Your Responses to My Thoughts on Drug Policy Reform

Over the weekend, more than a million people read my Facebook post about marijuana, more than 8,000 shared it (thanks a lot!), and thousands commented with thoughts of their own. Reading through these comments Sunday night, I couldn’t resist responding to some. This morning, I read over our dialogue and wished that more people could see it. So I compiled and edited this selection of a few of the more notable back-and-forths — see below. (For the full and unvarnished version, you can read the comments on the original post.) This is a serious issue and I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

By the way, I’m a board member of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). I just spent all day Saturday in a Washington DC hotel conference room with my fellow board members. To celebrate our productive board meeting, a bunch of us walked down the street together (in a city where it’s legal now to smoke pot recreationally) and took a “groupie” in front of the White House.

NORML board members at White House

The year 2016 promises to be an exciting one in the ongoing effort to end our federal government’s prohibition on marijuana, and I’m hoping to help out. Every two years, I spend 8 or 10 October days before a November election on a barnstorming tour explaining to people and local press why taxing and regulating pot is smarter than locking up responsible adults for smoking it. In 2012, it was in Washington; in 2014, in Oregon; and in 2016, I’ll be working in Massachusetts and Maine.

I keep thinking that there are so many people who care about this…but so few who actually do anything. It’s easy, fun, and rewarding to actually become a supporting member of an advocacy group that is working on this issue (see

Happy Travels!

Chelsea said: As a Christian we must follow the law of the land. We can’t have the mentality of “well people are gonna do it anyway so why not?” As a Christian you can not love two masters. Love of sin without repentance and go to church. It is illegal. We must follow the law of the land.

My reply: Ten years ago, I took my pastor on a long walk and explained to him my motivation for speaking out against the war on marijuana. There is nothing at all inconsistent with being both a Christian and someone who thinks the law is a bad law. In fact, I think you could make a case that it’s more Christ-like to speak out against it than to favor it. But I wouldn’t condemn thoughtful people who disagree with me on this.

PJ said: Hopefully someone else is watching your kids while you indulge. Also I’m sure your example is to be admired by them. My $$ spent on travel books will go else where since you have plenty to purchase drugs legal or non.

My reply: There’s responsible adult use and irresponsible adult use.

Anna Tinsman said: I don’t smoke pot but as someone who lives in Colorado I’m happy that we were able to work out all the issues with legalization of pot so it would be easier for other states. It’s funny now that it’s legal here, the arrests of people driving under the influence of pot has actually dropped. :)

My reply: In both Washington and Colorado, after several years of a track record, the worries about legalizing (like DUI concerns) are not playing out. On balance, we are learning that taking the crime out of the equation lessens the harm this drug use causes society.

Linda said: Yes, everyone who knows it’s a right to be enjoyed needs to stand up & say “legalize it”. Thank you for being counted in the movement to make legalize. You’re awesome.

My reply: More than standing up and saying something…find an advocacy group working to end the war on drugs (there are many — I’m a board member of NORML) and support it financially. Then you actually make a difference!

Lee wrote: I used to enjoy watching your show and buying your books and listening to your travel advice. You became too political, too self-absorbed, and I don’t care to listen to you rant and rave about your dope and drinking. There is still right and wrong in this world.

My reply: Right and wrong relates to a law that is enforced inconsistently, with rich white guys smoking with impunity and poor people and black people getting locked up and being marked then for life. Our government’s “war on marijuana” is the new Jim Crow in this country.

Miccilina said: I have always admired you, but because of a personal tragedy, I have to disagree. Ask yourself, if you would feel the same if one of YOURS was killed in an accident caused by a 20 year old driver stoned on pot, no other drugs or alcohol, JUST marijuana. Would your opinions still be the same?

My reply: There are 80,000 personal tragedies in American prisons today because of this law we’re trying to change. And the law we passed in Washington State is extremely tough on DUI. That’s one reason so many leaders in law enforcement in our state supported it. I only support pot laws that are “public safety” rather than “pro-pot” laws. There’s a very big difference.

Alexandra said: Opposition to drug freedom is so tied into the security business. Think how many fewer sniffer dogs need to be trained, how many fewer DEA people need to risk their lives, how much freeer borders could be, and so on, if pot were legal. Think of the huge dent in chasing down drug shipments, and the cost of incarceration. We just have to convince security companies to invest in marijuana farms and the pressure to keep it illegal will diminish. Look at how alternative energy opened up once big oil started diversifying. And I don’t smoke now and wouldn’t if it were legal.

My reply: And what about private prisons for profit? Talk about an incentive to needlessly lock people up. Plus, it disenfranchises lots of black men. Sadly, that’s a twofer for many.

Kate said: After trying it again last year for the first time in many years, all I can say is this is NOT what I smoked back in the 70’s. I would not only be staring at the fire, but also trying to converse with it and probably suspect it of trying to get very deep messages across to me if I could only stop laughing long enough to pay attention! To each, his or her own – enjoy!

My reply: One problem with a prohibition is that the controlled substance gets stronger because it’s illegal. The USA went into Prohibition on alcohol as a beer-drinking country, and came out of it a hard liquor-drinking country. The same thing is happening during the prohibition on pot.

Danne said: We legalized pot in Washington. The only people who are unhappy are the drug dealers and folks who were making a bundle growing for the black market. Now, the state is making a lot of money from taxing legal sales. Charges against people smoking or possessing marijuana were dropped. All is well! It makes sense to legalize pot! Thanks for speaking out.

My reply: These are the groups I call the “PPP” (pot prohibition profiteers). There’s a fascinating movie about our winning campaign to legalize in Washington State called Evergreen — you can watch it online (on iTunes and Netflix).

Barbara said: I live in Colorado where smoking bud is just like popping the tab on a beer, only safer. Keep up the great work Rick. We need the federal government to allow our weed shops to be able to use banks!

My reply: Washington State congressman Denny Heck is doing a heroic and effective job of getting the Feds to let banks accept money from legal marijuana businesses. This is another important issue.

Greg said: I have no problem with that. You’re an adult, you hopefully understand the problems daily pot use can cause, and you accept those risks. Good luck. I am a former pothead. Never again. My big problem with proponents of legalization is they act as if it’s all wonderful, as if there will be no detrimental effects, thus they have no plan for dealing with those issues. My other problem with politicians who are proponents of legalization is: many of them want to do it for budgetary reasons. It should not be about money.

My reply: I am not “pro-pot.” I believe marijuana is a drug, it’s not healthy, and it can be abused. I also believe it is wrong to criminalize it. I’m into “pragmatic harm reduction,” and I believe treating it as a health and education challenge rather than a criminal problem is smarter. (About the money: Many believe the Great Depression accelerated the end of Prohibition. It was just too expensive to continue it. To be honest, we leverage the fiscal pros of ending the prohibition of marijuana because, sadly, that gets more traction than things like racial justice or civil liberties.)

Tony said: If second hand cigarette smoking is bad for children in the car or home, can you imagine what it will be like with marijuana. It may become legal/permissible but that does not make it right. But nowadays we think most about ourselves rather than others in legislation and that is what is sad.

My reply: Tony, you need to learn more about what motivates the non-pot-smoking people who are making pot legal. Washington legalized pot because of sheriffs, prosecutors, legislators, teachers, and caring citizens who recognized an expensive, racist, and non-productive law that was causing far more harm to society than it was helping. And we changed it. That’s democracy in action…simply good citizenship.

Jim said: I would actually be interested in hearing some discussion of, not simply legalizing it, but offering legal workplace protection to users. Drug tests have their place, if you’re testing for something illegal, or being under the influence at work. Show up to work drunk and you’re probably going to lose your job, but your boss can’t fire you on Monday because a test shows you had a beer on Saturday. It’s terrible to hear stories of people using marijuana in a state where it is legal, but being drug tested 4 days later and losing their jobs.

My reply: Breaking down a federal prohibition needs to go step-by-step (as was the case with alcohol). Eventually impairment will be the measure, rather than what’s still in your blood. As an employer of well over a hundred people, I care about impairment and nothing more.

Elizabeth said: I have always thought it was a mistake of for Rick to mix this political, drug policy stuff into his show. The two are not inseparable. My estimation of Rick actually went down when he did this bit with the marijuana support.

My reply: I’ve been mixing my travel teaching and my political beliefs for about 20 years now. I do it regardless of the impact on my business. (But if I did consider that, in retrospect, it seems to have been a net plus.)

Joyce said: Ironic, the biggest high I get is in traveling with a clear mind! Whatever floats your boat! Glad life alone makes me happy!

My reply: I’m a travel writer. For me, high is a place. And sometimes… I like to go there.