Rick Steves advocates smart, independent travel. As host of the popular public television series, "Rick Steves' Europe," and author of 27 European travel books, he encourages Americans to dive deep into Europe and become "temporary locals." His readers discover not just great cities, but cozy "Back Door" villages away from the tourist-trampled routes. He helps American travelers connect more intimately with Europeans often for a fraction of what mainstream tourists pay.
Steves is one of public television's top pledge drive hosts, and his company is second only to Eurail itself in the sales of Eurail passes. He was named Lutheran of the Year in 2008 and in February 2009 picked up the U.S. Department of State's Citizen Diplomat of the Year Award.
A few years ago Allen St. Pierre of NORML noticed Steves's name on his membership list and invited him to join the NORML advisory board and speak at the group's annual meeting.
"Everytime I come home I'm reminded that I'm coming back to the land that has the shortest vacations in the rich world," Steves told NORML in 2003. "And the highest prison population. It's really quite an adjustment. There's been a mass dumbing down of our society. We've been made to see things in a simplistic, us-versus-them, Evil-empire way."
At NORML's 2005 Conference in San Francisco, Steves was back by popular demand. The Journal O'Shaughnessy's published a transcript of that talk, excerpted here:
"To me travel is accelerated living," Steves enthused. "Travel carbonates your life. It makes things different, it sort of refreshes your perspective and in a lot of ways, that's like marijuana, I would say.
"Fouteen hundred years ago Mohamed said, 'Don't tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you've traveled.' Mark Twain said, 'Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.' I travel and I think of it as one of the last great sources of legal adventure.
"One thing I've learned from my travels is how Europeans are a little more progressive than us in dealing with social problems. Every time there's a death sentence commuted in the United States, there's a [celebratory] light show at the Coliseum in Rome. . . And of course when you travel in Europe you realize that there is a non-criminal approach to marijuana that could be quite inspirational to American policy makers if they would just learn about it."
Steves first smoked pot in Afghanistan ("when in Rome...") and thinks marijuana has made him a better travel writer by broadening his perspective and sharpening his observations. He said he usually spoke about 9/11 and terrorism from his well-traveled international perspective, but tailored his comments that day to his cannabis-friendly audience. "The problem with marijuana is, if they're just trying to make us mindless producer-consumers, marijuana is not good on either account. It doesn't make us want to produce more, and the only thing we want to consume more is Cheetos.
"The thing this society doesn't like about marijuana is, it turns people who wouldn't otherwise be poets into poets. Think of [Abraham] Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs. First you get your clothes and your car and your house and then you can do things that are more creative and then at the top you get 'selfless actualization,' helping other people.
"It's more convenient in our society to have barbed wire strung around Maslow's hierarchy about midway, so that we continue to consume on the bottom end, out and out and out, not realizing that we can step over the barbed wire and live more fulfilling lives. One of the reasons why philosophically I'm into marijuana is that it's a good way to cut that barbed wire and be true to yourself and be what really is successful.
". . . Being high to me is a little like Cuba. Any time my government says I can't go somewhere, I feel it's one of my rights to go there. My government can't tell me I can't go to Cuba. Everyone else is going to Cuba, why can't I go to Cuba? And I don't think my government can tell me what I can do as a responsible citizen in the privacy of my own home...So happy travels, even if you're just staying home."
The piece Steves produced with Washington ACLU, "Marijuana It's Time for a Conversation," can be viewed at: http://www.marijuanaconversation.org/
Changing the Face of Cannabis