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." (
The live audience laughed and applauded.