President Barack Obama has turned to social media several times in his presidency to learn what Web-savvy Americans want from their president. In January 2011 he participated in a YouTube forum in which questions were determined by user votes; in the summer of 2011, the White House unveiled its own e-petition website. In both cases, the Internet spoke loud and clear: legalize pot.
According to the Drug War Chronicle, “of the top 200 most popular questions submitted” to YouTube’s “Ask Obama” forum, “nearly all were on drug policy.” Twenty-six minutes into the interview with Obama, YouTube noted the frequency of questions about the drug war—which caused Obama to giggle for several seconds—then introduced a question by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition member MacKenzie Allen, who asked if there would come a time to “discuss the possibility of legalization.” Obama replied, “I think this is an entirely legitimate topic for debate, but I’m not in favor of legalization,” adding, “I am a strong believer that we have to think more about drugs as a public health problem.”
Last September the issue reared its hempy head once again, this time on “We the People,” the much-touted petition site launched by the White House. The first issue to crack the threshold of 5,000 signatures necessary to get an official administration response: “Isn’t it time to legalize and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol?” Since then drug-related petitions have flooded the site. There is one calling for the legalization of industrial hemp, one calling for an end to the “destructive, wasteful, and counterproductive war on drugs,” and one calling for the release of Marc Emery, a Canadian pot activist serving five years in U.S. federal prison for selling marijuana seeds.
The Obama administration responded to these petitions in late October through drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, who downplayed the medical value of marijuana, denied that its legalization would curb black-market violence, and concluded, “It is not a benign drug.”