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Pot Tops the "We the People" Issue List, But For How Long?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, September 26 2011

As expected, the first petitions to go over the 5,000 signature threshold on the new "We the People," WhiteHouse.gov e-petition platform include several on the subject of decriminalizing marijuana. The Gawker blog noted this fact first yesterday, and as of Sunday night the trend hadn't changed. Of the top ten petitions, so far five are either directly or indirectly on the issue. And thus observers like Gawker are already making fun of the White House for opening up the petition channel.

This really shouldn't be such a big deal. A substantial minority of Americans, as high as 45%, think pot should be legalized. But the issue gets almost no serious attention in Washington. As a result, why should we be surprised that lots of Americans are petitioning their government seeking redress on this topic?

Up until now, whenever the marijuana legalization issue has arisen during any of the Administration's online engagement experiments, government officials from Obama on down, as well as interested observers, have used pot as an example of open platforms being gamed by special interests. But the real problem has been that those platforms were built as winner-take-all games--if a question got voted to the top, it was supposed to be asked of the President, for example. With "We the People," the White House is simply committing to "review and respond" in some official manner to the topic being raised, and over time, if it follows through consistently, the gaming of the platform should diminish. A game with many "winners" is hardly worth fighting to win. Once that happens, maybe we'll be able to see more clearly the actual value of this an experiment. Until then, I'd withhold judgment.