This article was originally posted on October 9, 2014
One of America’s best-known travel writers and guides is lending his support to marijuana legalization as voters in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., consider dropping penalties for using pot.
Travel guru Rick Steves has been a longtime supporter of marijuana legalization, but has recently stepped more forcefully into public view. He was an early backer of Washington state’s legalization effort, and is now making his case with a series of highly publicized speaking events and fundraisers across Oregon.
“I figured, this is good citizenship. I’m not pro-marijuana, but I’m anti-prohibition,” Steves said from the Oregon governor’s mansion while visiting and talking pot taxes with Gov. John Kitzhaber. “Nobody needs to vote for me, nobody can fire me.”
Adults in Alaska and Oregon could buy legal marijuana — and pay taxes on it — under plans being considered in the fall election, and voters in Washington, D.C., are considering a similar measure repealing all criminal and civil possession penalties.
All three already permit medical marijuana use and possession, and backers of the plans, which include the New York Times, say legalization and taxation acknowledges that America’s pot prohibition is a failure. Twenty-three states and the nation’s capital permit medical marijuana, and Colorado and Washington state have legalized recreational use and sales.
“Voters are recognizing that marijuana is not as nearly harmful as they’ve been led to believe,” said Mason Tvert of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. “Once someone understands that fact, it’s very easy to arrive at the conclusion that we need to start treating it that way.”
Legalization backers say acknowledging that marijuana is a widely used substance across the country means adults can have an honest conversation about taxes and regulation, setting aside the old “reefer madness” hysteria often raised.
Steves said his travels have shown him this country’s approach is mistaken, especially when taking into account what he said is enforcement that has historically targeted the poor and minorities.
He said legalization means fewer arrests and more taxes — according to state Department of Revenue reports, Colorado this year has collected $21.6 million in marijuana taxes and fees.
“One thing I’m very careful to say is that I’m not pro-marijuana. It’s a drug,” Steves said. “I think this is smart policy.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday made headlines when he disagreed that legalization is smart policy. During a debate with his Republican challenger, Hickenlooper called Colorado’s voters “reckless” for approving marijuana legalization while it remains federally illegal. The governor, however, has repeatedly said he respects the will of the voters, and later backtracked by calling the vote “risky.”
Hickenlooper has repeatedly referred to Colorado’s legalization as an experiment with unknown results, and has urged caution for elected officials in other states.
In Alaska, legalization opponents use examples from Colorado to make their case to voters. That move reflects the proposal itself: The Alaska legalization effort is virtually identical to Colorado’s recreational marijuana law, while the Oregon proposal, Measure 91, is similar to Washington state’s.
“With the legalization of marijuana comes mass marketing, advertising, and storefront properties. Such a vastly different, commercial landscape will significantly change the social norms and perceptions of our communities,” the group Big Marijuana, Big Mistake said in a statement about Alaska’s Ballot Measure 2. “Big Marijuana won’t be about homegrown local businesses. Rather, it will be led by outside companies seeking to make a profit off Alaskans. This initiative is being funded by big-dollar interests from the Lower 48, who see Alaska as a domino in their quest to legalize marijuana nationwide.”
The Marijuana Policy Project has made no effort to hide its approach to legalizing marijuana, first by persuading voters to approve medical marijuana in multiple states, and then pushing recreational legalization a few years later. The project also is helping organize efforts to pass the D.C. legalization effort, which lacks the tax-and-sale component of Oregon and Colorado because voters in the district cannot levy taxes via the ballot initiative process.
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