As more government officials choose to publicly answer questions submitted by Internet users, they're encountering a new phenomenon: marijuana activists intent on forcing answers to the would-you-legalize-pot question.
In March, President Obama's first virtual town hall took a detour when questions about legalizing marijuana were voted to the top of the "financial stability," "jobs," "budget," and (of course) "green jobs" polls on WhiteHouse.gov
On Wednesday, it was California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, who was put on the spot. Digg.com users propelled a legalize-marijuana question to the No. 2 position (behind one asking about what he was thinking when photographed grimacing at President George W. Bush).
Earlier this month, Schwarzenegger said "it's time for debate" about legalizing marijuana. Read on for an excerpt from the CNN interview.
Q: What is your stance on the legalization, cultivation, and regulation of marijuana in the state of California?
A: I like the law that we have in place. And I don't believe in legalizing marijuana, but I'm always open for the debate because there are people that feel differently. And I said I'm always interested in debating any of these issues because there's always different ways of looking at it. And I think it would be interesting to see the information that is available, if there's any information available, of how well countries are doing that have legalized marijuana. But I don't think that information is available, and I'd want us to see that.
But I believe in the law, the way the law is right now, and I think it's worked very well for the state of California. And I think it would be a mistake to just go and legalize something that we don't believe in just because it would produce an extra billion dollars in revenues. And I think we just have to learn how to live within our means rather than trying to do things we really don't want to do.
Q: New polls actually show that more than half of Californians support legalizing marijuana. So would that sway your stance on it whatsoever in this open debate that you're calling for? Would it sway your opinion?
A: Well, it could very well go on an initiative one day, where they ask the voters directly, that could very well be. And if the voters make that decision, that's fine. But I think it is very important for us to make certain decisions not just because they would bring in some extra money, and I think this is why people have been talking about that in California, to go in that direction, and to start debating that issue. Because it would produce, as they say, $1.3 billion, $1.4 billion extra revenues.
Thanks to a 1996 ballot measure, medical marijuana is already legal under California law, though local officials have substantial discretion. Although that conflicts with federal law, the Obama administration has chosen not to target California medical marijuana dispensaries.
State legislator Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat, introduced a bill in February to legalize recreational marijuana. Bill AB 390 would license "commercial cultivators of marijuana" and establish a complicated web of regulations and tax rules they and retailers must follow.
It could raise over $1.2 billion a year in new tax revenues, assuming a $50-an-ounce tax, according to an analysis by California NORML, an organization working to reform the state's marijuana laws.
A Field poll released on April 30 found that 56 percent of the state's registered voters support legalizing marijuana and taxing its sale.