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If anyone knows how other countries have done a better job than the U.S. in overhauling their drug policies, it’s Rick Steves. The famous travel writer and TV personality, best known for his PBS show Rick Steves’ Europe, has long taken a stand against how the U.S. views cannabis.

If there’s any moment where Steves’ ideas deserve a podium, it’s now, when the policy-reform momentum is solidly in the corner of cannabis advocates.

Steves, 63, has been to almost every country in Europe over the past 10 seasons of his PBS show, and he’s learned something important about cannabis. Europe is not hard on drugs or soft on drugs, but smart on drugs, he writes.

“Generally, Europeans employ a three-pronged strategy for dealing with hard drugs: law enforcement, education, and healthcare. Police zero in on dealers - not users - to limit the supply of drugs.”1

He goes on to wag his finger at the U.S., where cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug. "Rather than acting as a deterrent, the U.S. criminalization of marijuana drains precious resources, clogs our legal system, and distracts law enforcement attention from more pressing safety concerns,” he writes.

He also reveals how other places, such as the city of Amsterdam, have managed to curb drug use while refraining from imprisoning cannabis users who didn’t harm anyone with their practice.

Steves writes, “Statistics support the Dutch belief that their more pragmatic system removes crime from the equation without unduly increasing consumption: After 30 years of handling marijuana this way, Dutch experts in the field of drug-abuse prevention agree that, while marijuana use has increased slightly, it has not increased more than in other Europeans countries where pot-smokers are being arrested.”

Steves concludes the post by saying, “I believe we can adopt a pragmatic policy toward both marijuana and hard drugs, with a focus on harm reduction and public health, rather than tough-talking but counterproductive criminalization.” 

He also brought his perspective to a lecture hall, where video of his talk earned 20 times more upvotes than downvotes. He reiterates the Amsterdam example and also decries the poorly conceived scare tactics many Americans remember as a kid. “I went to those DARE meetings and I saw demoralized teachers peering at that stuff and not believing a word…and the kids thought it was a bunch of hogwash.” 

Steves remarks on the many U.S. states that have legalized medical and/or recreational cannabis, adding, “What’s beautiful about the U.S. government is that states are incubators for change. Time and again, different states figure out what the electorate is comfortable with and they try fixing social problems through state legislation often against the will of the federal government, in a lot of cases.”

The federal government might have to eventually bend to popular opinion. Recently, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam called for cannabis decriminalization in his State of the Commonwealth speech. Legalization measures with a strong chance of passing are expected to be introduced in 2019 in the Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire legislatures.

As Boulder Weekly wrote in January 2019: “Marijuana legalization used to be considered a third rail of politics. By 2020 opposition to legalization may achieve that status.”2 

  1. "It's Time for a New Approach to Marijuana." https://www.ricksteves.com/about-rick/new-approach-to-marijuana
  2. "Marijuana Legalization 2019: The dam is breaking." https://www.boulderweekly.com/features/cannabis-corner/marijuana-legalization-2019-the-dam-is-breaking/

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