Steves brings pro-marijuana campaign to Vancouver

Travel guru cites European drug policies

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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To learn more visit newapproachwa.org or follow the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #502YES

Travel guru Rick Steves spoke to full house at the Vancouver Community Library Friday night in favor of I-502, an initiative to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.

The crowd was calmer than the one he met earlier in the day at the state's capitol building. According to the Capital Record, those opposing the initiative tried to drown out Steves and other speakers.

With more than 100 people in attendance at the library, Steves, who has donated $350,000 to the campaign, outlined why he's a proponent of the initiative.

Steves said marijuana use is highly stigmatized in the U.S., making Americans afraid of being labeled a stoner for even talking about marijuana.

"It's an odd thing that we haven't been able to talk about this for so long," Steves said.

Through his travels abroad, Steves found that alternative lifestyles are tolerated in Europe, and people aren't criminalized for their casual use of the drug. Europeans don't smoke any more marijuana than Americans, he said, even though its legal in Europe.

Under I-502, up to one ounce of cannabis would be legal, or 16 ounces of food infused with marijuana (such as brownies) or 72 ounces of drinks infused with marijuana. People could smoke it in the privacy of their own home, and medical marijuana laws would not change.

It would be regulated much like alcohol is. Selling marijuana on the street would still be illegal, and selling pot to minors under age 21 would be illegal. Rather, marijuana would be sold through private businesses and regulated by the government for quality control.

"When it's illegal, people have to buy it on the street from a criminal," Steves said.

With the current illegal marijuana market, he said people may be buying a contaminated product. Initiative 502 would ensure that people know what they're buying and where it's coming from.

The law would also restrict advertising to protect youth from being targeted and includes a DUI standard that would make it illegal to drive with more than 5 nanograms of THC in your blood.

Whatever substance -- whether it's alcohol, prescription drugs or marijuana -- impaired drivers shouldn't be on the roads, Steves said.

"I-502 has the great potential to work in parallel with law enforcement," Steves said.

He noted that the law would generate revenue to the state that could then be put back into drug education. The Office of Financial Management estimated that making the initiative a law and including a 25 percent sales tax on marijuana, would bring in $1.9 billion in revenue to the state over the next five years.

"Prohibition is an expensive, losing battle," Steves said. "If I want to go home and smoke a little pot and look at my fireplace for six hours, that's my civil liberty."

Voters will see the initiative on their Nov. 6 ballot. Oregon and Colorado will have similar initiatives on their ballots.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;patty.hastings@columbian.com.