Guidebook author Rick Steves is starting a campaign against the federal war on marijuana, says Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joel Connelly. He would replace a strategy of locking people up with a policy designed to lessen harm: treatment, harm reduction, prevention and — for profiteers of the business — enforcement. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that 97.8 million Americans, age 12 and older, have used marijuana at least once. The ranks of semi-regular smokers total more than 25 million. If 39.8 percent of those over 12 have taken a toke, the number of young people getting high is higher. DEA says that totals 41.8 percent of 12th-graders — 31.7 percent have smoked in the past year — 46.9 percent of college students and 56.7 percent of young adults.
Steves says officials abroad shake their head at the tactics of America’s drug bureaucracy. “Europe has had a 15-year track record dealing with drugs as a health problem, not a crime problem,” he said. In 2003, Seattle voters adopted Initiative 75, making pot possession our city’s lowest law enforcement priority. Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske cites the low number of stand-alone marijuana smoking arrests. The American Civil Liberties Union has put together a multimedia public education campaign, “Marijuana: It’s Time for a Conversation,” which includes a Web site (MarijuanaConversation.org), a booklet and a 30-minute video. Steves is host. The marijuana front consumes $8 billion in taxpayer dollars each year. To what end? What does society gain from all those possession arrests, Connelly asks.