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Tuesday, March 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

Rick Steves is just a NORML guy

Seattle Times staff columnist

You imagine Rick Steves going to bed early, bags packed, itinerary ready, sensible shoes lined up by the door.

You don't imagine him ensconced in some European parlor, taking pulls off a big, fat doobie. But it turns out Steves, our home-grown travel magnate, likes to smoke pot.

He's a card-carrying member of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He's even given the keynote speech at its annual conference.

But like everything about Steves, his is a sensible stand: America needs to treat marijuana as a "soft drug," and as a medical, not criminal issue.

Doing so would ease the burden on our courts and prisons, Steves said. It would ease the hypocrisy of parents who lecture their kids about drugs, then light up later. And, Steves says, it could help relations with those across the pond.

"When I say I don't think we should lock up people for smoking pot, people think I am pro-drug use," Steves told me the other day. "I just say stop criminalizing people who do."

It's an intriguing proposal that Steves, 50, will present as part of "Marijuana, the Unnecessary War," a seminar to be held at 7 tonight at the University of Washington's Kane Hall. Steves will be joined by Roger Goodman, director of the King County Bar Association's Drug Policy Project; and Dr. Gregory Carter of the UW Medical School. George Rohrbacher, a former Washington state senator and NORML board member, will moderate.

"Nobody should think that Europe is down on hard drugs," Steves said. "They just don't clog their legal system with a lot of innocent pot smokers.

"Our program is so laughable, wasteful and counterproductive."

While Washington state has laws for jailing and fining those caught with pot, Seattle seems sympathetic to Steves' perspective. City voters in 2003 approved an initiative making marijuana possession the lowest law-enforcement priority.

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But like us, Steves has the sense to draw a line.

He has concerns about abuse and children getting access to drugs. And he is against easier sentences for hard drugs.

But pot, he says, shouldn't be linked to the same ills caused by meth or other illegal substances.

"There are not legions of people waiting to ruin their lives once pot becomes legal," he said. "Seattle is not going to become one big Hempfest."

Rather, he sees responsible adults smoking recreationally, and not hiding that from their children.

Steves isn't worried what people think of his stoner stance. He doesn't need to get elected, he said, and doesn't care if people boycott his travel books and shows.

The truth is, he hardly smokes anyway.

"If I wasn't working so hard, I would smoke," he said. "I'm kind of a workaholic. I smoke overseas with European friends."

Alcohol leads to other things, Steves said. Sex leads to other things.

"Pot causes us to enjoy the Beatles."

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

His favorite gelato: ganja

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