For weeks, I’ve tried to write about We the People, the White House online petition project, and exactly how that’s been working out, but I was too furious to get past a few sentences. However, I’m ready to try again.
We the People was announced at the beginning of September as a way for the American people to get back in direct touch with their government. Originally, any petition started on the site that gathered 5,000 signatures in 30 days would receive a response from the White House. After 5,000 signatures proved to be something that happened a lot, the benchmark was raised to 25,000 signatures in 30 days.
All of that seems reasonable—laudable even. I made an account on the site, checked out some petitions, signed a few. Then I started getting the White House responses.
The one that made me too angry to write, specifically, was the response to “Legalize and Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol”. The original petition said:
We the people want to know when we can have our “perfectly legitimate” discussion on marijuana legalization. Marijuana prohibition has resulted in the arrest of over 20 million Americans since 1965, countless lives ruined and hundreds of billions of tax dollars squandered and yet this policy has still failed to achieve its stated goals of lowering use rates, limiting the drug’s access, and creating safer communities.
Isn’t it time to legalize and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol? If not, please explain why you feel that the continued criminalization of cannabis will achieve the results in the future that it has never achieved in the past?
That gathered nearly 75,000 signatures, the most of any petition, so the White House responded. You can read their reply here and a detailed (and excellent and informative) analysis on Alternet here. But here’s a quote:
We… recognize that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.
So quickly are dismissed the medical possibilities of marijuana, the monetary cost of the ‘drug war’, the historical and ongoing failures of prohibiting substances, the destruction of families, the unequal enforcement of drug laws that discriminately punish minorities and the poor while ignoring much of the drug use in the upper classes—not to mention the industrial uses of hemp and the fact that marijuana is clearly a less harmful drug in many ways than alcohol and caffeine (not to mention tobacco!), which are legal.
Thus, this incarnation of a nice idea—using technology to connect the American people more directly with their government—is shown to be a feel-good stunt of little to no practical value.
At least there are two petitions on the site addressing this disappointment. One—that has reached the required 25k signatures—is titled “Actually take these petitions seriously instead of just using them as an excuse to pretend you are listening”. The second, which needs 10k more signatures in the next three days, is titled “We demand a vapid, condescending, meaningless, politically safe response to this petition”.
I signed them both.