Back in 2012, we voted to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana in Washington State. I’m proud of that vote and what it has meant for social justice, civil liberties, and public safety in my state. And so, every election cycle since then, I’ve gone on a barnstorming tour to help other states end our country’s prohibition on marijuana. In 2014, it was Oregon (we won). In 2016, it was Massachusetts and Maine (we won). And this year, it was a whirlwind trip to DC, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Vermont.
The first eight states that passed laws to regulate the sale of marijuana were “initiative states,” where citizens can vote directly on proposed laws that are too hot for politicians to risk supporting. Now that those progressive initiative states have legalized, it’s time to take the state-by-state dismantling of prohibition to the legislatures — starting in states where this issue is polling strongly. The Northeast, where Massachusetts and Maine have already legalized, sees legalization as a rising tide that, sooner or later, all will have to rise with.
Yesterday, I posted about my time in DC, working the halls of Congress. Next up, I spent successive days in Annapolis (the capital of Maryland), Dover (the capital of Delaware), Trenton (the capital of New Jersey), and Montpelier (the capital of Vermont). At each stop, I was the “likable travel guy” — used as bait by local lawmakers spearheading legalization bills to get fellow lawmakers and the press to drop by and learn more. I can’t remember meeting so many hardworking public servants in one week. It was an inspiring and educational experience for me.
Plus, it was good travel. At the Maryland State House, the first peacetime capitol in our country, one proud lawmaker took me to a room — the Old Senate Chamber — which he described as one of the most important places anywhere for democracy. It was here that George Washington declared that he’d freely give up power rather than becoming a de facto king.
Hiking up the steps to the capitol building that evening, we passed through a big assembly of gun-rights activists, all with newly minted and uniform placards. (One was a fan of my TV shows. He tried to teach me why we need so many guns, and as I left, he hollered, “We Second Amendment guys like PBS, too!”)
Whenever forces oppose us, I wonder, “What’s the financial incentive?” There’s a lot of money to be made by keeping pot illegal. We’ve found that our opposition — what I call the “PPP” or “Pot Prohibition Profiteers” — is funded by pharmaceutical companies, big beer conglomerates, and even the pee-in-a-cup people who sell marijuana testing kits. In Delaware, I encountered opposition for the first time from AAA, which has expressed concerns about road safety. I would point out, respectfully, that those claims are pretty easy to debunk.
In New Jersey, the “Garden State,” we drove through a forest of billboards in an industrial wasteland (one of the biggest read, “Pray for loved ones in Purgatory”) to reach a press conference. For the first time, I heard someone make the case that we shouldn’t legalize marijuana because we’d have to retrain all the sniffer dogs. (And he was serious!)
My favorite stop was in snowy Vermont, the state that Ben & Jerry & Bernie all call the perfect place for their values. The tiny capital of Montpelier (7,000 people and, they brag, no McDonald’s) hosts the convivial historic statehouse. It felt like a big coffee klatch of lawmakers, press, lobbyists, and citizens — all working to keep Vermont, Vermont.
Just a few weeks before I arrived, Vermont became the first state legislature to legalize the possession of marijuana — but they still have not created a state marketplace for marijuana sales. I joined the Senate Judiciary Committee (led by the venerable Senator Dick Sears) in a plush little room — me and five senators at a grand, old, wooden table, with press and the public gathered around in a friendly and informal atmosphere. I was welcomed to give my 15-minute review of our experience in Washington State and my take on European drug policy and to entertain questions.
Afterward, Lt. Governor David Zuckerman took me into his office to talk travel and drug policy. Before I left, I noticed a big bean on his desk, which he picked up and eloquently compared to each citizen in his state. Without fertile soil, a bean is nothing — but in fertile soil, it can grow big, strong, and robust, reaching its God-given potential. And, like that bean, a child needs the fertile soil of a well-governed society to reach her potential. In Vermont, that just sounded so right.
If you would like to watch a sample of the message I brought to Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Vermont, here’s a fun talk from the Skinny Pancake restaurant in Burlington, as well as a more in-depth interview I did with Heady Vermont.
We’re here LIVE at The Skinny Pancake Burlington with Rick Steves talking about Cannabis reform in Vermont and beyond. Thanks to Skinny P for hosting us and to Marijuana Policy Project #vtpoli
Posted by Heady Vermont on Friday, February 16, 2018
Tune in for a chance to ask Rick Steves a question about his decades of advocacy and his most recent cannabis advocacy adventure across the East Coast in the midst of monumental reforms and legal marijuana from D.C. to Vermont. This conversation will be hosted and produced by Heady Vermont, an independent Vermont-based media company and advocacy group.
Posted by Marijuana Policy Project on Friday, February 16, 2018