouldn't be taxed and regulated."
During the month of October, he'll be using travel as a political act once again during a 6-day, 10-city tour of the state of Oregon to promote Measure 91, which would create a regulated system that would refocus police time on serious crimes, hobble the black market cartels, and direct millions of dollars to education, drug treatment and prevention, and law enforcement.
As in other states and nations, in Oregon, the failed approach to marijuana has come at a steep cost:
- There have been at least 12,000 arrests and citations for marijuana each year across Oregon counties -- and the number goes up every year. Over the last decade, police have arrested or cited over 99,000 people in Oregon for marijuana offenses. The millions of dollars this costs every year comes at a time when Oregon has untested rape kits, missing children and unsolved murders.
- The current failed approach to marijuana in Oregon supports a dangerous system of drug cartels, drug dealers and organized criminals that take in huge amounts of profits without paying a penny in taxes.
- These criminals grow marijuana illegally on Oregon's public lands and other delicate natural habitat, at with highly negative and lasting environmental impacts.
- Current marijuana policy in Oregon does nothing to protect children. Drug dealers control kids' access to marijuana, and they don't ask for ID. And drug education and prevention programs are woefully underfunded.
Watch below as Steves narrates an animated video that explains in more detail how the current system is failing Oregon.
Measure 91 is a smart law designed to address this reality and it was carefully crafted to create a tightly regulated system that controls marijuana's production, sales and use -- taking the best lessons from Washington and Colorado's laws and improving on them. It's been endorsed by Richard Harris (one of the state's top drug treatment and addiction experts), former U.S. Attorney Kris Olson, retired Supreme Court Justice Bill Riggs, labor groups, environmental groups, senior citizen organizations, the Portland Oregonian, the Eugene Register-Guard, the New York Times, and more -- an impressive list of well-respected leaders.
"There are so many reasons to end the prohibition on marijuana," says Steves. "Whether you want to improve the well-being of children, redirect money away from criminals and into tax revenue for the state or protect civil liberties, it's clearly time for a new approach. Rather than being 'hard on drugs' or 'soft on drugs,' by passing Measure 91, Oregon can finally be smart about drugs."
If you're in Oregon, check out the dates and locations of Steves' tour and come listen to him share what he's learned through his travels, why this experience makes him concerned about Oregon's current approach to marijuana, the track records thus far of both Washington state and other countries, and where the drug reform movement is heading.
Learn more at www.VoteYESon91.com/RickSteves.
Jill Harris is the managing director of strategic initiatives for the Drug Policy Alliance.
This piece originally ran on the Drug Policy Alliance blog: http://www.drugpolicy.org/