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Travel Guru Rick Steves' guide to marijuana: Europe vs. the U.S.

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WASHINGTON (Circa) - If you've ever browsed the travel section at your local library or bookstore, you've probably seen many guidebooks by European travel guru Rick Steves.

What you might not know is that Steves is also an advocate for marijuana legalization. We got a chance to catch up with Steves while he was lobbying marijuana policy on Capitol Hill and he gave us his personal take on what Americans should and should not learn from Europe when it comes to weed.

1. When it comes to weed, The Netherlands and Portugal are the most progressive European countries.

Amsterdam in particular has become world famous for it's coffee shops where adults can buy and smoke pot, but what's interesting is both The Netherlands and Portugal, which Steves says are the most progressive countries on pot, got there because of opioid crises.

"They decided to take marijuana out of the equation so they could have law enforcement and teachers and parents focus with credibility on real hard drug issue," he said.

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In fact, Portugal has decriminalized all drugs in 2001 and has seen a significant drop in heroin use since then and its drug mortality rate is the lowest in Western Europe.

Because of this decriminalization, Steves said, "a joint is about as exciting as a can of beer," in countries like The Netherlands.

The average Dutch person, I don't think they've even smelled marijuana it's just 'yeah, down there's there is a coffee shop where you can get your marijuana if you want to,'" he said.

Although drug laws in other European countries might not be as relaxed as those in Portugal and The Netherlands, Steves says there are other ways to enjoy weed with your European friends. You just have to know what the loopholes are in the laws.

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"In Spain, they don't sell marijuana. You are not allowed to sell marijuana, but you can grow it," Steves said. "In Spain, they gather together in cannabis clubs and you join the club and the club grows it for it's members and then you can enjoy sharing the harvest."

2. Every country has different laws, so be discreet.

"Don't cross borders with any marijuana," Steves warned. "Remember it is not legal over there. It's decriminalized."

Steves explained that many European countries have laws requiring them to arrest a certain amount of pot smokers in order to maintain good trade relations with other countries, including the United States.

"Once I remember I was leaving the squatter, kind of community in Copenhagen, Christiania, and as I was leaving they said, 'Oh by the way, be careful about your marijuana here because every year in Denmark we have to arrest a couple of pot smokers in order to maintain favored trade status with the United States of America,'" Steves recalled.

Someone in the U.S. is arrested for marijuana every 48 seconds

There are over 180 countries that have signed a treaty known as the Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs of 1961. The U.N. treaty aims to curb drug abuse through coordinated international action and requires all signing countries to implement laws to do so.

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3. The best places to get legal weed are in the U.S.

As more U.S. states begin to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, Americans are blazing a new trail.

"For years, Europe was leading in laws about marijuana, but now it's flip flopped," Steves said. "The states in our country that have legalized, taxed and regulated marijuana are sending delegations to European countries so they can learn how we're doing it."

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Steves, a native of Washington state, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, stressed that he is not pro-marijuana. Instead, Steves says he's passionate about marijuana as a civil liberties issue and says he's excited to see more states beginning to see it the same way.

"I just feel very strongly that here in the United States, you know, I'm just a hard working, tax paying, church-going, kid raising citizen of the United States of America and if I work hard all day long and I want to go home and smoke a joint and stare at the fireplace for three hours, that's my civil liberty and that's what's great about the United States of America," Steves said.

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Originally Published 2/19/18

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