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Obama Laughs Off Drug Legalization

March 26, 2009
by Daniel Guarnera
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President Obama held the first "virtual" presidential town hall meeting in history today.

The event was part of the ongoing effort to make the presidency as technologically innovative as the Obama campaign had been. Over 100,000 questions were submitted, and over 3.5 millions votes were cast to determine the favorites. Potential questions to the president were categorized according to eleven issue areas. The voting process was completely open and transparent, and both the strengths and weaknesses of such a strategy were in full view today. Here were four of the top-voted questions--each one leading in its respective category:

  • Budget #1 vote-getter: "With over 1 out of 30 Americans controlled by the penal system, why not legalize, control and tax marijuana to change the failed war on drugs into a money making, money saving boost to the economy. Do we really need that many victimless criminals?" from Ryan Palmer, Dallas, TX.
  • Financial Stability #1 vote-getter: "Would you support the bill currently going through the California legislature to legalize and tax marijuana, boosting the economy and reducing drug cartel related violence?" from Anthony, Warrington, PA.
  • Jobs #1 vote-getter: "What are your plans for the failing, "War on Drugs," thats [sic] sucking money from tax payers and putting non-violent people in prison longer than the violent criminals?" from Matt B, West Bend, WI.
  • Green Jobs and Energy #1 vote-getter: "Will you consider decriminalizing the recreational/medical use of marijuana (hemp) so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and put a multi-million dollar industry right here in the U.S.?" from Green Machine, Winchester, VA.

So of the questions submitted by the public, in four of the eleven issue areas created by the White House the leading vote-getting question was a variation of "Why don't we legalize marijuana?"

During the town hall itself, President Obama answered a handful of education- and health care-focused questions before making the following aside:

"I have to say that 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 I just want--I don't want people to think that--this was a fairly popular question; we want to make sure that it was answered. The answer is, no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy." (

See video here.)

The live audience laughed and applauded.




Since marijuana permanently changes the hippocampus of the brain and impares memory, since it has 20 times the tars and resins of tobacco, since it slows physical reaction and the higher thought processes, and since it harms depth perception, from a purely physiological standpoint, legalization is insane.

This is a subject that should be relagated to serious study. The amount of money and wasted lives that can be tied to the use of marijuana must be taken into account. The total value to the economy by the various chemical and pharmaceutical properties of the hemp plant have held little mention. The obvious tax value and elimination of crime through legalization and regulation is not to be taken lightly. If we are going to tax tobacco at a high rate, the tax revenue on legal marijuana would add to tax revenue by those who choose to smoke either product. It would produce a new cash crop for those tobacco growers who have been either put out of busines or had a great reduction in crop revenues. The money saved in eliminating excessive cost in the criminal justice system and the general population alone could be enormous. By my estimate, as a professional addictions futurist is close to $3 billion per year both in savings and earnings. It represents a positive shift in annual GDP from negative to positive. Something that will be needed with the current pharmacological treatment for misuse of alcohol and illicit drugs and the rapid advancement of true genetic treatment and cures for both. We must reduce our nation's excessive dependence on unwise and excessive alcohol and illicit drug use as a huge part of our current annual GDP, estimated at close to $800 billion.

Obama and his aides need to gove a more thoughtful analysis of why they oppose the legalization of marijuana, or said they need to study the matter further.

I'm sorry, but are we to ignore the comparative effects of alcohol and tobacco. Various studies have shown the positive side effects of alcohol (or more so it's neurological effects and components in wine for instance), yet by its very nature alcohol is a simple toxin. I don't believe anyone has shown that ethanol itself has any health benefits. If we were to pass judgment of recreational drugs on health factors alone or addictiveness, legal use of tobacco and alcohol could never be justified. We need to have an intelligent and encompassing conversation about: the larger narco-terrorism picture police and incarceration expenses, tax revenue in relation to existing health care costs (ala tobacco) , and the existing policies of other countries where drug legalization has taken place. Drugs are not going away and the criminalization of personal consumption has proven over and over again that it only impedes treatment and shifts usage to more lethal derivatives (i.e. methamphetamine).


Daniel Guarnera

Daniel Guarnera is the Director of Government Relations for NAADAC, The Association for...

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