Friday, March 27, 2009

Obama's Missed Opportunity at Online Townhall

I enjoyed Barack Obama's online townhall meeting yesterday - the first ever, and a good thing for democracy, as have been so many other innovations in new media communication initiated in the Obama campaign and continuing now in his governance. (See my New New Media book, due out in September from Penguin/Pearson, for more.) But I think Obama missed a significant opportunity when he joked about the question about legalizing marijuana and the impact of that on the economy, and answered definitively "no".

To be clear, I'm not saying that Obama should have answered "yes," or that he was wrong to smile when he answered the question. But I am saying that I think this is a serious, significant issue, which deserves careful consideration.

Billions of dollars a year are spent on enforcing anti-marijuana laws, and billions of dollars could be made via taxation of legalized weed. Money is certainly not the only issue here, but that's a lot of money, especially in these times.

And then there's the deepest issue, in my view: does the government have the right to tell a consenting adult what to do with his or her own body? Why is prohibition of cannabis ok, while prohibition of alcohol or tobacco or caffeine is not?

For those who are interested, by the way, the only one of the above I ingest several times a day is caffeine, in the form of tea. I have a glass of wine every now and then, and have never smoked - weed or tobacco. I don't like smoke. I like my mind just the way it is, for better or worse.

But who cares what I like or don't like? What counts, if you are a compos mentis adult, is what you like - as long as you don't impose your likes on anybody else.

And it's equally wrong for the government to impose such laws on adults.

Barack Obama should take another look at the benefits of legalizing marijuana - ethical as well as financial.

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