Public TV travel host: Legal pot embraced in Europe, overdue in U.S.

The genial host of “Rick Steves’ Europe” served up a hard-hitting and unflinching endorsement of marijuana legalization in Maine Monday.

“Rich, white guys are not getting arrested,” Steves told The Phoenix in an interview at the Portland headquarters of the “Yes on 1” campaign.

Steves shed his persona of European travel host for public television – a persona marked by a soothing, obsequious demeanor.

Meet Rick Steves, civil liberties crusader.

“Anybody who cares about kids knows that the most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it’s illegal,” Steves said.

According to the “Yes on 1” campaign for the Nov. 8 election in Maine, Steves donated $100,000 to the campaign earlier this year.

“The initiative,” proponents wrote, “allows adults 21 years of age and older to possess a limited amount of marijuana, grow a limited number of marijuana plants in their homes, and possess the marijuana produced by those plants. It will remain illegal to use marijuana in public.” The initiative also enacts a 10 percent tax on adult-use marijuana sales, but medical marijuana sales are not subject to the sales tax, according to the campaign.

Steves said he spends four months a year in Europe, and “in Europe, a joint is about as exciting as a can of beer.”

For 20 years he has appeared in the travel show on public television, and Steves noted, “My European friends tell me that society has to make a choice, tolerate alternative lifestyles or build more prisons, and they also remind me that we Americans lock up eight times more people per capita as they do.”

Steves pointed to potential benefits from legalization, citing $120
million in annual tax revenue in Washington from the state’s landmark marijuana law.

“It is 2016, Washington and Colorado have legalized, taxed and regulated marijuana, and they have been selling it in very carefully regulated retail outlets for several years, and the numbers are in. The numbers are in, there’s no refuting this, use will not go up; teen use will not go up; crime will not go up; DUIs will not go up. The only thing that will go up is tax revenue,” Steves said.

Not everyone accepts this conclusion.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, founded by Congressmen Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, and Dr. Kevin Sabet, a former Obama administration drug adviser, argues that the Colorado and Washington examples are cautionary tales.

“The marijuana industry is likely to be the Big Tobacco of our time. Let's prevent another industry from profiting off of addiction,” SAM

“These ‘experiments’ in legalization and commercialization have not succeeded,” SAM continues in a paper at

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, Colorado now leads the country in past-month marijuana use by youth, with Washington in 6th place. Other states that have since legalized marijuana occupy 4th place (District of Columbia) and 5th place (Oregon). States with ‘medical marijuana’ laws occupy 2nd and 3rd place (Vermont and Rhode Island, respectively).”

“Yes on 1” points to success stories out of the states of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington where legal pot has gone mainstream.

Steves said agendas drive much of the opposition.

“When you’re a caring citizen trying to sort through all the claims both pro and against Question 1, you’ve got to ask, ‘What’s motivating this person?’ There’s something I call the PPP, the pot prohibition profiteers.”

The Maine initiative allows people to grow marijuana at home to meet their medical needs. Some in Maine’s medical marijuana community may fear a loss of influence.

“I’m not saying the medical marijuana industry in general is this way, but there are people in the medical marijuana industry that will oppose a legalize, tax and regulate law because it will have a negative impact on their bottom line,” Steves said.

(Wellness Connection, Maine’s largest dispensary group, announced support for marijuana legalization in Maine. An opposition group called "No on 1" makes the case that small growers will face a threat from outside forces if the referendum passes.)

Much of the legalization effort stems from concern with the War on Drugs.

“In our country today, we’ve got 20,000 people in prison for nonviolent marijuana crimes, we arrest 700,000 people a year in this country, and in four states it’s legal, taxed and regulated,” Steves said, illustrating the stark differences in direction.

Legislators can fix “glitches” once a referendum passes, he said. In Washington state, legislators reduced tax levels, “we were taxing too high and it was giving an opportunity for the black market to survive,” Steves said. In Colorado, packaging and labeling for edibles had to be refined so “kids could be warned,” he added.

Steves said current law, including the federal standard making marijuana illegal, benefits criminals. "It's a law that's empowering gangs and organized crime," he said.

While in Maine, Steves delivered a talk at University of New England, titled “Marijuana and Civil Rights in America: A European Perspective.”

For more about the “Yes on 1” campaign, visit

For an opposing view, the Maine affiliate of SAM can be found via

Last modified onWednesday, 19 October 2016 12:41