FARGO - Public Broadcasting System travel guru Rick Steves isn't pro-marijuana, he's anti-prohibition.
The Seattle resident, known for his travel shows on PBS television and radio stations and his 50 travel books, made trips this week to Michigan and North Dakota to urge passage of recreational marijuana because he believes the current law is simply wrong.
"The bottom line is prohibition isn't working," he said in a visit Friday, Oct. 5, to Fargo.
What he is in favor of is civil rights, fighting the racism involved in the laws and taking the black market out of the equation.
He first decided to speak out on marijuana laws 20 years ago when he was around Seattle leaders in business, community politics and the media who were smoking marijuana and keeping it a secret.
"They were embracing a big lie," he said.
Even today, after recreational marijuana has been approved in nine states and the District of Columbia, it remains illegal on the federal level, and some people are afraid to speak out about it, Steves said.
In his visit to Michigan this week, he said there were community leaders who wouldn't come to his events because they were afraid to be seen as in favor of the proposed law.
However, Steves said, 700,000 people arrested annually for marijuana in the United States, and they aren't the community leaders, but rather poor people and those of color.
"This is an American problem," he said.
Steves realizes he's influenced by the lax marijuana laws in Europe, where he travels often, but he's also familiar with his home state of Washington where it was legalized by voters in 2012, the same year as Colorado.
What's happening in the two states is proof that "things aren't going to hell in a handbasket," he said.
As for teenager use, Steves said there is no evidence by the state departments of health in either state that it is increasing. He also said statistics show that use by state residents isn't increasing, either, although there was more than $1 billion in sales in the past year..
As for the worries about drugged driving, Steves said that statistics show Washington roads are safer than the national average.
He points to how medical marijuana is legal in 30 states now and that drugged driving has not been seen to be a problem in those states.
Steves is strongly against driving under the influence, but noted that alcohol and prescription drugs are also a problem.
In Washington, he said, recreational marijuana has provided about $300 million in tax revenues each year, decimated the black market marijuana business, and provided jobs at the 500 retail stores and 1,300 production facilities..
He even went as far as to say that people "don't even talk about" the recreational marijuana issue much anymore.
Washington regulated and taxed the marijuana industry, he said, with oversight provided by what is now the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.
He believes, despite the criticism of how the proposed North Dakota law is written, that state legislators can and should add the regulations and taxes needed if it passes.
Steves said many family and health organizations supported the proposed law when it passed in Washington, but that's not happening in North Dakota, as the number of organizations opposing the proposed law continued to climb. On Friday, the Catholic Church in North Dakota said it was adding its name to the list.
"The ultimate test for voters is whether full legalization serves the common good in North Dakota and whether it poses a threat to families, children and the community," said Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference. "Unlike other states that have legalized only possession of an ounce or two, Measure 3 has no limits on how much can be possessed, grown, or sold.
"Measure 3 jeopardizes our children, families and the common good. It should be defeated," Dodson said.
The first organization to step up, North Dakotans against the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, headed by former judge Bob Wefald, was recently joined by another statewide group.
Called Healthy and Productive North Dakota Against Measure 3, the new group said it will hold a press conference in Fargo next Tuesday.
"North Dakota has a big decision to make in the next month that will have lasting impact on our state. We are working to educate voters on the realities and consequences of legalizing recreational marijuana," said Kristie Spooner, chairwoman of the group. "We need to learn from other states that have had real consequences, including out of control drugged driving and the targeting of children with colorful marijuana edibles."