Stephen Harper may be using "new media" to reach out to younger voters but that doesn't mean he's going to grant what seems to be their favourite wish: to legalize pot.
In his first YouTube interview Tuesday night, the prime minister nixed the idea of legalizing marijuana - even though questions on the topic were overwhelmingly rated the most popular among the almost 170,000 Canadians who voted on what to ask Harper.
Most of those who participated in the virtual townhall appeared to view pot as an essentially harmless, homegrown drug that should be legally sold and taxed like alcohol. But Harper vehemently disagreed.
"When people are buying from the drug trade, they are not buying from their neighbour," he told Google executive Patrick Pichette, who moderated the interview.
"They are buying from international cartels that are involved in unimaginable violence and intimidation and social disaster and catastrophe all across the world."
Harper fielded a dozen questions on a variety of topics, from pensions and the deficit to climate change, student loans and Quebec sovereignty. None of the questions were softballs and some were bluntly put.
B. Jonte from Waterloo, for instance, questioned why every time legitimate questions are asked about the Afghan detainee issue, the government advises Canadians to "support our troops and look the other way."
Harper repeated his insistence that there's not a shred of evidence to back up allegations that prisoners captured by Canadian soldiers were routinely tortured once they were turned over to Afghan authorities.
But he seemed to contradict himself a moment later, saying: "We have had instances where there was some evidence or some, you know, basic evidence of mistreatment at the hands of the Afghan government, then corrective actions have been taken.
"That has been, you know, relatively infrequently," he added.
Another questioner asked Harper why he still believes in imposing mandatory minimum sentences on criminals when research shows it doesn't deter crime.
The prime minister countered that deterrence "doesn't work unless people are actually certain they're going to get punished."
And a Toronto student asked why Harper refuses to invest in a national child care program, calling his government's $1,200 child care allowance "an insult" to families who can't afford day care.
Harper suggested most Canadians don't agree with that view and defended his government's approach of enabling parents to make "their own child care choices."
Harper rejected a plea from another questioner to cancel the annual commercial seal hunt. He argued that the hunt is "humane" and small compared to the cattle or hog industries and pointed out that the seal population is not endangered.
The virtual townhall experiment did not go entirely without a hitch. Google, which owns YouTube, was over an hour late in posting the interview, which had been taped earlier Tuesday, on its website.