President Obama hosted a hangout on Google+ billed as “Your Interview with the President” on Jan. 30. The White House solicited questions via YouTube, and encouraged people to vote on which of them Obama would answer in the interview. No doubt, such an event was seen as a way to connect with young, Internet-savvy voters aware of the existence of Google+ Hangouts and know how to use them. There was only one problem: The President avoided the top-voted video question asked of him. (Also, most of us don’t actually use Google+.)
The question, submitted by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), was very straightforward. Since 1969, Gallup has been conducting an annual poll which asks whether marijuana should be legal in the United States. But, in 2011, for the first time ever, more Americans answered yes than no. A whopping 62% of 18- to 29-year-olds polled supported legalization.
Former LAPD officer and LEAP board member Stephen Downing asked Obama, “What do you have to say to this growing voter constituency that wants more changes to drug policy than you have delivered in your first term?” No answer.
Of course, no response may be better than the answer Obama gave in a previous “virtual town hall,” hosted on YouTube in 2009. At that time he went for an easy laugh, remarking, “I don’t know what that says about the online audience.”
In an effort to get answers, Downing referred to the changes delivered in his first term when, such changes have, in fact, been nonexistent. While running for office in 2008, Obama called the use of medical marijuana “appropriate.” It’s a shame he didn’t share that opinion with his Department of Justice, which has continued to raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states which allow them, such as California.
In a country that already has the highest prison population in the world, officials at all levels of government continue to send non-violent drug users to jail, many of them under 30. In 2010 alone, over 670,000 people between the ages of 18 and 29 were arrested for drug violations, according to the FBI. That’s more than the entire population of Boston.
What makes the President’s non-answers on drug policy even worse is that he has acknowledged his own past drug use. In his book, Dreams of My Father, Obama was quite frank, saying that in a troubled time, “pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it.” He went on to explain it “was something that could push questions of who I was out of my mind, something that could flatten out the landscape of my heart, blur the edges of my memory.”
Obama is far from being the only politician who has turned from drug user to drug warrior. His potential opponent in November’s presidential election, Newt Gingrich, once called drug use “a sign that we were alive and in graduate school.” That hasn’t stopped him from citing Singapore, a country that executes some drug users, as a model for his own proposed policy
Obama pulled in 66% of under-30 voters in 2008, a number eerily mirrored by the people in that age bracket who support marijuana legalization. Young voters have overwhelmingly supported him. But he has been unwilling to act on an issue that is important to them, or even to present a rebuttal defending his administration’s drug policies.
As the presidential race heats up later this year, young voters might ask themselves whether a president who has ignored or mocked their drug policy views, who overrides the wishes of voters that wanted sick patients to have medical marijuana, and who supports the arrests of thousands of their peers for doing the same thing that he has done himself, is someone worthy of their support.
What do you think? Should the president come out in favor of legalizing marijuana and keeping young, non-violent drug offenders out of jail? Or is a strict drug policy the path we should stay on? Tell us in the comments!