Travel guru Rick Steves says US should 'stop the prohibition against marijuana'

Travel guru Rick Steves told Hill.TV on Wednesday that the federal government should legalize marijuana.

“It’s clear it's time for the federal government to recognize that we need to stop the prohibition against marijuana,” said Steves, who is a board member at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

“Marijuana is a drug, it needs to be taken seriously and highly regulated,” he added. “It can be abused, it needs to be kept out of the reach of children. And the smartest way to do that is to take it out of the black market and regulate it.”

Steves said lawmakers are “a little behind the curve” on the issue, as public opinion on cannabis has shifted in recent years. According to a CBS News poll released in April, a record 65 percent of Americans said marijuana should be legalized, more than double the percentage of respondents who held that view almost 20 years ago.

“We’ve had states incubating change, we can look at the results,” Steves told Hill.TV. “This is just going to be a rising tide of sensibility and sooner or later the federal government needs to step in.”

Steves is on Capitol Hill this week talking with lawmakers and advocating for the legalization of cannabis.

He said he has personally seen the benefits of legalizing marijuana in his home state of Washington, where he was a co-sponsor and spokesman for the the 2012 bill that ended up legalizing marijuana for recreational use for adults 21 and over.

“In Washington state, before we legalized marijuana, marijuana was a booming black market industry rivaling apples," he said. "And if you know Washington, it’s a big deal."

“Today, it’s a billion-dollar, highly regulated and taxed legal market generating $300 million of tax revenue for Olympia, and we don’t have to arrest all of those pot smokers,” he added.

Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C., have passed laws legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana in some form, but it remains illegal under federal law. While some critics argue that legalizing cannabis for recreational use would make it too accessible, supporters say legalization would help address a broad range of issues like racial inequality in the criminal justice system.

“You cannot wish marijuana away, it’s a reality,” Steves said. “A lot of people smoke marijuana -- they can do it criminally or they can do it legally.”

—Tess Bonn