Acclaimed Writer Rick Steves Urges ‘Yes’ Vote On State Legalization Measures

Beloved travel writer and cannabis advocate Rick Steves is urging voters to support legalization initiatives.
Acclaimed Writer Rick Steves Urges ‘Yes’ Vote On State Legalization Measures
Courtesy of Rick Steves

Famed travel writer Rick Steves is urging voters to support marijuana legalization initiatives where they appear on the ballot and announced that he would virtually campaign for the measures in four states. In a video message released on Friday, Steves noted that he has supported cannabis reform measures since before his home state of Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana nearly a decade ago.

“I’ve campaigned for marijuana legalization in six different states — Washington (2012), Oregon (2014), Massachusetts and Maine (2016), and Illinois and Michigan (2018) — and in each one, we’ve been successful,” he wrote in a message accompanying the video. “And for 2020, as I’m doing that work from home, I’ll be ‘barn-storming’ virtually in four states: New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana. We’re polling well in all four states and fully expect to win — as long as people who believe it’s time to update the racist and counterproductive current laws get out to vote.”

The four states Steves will be campaigning in all have initiatives on the November ballot that would legalize the use of cannabis for adults. South Dakota will also be voting on a measure to legalize medical marijuana, as will voters in Mississippi. Steves noted that he would be working with two national organizations working for cannabis reform in his current 10-day voter awareness campaign.

“Partnering with MPP (the Marijuana Policy Project, in South Dakota and Montana) and NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — of which I’m a longtime board member — in Arizona and New Jersey), I’ve committed myself to ten solid days of media work (from September 21 through September 30) in these four states,” he said.

A Pragmatic Approach To Drug Policy

Steves, a NORML board member, has long shared the success of efforts to reform laws regulating recreational drugs in European countries, particularly the Netherlands. He noted that similar moves in the United States would address the racist origins of cannabis prohibition while reducing mass incarceration and transforming the current marijuana market from control by criminal organizations to an industry that contributes to society.

“I see this work as a civic duty…an act of good citizenship,” he continued. “If you care about fighting racism, defending civil liberties, and replacing a thriving black market with a highly regulated and taxed legal one, I hope you can work to elect politicians who favor an end to the prohibition on marijuana with this year’s election.”

Erik Altieri, the executive director of NORML, applauded Steves for his commitment to cannabis reform.

“We are thrilled to have Rick Steves taking time out of his busy schedule to emphasize that marijuana laws are a tragic, costly, and counterproductive prohibition for our country,” Altieri said. “Rick knows, as do the majority of voters in this country, that it is time to end this failed policy and legalize marijuana.”

In his message, Steves noted the success of reform in his home state and urged voters to support the legalization initiative where they live.

“We’re glad we legalized [marijuana in Washington state in 2012] and so are citizens in lots of other states,” he said. “And with this election, in your state you can legalize too. Be sure to vote, and vote ‘yes’ on marijuana.”
Steves plans to begin the campaign with a kick-off event to be live-streamed on Monday, September 21 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. More information about his efforts supporting drug policy reform is available online.

  1. A year ago, if the word “epidemic” appeared in the news, it mostly referred to the opioid epidemic. Opioids were involved in 46,802 American overdose deaths in 2018. The nexus between the opioid epidemic and cannabis is that legalization of recreational cannabis has been shown to reduce opioid deaths by about a third. The legalization of recreational cannabis by Colorado in 2014 and other states since then, has provided enough data for academic researchers to determine that the reduction in opioid deaths resulting from the legalization of recreational cannabis is very statistically significant. This evidence would tend to support legalization of recreational cannabis in those states that have not yet done so. At least, among those who can be influenced by peer-reviewed scholarly research results.

    An interesting result from the research is that just legalizing medical cannabis does not result in a statistically significant reduction in opioid deaths. An explanation for this result may be seen in the typical media accounts of particularly heart-breaking opioid overdose deaths. Many of the news stories involve someone who years ago had a drug abuse problem, but who had apparently been drug-free for many years. This person’s friends and relatives were very proud that the person had turned their life around and now had a good job and family. Then the person is found dead on the floor from an opioid overdose.

    The reason that researchers found that, after accounting for all variables, opioid deaths are so much lower in jurisdictions with legal recreational cannabis, is that some people who might otherwise use opioids are using cannabis instead. No one has ever died directly from a cannabis overdose. For someone trying to conceal their drug use from the world, getting a prescription for state-legal medical cannabis could be problematic. This raises the question of why the person in the story did not use cannabis instead of opioids? Presumably, who ever sold the illegal opioids to the person could likely have provided the person with illegal cannabis as well. However, illegal cannabis may not be a substitute for opioids for someone trying to conceal their drug use. Illegal cannabis is generally sold as flower to be smoked. Because of the smell and factors such as reddening of the eyes, smoking is difficult to conceal from those people close to one. State-legal recreational cannabis is sold either as flower or in edible form. Edible cannabis use is as easy to conceal as opioids. Thus, legalization of recreational cannabis can reduce opioid deaths by about a third, but legalizing medical cannabis has no statistically significant reduction in opioid deaths.
    That the legalization of recreational cannabis has been shown to significantly reduce opioid deaths could be a positive for cannabis stocks. However, the COVID-19 pandemic may ultimately turn out to be more important for cannabis stocks. One thing that cannabis and alcohol after prohibition have in common, is the macroeconomic impetus to legalization. It is not a coincidence that the repeal of the 18th Amendment, which ended prohibition, occurred at the depths of the great Depression in 1933. In 1933 governments at all levels were desperate for tax revenue and the unemployment rate was above 20%. Prior to the enactment of the Federal Income tax in 1913, excise taxes on alcohol provided had about 40% of total Federal revenue. As tax revenues plummeted during the depression, the case for legalization and taxation of alcoholic beverages became much stronger. Arguably, the legalization of casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1976 was also a response by a government quest for additional taxes and jobs in a depressed jurisdiction…”

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