Travel guru Rick Steves has spent a third of his life traveling Europe, but had never visited Vactionland until this week.

Steves, a prominent supporter of marijuana legalization and board member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is in Maine this week to support the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. The travel entrepreneur is the largest individual donor to the Yes on 1 campaign in Maine.

Steves – perhaps the most prominent mainstream American celebrity speaking in favor of legalization – says he is not pro-pot, but anti-prohibition.

“I’m looking at the big picture. This is a racist, expensive, nonproductive law based on reefer madness propaganda,” he said Monday during an interview at the Yes on 1 campaign office in Portland. “This (initiative) is not pro-pot. This is smart policy.”

Maine is one of five states that will vote on marijuana legalization initiatives on Nov. 8. The Marijuana Legalization Act proposes to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Maine. Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of cannabis, grow their own plants and buy marijuana from licensed retail stores. The proposal also allows marijuana social clubs in municipalities that approve them and places a 10 percent tax on marijuana sales.

Proponents of legalization say a regulated market will help keep marijuana away from children, allow law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes and stop otherwise law abiding adults from facing prosecution in the criminal justice system. Opponents – including Gov. Paul LePage, top law enforcement and public health officials – point to concerns about youth access, the potential for driving while high and the mixed messages of legalizing marijuana while the state is in the midst of an opiate epidemic.


Steves, 61, was a driving force behind Initiative 502 in Washington, which helped open the door for other states to legalize recreational marijuana. He went on to support Oregon’s push for legal marijuana in 2014 and, in the 2016 election season, is campaigning in Massachusetts and Maine.

Steves, who lives in Washington, has donated $100,000 to the Yes on 1 campaign in Maine and the same amount to the backers of the marijuana legalization campaign in Massachusetts. He has spent between $700,000 and $800,000 to back marijuana policy reform, he said.

Steves has been interested in drug policy reform for two decades and said his viewpoints have been influenced by his time traveling abroad. European countries emphasize pragmatic harm reduction and don’t believe in moralizing or imprisoning people for using marijuana, he said.

“I think it’s folly for a country to regulate morality,” he said.

Reforming laws around marijuana would make it safer for children, who are not allowed to buy marijuana from stores that check IDs, said Steves. He argues the most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it is illegal.

“Marijuana is a gateway only because it is illegal,” he said, describing how black market dealers are motivated to make more money by getting people hooked on harder drugs.


Steves said he hears from people who oppose the initiatives, but he questions how they “cherry-pick” statistics to fit their message. He said he understands their concerns – especially when it comes to edible marijuana products and youth access to marijuana – but feels those are issues that can be dealt with through regulation.

“It’s not healthy, it can be abused and it should be highly regulated,” he said. “We’re beyond just saying no.”

Steves said he opposes a “big marijuana” industry and said he would leave NORML if the group ever became a lobby for the industry.

Scott Gagnon, the No on 1 campaign director, said he suspects Steves’ will talk to Mainers about experiences in Portugal and the Netherlands as a way to argue for legalization in the United States. Gagnon points out those countries are very different and their cultures are not applicable to the United States.

Gagnon said he will question Steves on whether he will continue to support Maine’s initiative given that the Maine Attorney General has rgued that passage of the referendum would legalizes youth possession. Last week, Janet Mill said the initiative is flawed and essentially legalizes marijuana for those under 18 because it repeals existing statutory language used to prosecute cases of possession by minors. The Yes on 1 Campaign disputes that analysis, and said the Attorney General’s office had long ago reviewed the language.

While in Maine, Steves will meet Yes on 1 supporters and give a lecture at the University of New England Monday night. On Tuesday, he will participate in a forum on Question 1 hosted by the Portland Public Library. That event, part of the library’s Choose Civility Election Series, begins at noon in the Rines Auditorium.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.