When President Obama asked Americans to submit questions to the White House, 228,009 people responded. Submitting a total of 133,215 questions and 1,630,632 votes before midnight on Sunday, this question from retired LAPD deputy chief Stephen Downing came in first place for all video questions.
Downing asks the President about marijuana legalization from the point of view of a former law enforcement officer. A transcript of the video follows:
"Mr. President, my name is Stephen Downing, and I'm a retired deputy chief of police from the Los Angeles Police Department. From my decades of law enforcement experience I have come to see our country's drug policies as a failure and a complete waste of criminal justice resources. According to the Gallup Poll, the number of Americans who support legalizing and regulating marijuana now outnumber those who support continuing prohibition. What do you say to this growing voter constituency that wants more changes to drug policy than you have delivered in your first term?"
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Downing is a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP. The organization gathers members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities to take a stand against what LEAP claims is the "failure" of federal drug policies -- laws that only worsen violence and addiction problems. A press release from LEAP points to the Gallup poll that Downing cites, which claims that 50 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana.
As The Atlantic points out, several of the most popular questions (whether video or text) have to do with either the legalization of marijuana or the war on drugs. Of the top 5 questions that the White House youtube account displays on the first page, 3 of them have to do with marijuana.
User cam2011cam from California writes, "Dear Obama, Youtube deleted NORML's question that was asked to you. So I'm going to repost it. Please respond. 'Pres. Obama, what is inappropriate about saving billions and not arresting nonviolent american citizens for marijuana? #WHChat @WhiteHouse.' " This question came in third place overall.
This question, which came in fifth, asks, "With over 850,000 Americans arrested in 2010, on marijuana charges alone, and tens of billions of tax dollars being spent locking up marijuana users, isn't it time to regulate and tax marijuana? Alcohol/Tobacco are 5,000x more dangerous. Wake up!"
It's not the first time that LEAP has organized its members around the White House's "Interview With The President" campaign. In 2011, another LEAP submission was voted the top question, and President Obama responded with this video.
UPDATE: "Your Interview With The President" came and went without a single reference to any of the top-voted questions on marijuana legalization. Instead, most of the 50-minute virtual interview was dominated by economic issues. Americans asked the President about a mandated living wage, H1B visas (visas for highly-skilled foreign workers), the long-term viability of the U.S. auto industry, federal policy on small businesses, veteran homelessness, help with paying back student loans and how to explain the faltering economy to children.
President Obama did, however, manage to address a hot-button issue: how the Department of Justice should walk the line between internet piracy and free speech for internet users. According to Obama, both sides "need to come together and work with us to create a system in which we've got strong protections in place but the basic architecture that's made the internet so powerful and such a open system ends up being preserved." Lest you think this was an oblique way of answering the top-voted question about the extradition of a British student for running a website that linked to pirated films and television shows, the moderator brought up the query word for word. "We want to make sure intellectual property is protected," responded the President. "But, we want to do it in a way that's consistent with internet freedom, and we're just going to keep on working on it."
The final formal question dealt with the role comedy plays in the political process, asked by "the premiere" President Obama internet impersonator. Before the event wrapped up, all the Americans who participated in the town hall were able to ask the President something personal. Questions ranged from how he gets his favorite junk food to requests to be his personal physician and how he plans to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary.
In a press release, LEAP slammed the interview, saying that the White House ignored the top-voted video question in favor of getting the president's take on "late night snacking, singing and dancing, celebrating wedding anniversaries and playing tennis."