Tomorrow President Obama is scheduled to take questions submitted via Twitter. If the past is any guide, a lot of the proposed queries will deal with drug policy, thanks to the enthusiastic efforts of antiprohibitionists mobilized by NORML and other reform groups. And if one of those questions is picked, it's a good bet Obama will laugh before answering (or dodging) it. At a March 2009 "town meeting" featuring questions submitted online, Obama said:
There was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation. And I don't know what this says about the online audience, but…this was a popular question. We want to make sure it's answered. The answer is no, I don't think that's a good strategy to grow our economy. All right.
The president also treated the subject of drug legalization as a laughing matter at a January 2011 forum in which people posed questions via YouTube, although he sobered up a bit after watching a video in which MacKenzie Allen of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition asked him about ending the war on drugs:
"I think this is an entirely legitimate topic for debate," Obama said. "I am not in favor of legalization. I am a strong believer that we need to think more about drugs as a public health problem." Obama's concession that legalization is a legitimate (though hilarious) topic for debate sits rather uneasily with his drug czar's declaration that "legalization is not in the president's vocabulary." And whether or not Obama ever did get around to thinking about drugs as a public health problem, nothing much came of it.
Does Obama's cannabis-induced laughter signify a) his nervousness about the subject in light of his own youthful drug use, b) his attempt to show he's cool even though his drug policies are essentially the same as his predecessor's, or c) his feeling that the war on drugs really is a trivial issue, something that only silly potheads worry about? I am reminded of a question that Andrew Sullivan (who knows whereof he speaks) asks in his book The Cannabis Closet: "How does a society treat something as a harmless, ubiquitous joke and then arrest hundreds of thousands of people a year for doing it?"
Finally, a post about Obama's disappointing drug policy record would not be complete without the Reason.tv classic "Obama, You're No Stranger to the Bong":
[Thanks to Richard Cowan and Allen St. Pierre for the links.]