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PBS host backs marijuana legalization in Mass.


For The Recorder
Thursday, October 13, 2016

AMHERST — Rick Steves, the PBS host known for his journeys across Europe, began his four-day trek across Massachusetts campaigning in favor of legal marijuana at the University of Massachusetts.

And in true Steves form, the travel guru turned to drug policies in the places he knows best to make his case.

“We can learn from other societies. Europe is very into pragmatic harm reduction,” he said to the audience of some 175 people Tuesday. “Not moralizing, not ‘just say no,’ not incarceration.”

Unlike in the United States, where marijuana possession remains punishable by law, public health policies that aim to reduce negative consequences of drug use are in force across the continent in varying flavors. In Spain, where marijuana is legal to grow but not sell, “cannabis clubs” allow smokers to cooperatively produce and consume the plant. In Portugual, all drugs were made legal in 2001 in an aim to save suffering addicts from jail time in favor of treatment and prevention programs, Steves said.

And famously, the Netherlands offers a plethora of marijuana options in its ubiquitous coffee shops. But still, production in that country remains in a legal “gray area,” he said.

Now, Massachusetts has the chance to go where European countries have not and tax and regulate the sale, use and production of marijuana, Steves said. The Nov. 8 referendum would put a law on the books that allows individuals and commercial entities to grow the drug and the establishment of dispensaries that would sell it.

Similar laws have been passed in four states: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.

Steves, travel author and host of “Rick Steves’ Europe,” campaigned for and helped fund the initiative in his home state of Washington. He’s on the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and smokes marijuana. His UMass appearance was sponsored by the university’s Cannabis Reform Coalition.