WASHINGTON, DC -- President Barack Obama in an online "conversation" with American voters on Monday, failed to answer a barrage of questions about marijuana legalization or the drug war.
Although 18 out of 20 of the most popular questions submitted by voters via YouTube were about the drug war or pot, the president in his 45-minute post-State of the Union chat didn't address a single one.
"It is disappointing that, yet again, the administration has declined the opportunity to discuss the very serious issue of ending marijuana prohibition," Erik Altieri, spokesman for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, wrote in an email. "For the ninth time, the White House has solicited the American people for direct input on the issues they cared about and then, when the resulting answers called overwhelmingly for marijuana law reform, President Obama ignores the will of the American people on this burning issue."
Google, which moderated the event from 5:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m., did not immediately respond to a query about why such questions were excluded. YouTube, a division Google, allowed users until Saturday midnight to designate a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" on questions submitted ahead of Monday's chat. Questions with the most thumbs up were deemed the most popular.
While the president did find time to talk about a whole host of less weighty questions, including ones about late-night snacks, dancing and his tennis skills, a response to a top-rated question submitted by Stephen Downing, the retired deputy chief of police in Los Angeles, was conspicuously absent.
Downing's question, which garnered more than 4,500 votes, ranked first in popularity among questions submitted via video and second out of all questions. He asked the president to address a growing voter constituency that wants more changes to drug policy than he has delivered in his first term. "From my 20 years of experience I have come to see our country’s drug policies as a failure and a complete waste of criminal justice resources," Downing had said in his video.
Later commenting on his question's being ignored in Monday night's chat, Downing, a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, wrote, "It's worse than silly that YouTube and Google would waste the time of the president and of the American people discussing things like midnight snacks and playing tennis when there is a much more pressing question on the minds of the people who took the time to participate in voting on submissions."
"A majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana to de-fund cartels and gangs, lower incarceration and arrest rates and save scarce public resources, all while generating new much-needed tax revenue," Downing added. "The time to discuss this issue is now. We're tired of this serious public policy crisis being pushed aside or laughed off."
This isn't the first time the issue of drug policy has dominated online contests soliciting questions from the president only to be ignored. In last year's "Your Interview with the President" competition, Obama did discuss the issue, however, calling legalization and regulation of marijuana and other drugs "an entirely legitimate topic for debate" and adding that he remained opposed to legalization of medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana activists are wondering what happened to the candidate who promised to maintain a hands-off approach toward pot clinics' adhering to state law.
"I will be voting in the Republican primary in California, and I will be voting for one of the candidates who supports our position on medical cannabis," said Steve DeAngelo, executive director of California-based Harborside Health Center told The Huffington Post in a recent interview. "I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of other medical cannabis patients join me."
"There's a real opening here for Republicans," he said.
A White House spokesman, when asked for comment about why no marijuana-related questions were addressed on Monday, noted that the event had been moderated by Google and the president was merely answering questions posed to him.
Watch Downing ask his question below.
CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, Stephen Downing's name was misspelled. We apologize for the error.