Pubdate: Thu, 02 Feb 2012
Source: New York Daily News (NY)
Copyright: 2012 Daily News, L.P.
Author: John Mcwhorter


An Online Town Hall With President Obama Omits a Popular Question 
About Legalizing Pot

Google is more interested in probing our President about how he feels 
about dancing and late-night snacks than asking about whether people 
should still be going to jail for smoking a joint.

Really. On Monday, the Internet company and its video division 
YouTube sponsored a "hangout" with President Obama, in which regular 
people posed questions to him via live or recorded video or in 
writing. It's what a question-and-answer session after one of FDR's 
Fireside Chats could have been like. Very interactive, very 
participatory, very town hall.

In theory. But when it comes to the politics of pot, democracy has its limits.

YouTube's top-voted question for the President came from a retired 
Los Angeles cop, Stephen Downing. He noted that Gallup polling now 
reveals more Americans supporting the legalization of marijuana than 
opposed to it, and asked, "What do you say to this growing voter 
constituency that wants more changes to drug policy than you have 
delivered in your first term?"

Yet Google ignored the query. Instead, its Q and A closed with 
participants peppering Obama with utterly inconsequential personal 
questions of the "boxers or briefs" variety.

Marijuana legalization is urgent. For one, if finally enacted, it 
would play a vastly larger role in getting America past race than 
monthly hand-wringing over Newt Gingrich's insights on inner-city 
work habits or whether Michelle Obama is an angry black woman.

New York's controversial stop-and-frisks, for example, aren't only 
about finding illegal weapons. They're also about checking 
darker-skinned young people for possession of marijuana. Sometimes 
they have some. Usually they don't.

Just Wednesday came news that, in 2011, low-level pot arrests in the 
five boroughs rose for the seventh straight year - to a total of 
50,684, according to an analysis by the Drug Policy Alliance. This 
happened even though in September, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly 
issued a directive telling officers not to make a collar unless the 
pot was in plain view.

In your heart of hearts, have you ever asked yourself why so many 
brown-skinned young men seem so fundamentally alienated from society, 
decades after the fading away of overt racism?

Imagine if your main contact with whites growing up was tense 
encounters with often surly cops. Not everybody can overcome 
imprinting experiences of that kind. And pretty soon, you even have 
influential writers like Charles Blow of The New York Times 
erroneously surmising that black New Yorkers are moving South not for 
the low cost of living, but to escape these stop-and-frisks.

Anti-weed laws muck up our societal discourse in infinite ways.

Now, when it comes to heroin or cocaine, opinions will differ as to 
whether they should be on sale at Duane Reade. But this war on weed 
is inexcusable.

An alternate America in which there were no reason to bust anyone for 
using or selling marijuana is utterly plausible - and better. On 
Tuesday, for example, New York cops arrested three twentysomethings 
for devoting a five-story townhouse to growing marijuana.

Admit it: Reading that, you almost certainly chuckled internally.

What grievous harm to society were those plants about to wreak? 
Arrests like these will look as stupid in the future as gangsters 
having to ship liquor under cover of night does in "Boardwalk Empire" now.

Wouldn't these things be especially clear to exactly the "hip" young 
people YouTube is courting by highlighting Obama's take on eating 
late at night? What kind of hipness, what kind of honesty, is 
reflected in a conversation with the President in which such a vital 
issue is censored, as if someone asked Obama whether he was still 
beating his wife?

I'm afraid Google, in all of its coolitude, has a tin ear for what 
matters in the real world. In terms of the impact of the war on weed 
on minority communities, this slap in the face to Downing - white 
though he happens to be - was also a perfect way to transition us 
from Dr. King's birthday into Black History Month.

"Broadcast Yourself," YouTube tells us. To YouTube this week, I say, 
"Heal Thyself."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom