For the third year running, Obama is inviting members of the public to ask him questions about “the most important issues our country faces”.  And for the third year running, the drugs blogosphere, led by NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) has ensured that questions relating to marijuana legalization, decriminalization, or availability through dispensaries are topping the charts in terms of both numbers of questions asked, and each question’s popularity.

In 2009, Obama dismissed a question about the taxation of legalized marijuana sales with a laugh.  In 2010, he chose to disregard the issue altogether

The marijuana question is easy for Obama to ignore. While millions may agree that the current laws are nonsense, reform is only at the top of the agenda of important issues for a small minority. Those most hurt by prohibition-such as the non-violent offenders serving sentences in prison or on parole- do not constitute a powerful interest group or constituency.

For NORML and other drug campaigners, the silence in itself provides political capital for the reform campaign, and state-based drug reform efforts are gathering momentum. Campaigns such as those for medical marijuana or Proposition 19 are demonstrating an increasing level of political sophistication. State budgets are the ones suffering from swollen prison populations, overcrowded courts and under-staffed police departments, and State legislatures the most likely to consider reform.

In the national political arena, the gulf between the sincerity of drug law reform campaigners, and the frivolity of responses to calls for reform, suggests that the  movement is not taken seriously. Without significant investment in professional lobbying, or backing from credible business interests, it’s difficult to know how reformers can undo the ‘Cheech and Chong’ stoner stereotype and reframe drug law reform as a serious public policy issue .

Obama won’t lose any votes by turning a deaf ear to the YouTube calls for engagement in a  debate, and it would be political idiocy for him to open another front on the culture wars.  But as a third successful year of topping the YouTube polls shows, the question isn’t going to go away.

UPDATE:  Well, I was wrong, and he answered the question.  Legalization is a ‘valid topic for debate’ but he is not in favor.  Calls for more ‘balanced approach’, more money on treatment, allocating dollars wisely between interdiction and prevention, blah blah blah blah.