March 26, 2009

[H/t Dave E.]

When President Obama opened his Online Town Hall session today, he offered some generic remarks about why the White House was undertaking this:

Now, I'm looking forward to taking your questions and hearing your thoughts and concerns. Because what matters to you and your families and what people in Washington are focused on isn't always one and the same thing.

He apparently forgot this when the questions from the American public came in and the votes were tallied, because one of the issues that came rising to the surface was marijuana legalization, as Politico reports:

Given the opportunity to say what’s really on their minds without going through the filter of the mainstream media, people “buzzed up” a series of questions that seemed to suggest broad interest in legalizing marijuana and taxing it.

In this moment of national economic crisis, the top four questions under the heading of “Financial security” concerned marijuana; on the budget, people voted up questions about marijuana to positions 1-4; marijuana was in the first and third positions under “jobs”; people boosted a plug for legalizing marijuana to No. 2 under “health care reform.” And questions about decriminalizing pot occupied spots 1 and 2 under “green jobs and energy.”

After taking questions lower on the list, Obama addressed the pot issue head on, noting the huge number of questions about marijuana legalization and remarking with a chuckle, “I don't know what that says about the online audience."

"The answer is no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy," he said, as the audience in the room applauded and joined him in a laugh.

Politico tries to fob the intense interest in the matter off on NORML activists, but that overlooks the real dynamic: the "war on drugs" is a kitchen-table issue that affects millions of Americans in their homes, especially as we watch the tremendous waste of national resources spent criminalizing people who need medical treatment, and we witness the costs to our national and personal security in the form of the raging drug war on the Mexican border.

Indeed, just yesterday Secretary of State Clinton just observed that "Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade" and that "what we have been doing has not worked and it is unfair for our incapacity... to be creating a situation where people are holding the Mexican government and people responsible." At what point will we finally wake up and recognize the high cost of an ineffectual drug policy maintained purely out of political cowardice?

It's understandable that Obama wants to keep his eye on the ball and not let his agenda get derailed by a national argument about drugs. But dealing intelligently and effectively with drugs in the end is part of that economic and national-security picture too -- perhaps not as big a driver as health care or energy, but it plays a role. The president would be wise to heed his own words about listening to what people outside the Beltway are actually saying to him.

Meanwhile, as Jeralyn notes, the Obama administration has already gone back on its promise that it will cease raiding medical-marijuana operations ...

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