You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

The Weed Question: An Online Hijacking? Or Democracy in Action?

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, March 27 2009

You may have heard that during yesterday's Open for Questions event at the White House, President Obama interrupted MC Jared Bernstein to address a question that had demonstrated considerable mojo in the online forum. "I have to say that there was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high," he said to a chuckling audience, "and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation." Breaking out into a smile, Obama got in a dig at those crazy kids on the Internet: "I don't know what that says about the online audience." That online audience is now abuzz with discussion over the incident. Did Obama behave badly? Did "we" -- to use the word loosely -- behave badly by giving such a high profile to the question (in a creative interpretation of the "green jobs" category)? In very brief, the arguments in favor and against...

The argument in favor of the legalization question: With rather horrendous drug-fueled violence in Mexico increasingly in the news -- and especially in light of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's admission that the U.S. is partially culpable because of our considerable appetite for illegal narcotics -- legalization is a timely and important policy topic. Besides, millions of Americans make use of the marijuana on occasion, whether for recreational or medicinal reasons. Web tools like Google Moderator are simply tapping into that collective interest, even if it's not one often discussed in polite society. And that's exactly the sort of opening up of communications channels that Internet-powered politics promising.

The argument against: NORML and other marijuana advocates unfairly manipulated Google Moderator to promote their question to the top of a citizens' forum, hijacking and event that was meant to focus on the economy in general and in particular the president's budget proposal. Obama respected the spirit of online openness and participation by addressing the question, while acting like a good moderator and not letting the forum get off topic.

So, which is it? Your thoughts?