Rick Steves is an internationally renowned travel writer and the host of Rick Steves' Europe on PBS. And he's an outspoken advocate for marijuana legalization. He currently serves on NORML's board of directors, and he campaigned for legalization in Washington state in 2012 and Oregon in 2014. This fall, he plans to elevate the debate around ending marijuana prohibition in Massachusetts and possibly Maine.
On Mar. 14, Civilized had a chance to talk to Rick about marijuana. Here are some highlights. (Listen to the full interview below):
Why he came out as an advocate
"I was frustrated 10-15 years ago. This is an important issue but people who agreed that it would be pragmatic and wise to stop the war on marijuana were afraid to speak out because it would hurt their business, or it would hurt their political prospects, or it would hurt their standing socially. And I'm unique in that I don't need to be elected and that I'm my own boss - nobody can fire me, and I'm not a publicly held company. And I've got a certain amount of celebrity, and I can blame my European friends for what I think about drug policy. And it all made sense for me to be public and speak out. So I made a point not to promote marijuana but to promote ending the prohibition against marijuana, back when it was quite dicey to do that."
The decision did cause some fan backlash
"There's people that are nervous about it, and people who disagree with me. But a reasonable person will understand that I'm not promoting marijuana. I'm promoting changing a law that's ineffective. And if I can get 15 minutes of somebody's time, I can explain to them that...everything was operating on hunches, and there are more and more track records now. We can see that consumption is not based on how strict the laws are. We can see that there's not a whole reservoir of decent people who would love to ruin their lives smoking pot if only it was legal. We can see that the only thing gateway about marijuana is that it's illegal, because then you have to get your pot from some criminal on the street who's got a vested interest in selling you something more profitable, more addictive....But every once in a blue moon someone says, 'I know what you think about marijuana, and we're not going to use your guidebooks and we're not going to take your tours anymore.' And all I can think is, 'Europe's going to be a lot more fun without that person.'"
Life is normal in his legal state (Washington)
"After four years of legalization, I look out my window here and marijuana's legal and it looks just like it did before it was legal. It just means we arrest 8,000 people fewer a year, it means money is being taken away from organized crime and our government is enjoying tens of millions of dollars of tax revenue that they wouldn't have had otherwise. And mature adults have the civil liberty of going home and smoking a little pot if they want to. I mean, I've got my bong right out on my shelf at home, and it's just great to have it there right next to the wine glasses."
The backstory behind this photo of him posing at the piano with cannabis
"When people need b-roll to talk about some marijuana issue that's in the news, all they have is...a bunch of scary-looking, tie-dyed, dread-locked freaks. And that's freedom, and that's great. But that's not a good way to get people less afraid of marijuana. And we've got to remember that probably most people who smoke marijuana look like the person that you go to work with, or go to church with, or that you'd sit next to in a restaurant. And there's just no b-roll. There's no image of that kind of enjoying recreational marijuana. So I kinda wanted to put the Chopin there, the wineglass and the grand piano just so we could remind everybody that a lot of different kinds of people enjoy marijuana."
His first time was (surprise!) on a trip
"Oh, first time I got high, I was on a trip across South Asia. It was fun to smoke pot where it was quite the social norm in Afghanistan and India and Nepal. Just felt like it was a different kind of social activity. And to be in a wonderland like Nepal and to enjoy getting high is really pretty amazing. I think back on that and it makes me want to go to Nepal again....It's the music, it's the food, it's the hungry leeches coming at you in the jungle, it's floating in a dugout canoe surrounded by jungles, it's looking into the eyes of people who you can't tell if they're really some wild, crazy local freak or just some guy from California who's checking out, it's having people throw petals of flowers all over you, it's monkeys chasing you for your little biscuits. There's all kinds of stuff that becomes really quite exciting when you're in Nepal and mixing in a little bit of ganja with your travels."
Check out the audio clip for more details on Rick Steves' activist work, his European travels and his high times in Kathmandu.