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Obama Barraged By Pot Questions For Upcoming YouTube Town Hall

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama plans to take questions from YouTube viewers Thursday afternoon, and for the third time in as many years, the overwhelmingly most popular query involves the legalization of marijuana.

Of the top 100 most popular questions as rated by YouTube users, 99 are about the drug war or pot. Of the next one hundred, 99 are again about drug policy. Somehow, two questions about clean energy made their way into the top 200.

The pot questions don't stop there, but HuffPost stopped counting deep into the 200s, as the president is unlikely to answer all of them. If past history is any guide, he may not answer any of them.

A White House spokesman tells HuffPost that the president on Thursday will answer whatever questions YouTube puts before him. "A selection of top voted questions has been made to insure that as many of the most important questions as voted by the YouTube community will be asked," a YouTube spokesperson told HuffPost.

Obama did answer the question in 2009, addressing folks who asked if the president would consider legalizing marijuana to boost the economy and tax revenue.

"Can I just interrupt, Jared, before you ask the next question, just to say that we -- we took votes about which questions were going to be asked and I think 3 million people voted," he said to aide Jared Bernstein. "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 -- (laughter) -- and job creation. And I don't know what this says about the online audience -- (laughter) -- 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 -- (laughter) -- to grow our economy in 2009."

That answer tortured legalization backers as much as being ignored, if this year's questions are an indication. Many of them knock the president for laughing at their issue.

The major drug-policy reform organizations say they have had little to do with the popularity of the pot questions and that it has largely been a "grassroots" response. The top question is from an official associated with the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, but the second- and third-most popular, judging by their YouTube pages, are clearly not connected to a mainstream advocacy group.

LEAP, the Drug Policy Alliance, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Marijuana Policy Project released what they called a "joint" statement Thursday calling on the president to address an issue that is "bubbling up."

The statement appears below:

Following his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama asked the public to submit questions for an exclusive YouTube Interview that will take place on Thursday January 27. The "Ask Obama" forum promises to take questions from the American people on the issues they find most important in terms of national policy.

The people have spoken, and the message is loud and clear: the top 100 most popular questions (193,000 were submitted) are on marijuana reform and the harms of drug prohibition, with the first-place question coming from a former police officer who has first-hand experience with the failure of these policies. The questions dominating the forum deal with marijuana legalization, prohibition-related violence, and the fiscal and human consequences of mass incarceration. The American people want to know why our country is continuing the failed, catastrophic policy of drug prohibition.

Several of the most popular questions also address why our elected leaders have virtually ignored these important issues. This is not the first time marijuana legalization and drug reform have dominated the response to Obama's call for questions. There were similar results in both 2009 and 2010 when people asked Obama about ending prohibition and using science instead of politics to guide our drug policies. In 2009, Obama's response was to laugh off the question about taxing and controlling marijuana. In 2010, Obama ignored the questions, despite the questions dominating in quantity and quality.

Ryan Grim is the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs