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Marijuana Backers Muscle Into the 'Conversation'

When President Barack Obama tonight takes voters’ questions submitted via YouTube, the marijuana lobby could be his toughest audience.

Many of the top-ranked questions — as voted on by the public — for Obama’s post-State of the Union “conversation” titled “Your Interview with the President” have come from people who urge pot legalization.

It’s just the latest example of drug policy dominating a presidential request for questions or proposals from the public. And it reveals how advocacy organizations of all types work to gin up questions or public support for their queries to get their message in front of the president.

“I think there is a lot of frustration on the part of people that care about this issue and haven’t heard it addressed in a serious way,” said Tom Angell, media relations director for the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Angell’s group has the top-voted video question on the White House’s YouTube channel, which says 228,009 people have submitted 133,215 questions and cast 1,630,632 votes for which question they’d most like the president to answer. Most of the questions are text, however.

In the video, Stephen Downing, a retired deputy chief of police from the Los Angeles Police Department, tells the president that he sees “our country’s drug policies as a failure and a complete waste of criminal justice resources” and notes a Gallup Poll saying more Americans agree with him. He asks the president: “What do you say to this growing voter constituency that wants more changes to drug policy than you have delivered in your first term?”

Angell said Downing recorded his question and emailed it to Angell, who then submitted it to the White House.

“In marijuana reform, a lot of advocates have been encouraging their supporters to send in questions,” Angell explained. “We thought it would be smarter to get everybody to vote for one question.”

Still, it doesn’t mean that Obama will answer the question.

Ditto for another top-rated question from supporters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

A blog entry by Erik Altieri, NORML’s communications coordinator, said that last week he posted the group’s question but that after “becoming the most positively voted-upon question in less than a day, the White House removed the question, deeming it ‘inappropriate.’”

That question, he writes, was: “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?”

The majority of the top-voted questions on the White House’s YouTube site involve some sort of marijuana or drug reference.

“In an election year, this could go a long way towards winning back those who feel disenfranchised with the administration over a perceived lack of progress on the issue and amped up raids on medical programs in states such as California and Colorado,” wrote Altieri in his blog post.

Angell, for his part, said he’ll be watching closely how Obama answers his organization’s question — if at all.

“There’s a lot of votes to be won out there,” Angell said. “There’s definitely an awakening going on around this issue.”

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