Americans apparently believe the most important issue facing the public is the legalization of marijuana, if a popular petition on the White House's "We the People" website is any indication. Some Christians are of the opinion that decriminalizing the drug is more in line with Christian beliefs.
On the White House’s website, a section called "We the People" allows Americans to create online petitions regarding issues important to them. If a petition receives more than 5,000 signatures, the White House promises it will review and consider the petition.
Three days after "We the People" was launched, a petition to "Legalize and Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol" was at the top on the petition list, acquiring over 30,000 signatures in just a few days.
"That's no surprise," Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told The Christian Post. "Every time the Obama administration goes to the general public and says, 'we want your opinion,' the general public tells them."
"After 74 years of prohibition, millions of Americans are tired of it," he added.
St. Pierre pointed out that the question of marijuana legalization has been presented to President Barack Obama several times, only to be shrugged off by the president. "What is so vexing about this administration," St. Pierre said, "is that the president laughs it off with 'gallows laughter,' which shows that he knows [marijuana legalization] is a festering question."
St. Pierre is urging the president to answer the question, explain his position and live with the consequences, even if he scares off "conservatives and dyed-in-the-wool Christians who probably won't support him anyways."
Some Christians have advocated for marijuana legalization.
James Clark, a field organizer for the ACLU who writes on Christian topics, argues that marijuana criminalization is the wrong response to sin, pointing out that a misdemeanor marijuana possession arrest can result in difficulty obtaining a job, a home, and education loans, which can lead to further problems down the road.
The amount of legal troubles, jail time, and damage to personal life that can be a result marijuana criminalization is simply too much and goes against the core of Christian belief, which is to make redemption is available to all, Clark argues.
"Loving God with all your heart is like loving your neighbor as yourself because God's love is equally available to you and your neighbor, no matter who you are or what you have done," Clark, who is a Christian, wrote in a Huffington Post article last year.
According to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, police made 853,838 marijuana-related arrests last year. Eighty-eight percent of those arrests were for simple possession; only the remaining twelve percent were for selling or manufacturing marijuana. Over half of all drug arrests were for marijuana offenses.
Instead of criminalizing and punishing marijuana users, Clark argues that Christians ought to decriminalize marijuana and follow the concept of "Incarnation."
“In becoming human, Christ entered a broken world and took the burden of sin upon himself,” Clark wrote. "He embraced sinners with open arms, using fellowship and love to offer a way out of sin and a path toward healing. Ultimately, the purpose of the Incarnation is to offer redemption and salvation to any and all sinners who accept the offer. This is the lynchpin that holds the two greatest commandments together. If we truly love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, we inevitably turn to our neighbors and reflect God's Incarnational acceptance by loving them as we love ourselves."
In response to the online petition for legalizing marijuana, Clark feels that it signifies Americans' belief that current marijuana policies are outdated.
"Americans and Christians are ready to move forward," Clark told CP. "And it shows that they're looking for alternatives to simply locking people up in cages."
He also believes that an online petition could have an impact on the White House. "It won't happen tomorrow," he said. "But it is definitely a way to shore up large-scale support."
The Obama administration's stance on marijuana has been has varied. Shortly after taking office, the Drug Enforcement Administration carried out several medical marijuana dispensary raids in California, which were legal under state law but ran afoul of federal laws. Obama later proclaimed that the federal government would not interfere with state marijuana laws.
However, when a 2010 ballot to legalize marijuana for recreational use was due to be voted on in California, Attorney General Eric Holder said he would "vigorously enforce" federal marijuana laws.
A National Survey on Drug Use and Health released this month reveals that nearly 7 percent of Americans 12 and older smoked non-medicinal marijuana in 2010, an increase in the number of pot smokers from 10 years ago.
The annual survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration attributes a possilbe cause of the uptick in marijana use to the increase in the number of states (16) that have approved the drug for medicinal purposes.