Some days, Rick Steves just wants to come home from a long shift at work, smoke a joint and stare at his fireplace for three hours.
“I’m a hardworking, tax-paying, church-going citizen of the U.S.,” Steves said. “[Smoking marijuana] is my civil liberty. In the privacy of my own home, I can go smoke.”
Our readers may be familiar with Steves, a PBS travel guru, from his famous European guidebooks. But he does more than travel the world. Steves is an outspoken supporter of recreational marijuana, something he says comes from the experiences he’s had on the road.
Steves and I chatted on the phone a few weeks ago, while I was covering Montana ballot initiatives I-190 and CI-118 for the Community News Service. He was on the press-circuit grind, promoting the legalization of marijuana (medical and recreational) in the states where it’s on the ballot. When we spoke, he was working with New Approach Montana, the group campaigning for legalization here.
“First of all, I’ve been at this for about 20 years,” he said of his advocacy. “I bring a European sensibility to it, because I’ve spent 100 days a year in Europe since I was a kid. Europe deals with [marijuana] in a different way than we do.”
Steves explained that there is a difference between being pro-pot and being pro-legalization. Which is why he had, for example, dedicated this entire day, and much of his life, to pushing marijuana legislation in states he has no real stake in. Steves isn’t the only out-of-stater with an interest in Montana’s pro-marijuana efforts. New Approach Montana has been almost completely funded by a DC-based dark money group called the North Fund. The most updated finance reports show the North Fund has donated almost $5 million to the legalization campaign. Wrong For Montana, the anti-legalization group, is funded almost entirely by in-state donors.
“It’s not pro-marijuana, it’s principled legalization. There’s so many good reasons to think about this,” he said. “I can make a difference by talking about this counterproductive prohibition. The law itself is causing more problems than what it’s supposed to be preventing.”
Steves touted the financial benefits of a legal marijuana market. New Approach cites projected tax revenue of more than $38.5 million by 2025.
Also, marijuana is a fun, recreational activity, he added. Like casual drinks with friends. Steves keeps a bong on the top of his piano for convenience.
“I get great joy out of playing the piano and smoking a bit of marijuana,” he said.