Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) says marijuana legalization is “inevitable.” But yet another one of his home state’s neighbors enacts the reform, he concedes that the path in Pennsylvania has proved more challenging amid GOP resistance to the “common sense” policy that’s backed by the majority of voters.
The senator—who has long championed cannabis legalization and made it a key issue when he served as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor—spoke about the prospects of reform at the state and federal level in an interview with City & State Pennsylvania that was published on Monday.
“It’s absolutely absurd—how many states around Pennsylvania are we falling behind?” Fetterman said, reflecting on Ohio’s recent vote to legalize cannabis at the ballot. “I don’t know why Republicans are opposing it, because the majority of their constituents want this. It shouldn’t be that hard in Pennsylvania.”
“It just makes it more silly. It’s just so simple and so easy—just give people what they want. And again, make it safe, make it pure and make jobs,” he said. “All the benefits are going to the cartels, but now, it should be going to the state.”
He drew parallels to tobacco and alcohol products, stressing that people should have the right to buy them in a regulated market where they’re taxed and tested for quality, rather than having people resort to illicit market “bathtub gin” and the like.
“There are things that are so much more lethal and dangerous and addictive—you don’t have any of those issues with cannabis,” he said.
Fetterman said the issue is overwhelmingly bipartisan, as partly evidenced by his experience as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor leading a listening tour across the state to discuss legalization.
“Whether it was a red or a blue county, people were really respectful and it was a true conversation. We never once had pro-wrestling break out with people throwing chairs or anything like that,” he said. “I miss that and I think people appreciated having that conversation. I thought it was a great model too because we didn’t leave anyone behind.”
The senator said that Republican lawmakers are largely at fault for the continued prohibition on cannabis in states like Pennsylvania and at the federal level.
“It’s always Republicans going against something that should be common sense and that a majority of people really want—whether it’s abortion or weed,” he said. “In Pennsylvania, they’re gumming it up and I suspect any national way of legalizing it will be gummed up by Republicans too. The truth is, it’s going to be legal.”
He added that, “in states where it has been legalized, somehow the world hasn’t spun off its axis. It wasn’t pandemonium or cats and dogs living in sin.”
“Legalization is inevitable. Why not just get in front of it now in Pennsylvania and do the right thing? Four or five years ago, everyone thought I was weird or just a stoner because I believed that it was the right way to go. Republicans at the time said, ‘We don’t want this and the majority of people don’t either.’ We found out we actually do, and now, we have been lapped by New York, New Jersey, Maryland, D.C. and now Ohio.”
In Pennsylvania, a House committee recently convened for an informational meeting to hear from experts about adult-use marijuana legalization as legislators chart a path for the reform, which the panel’s chairman says may involve consideration of a state-run cannabis sales model.
Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) also weighed in this month on how voters in neighboring Ohio elected to legalize marijuana at the ballot. He said it serves as “another reminder” of the need to follow suit in the Keystone State.
Fetterman was also asked about the ongoing administrative review into marijuana’s scheduling under the Controlled Substance Act that President Joe Biden directed last year.
He pointed out that he and Biden previously discussed marijuana policy issues, including the senator’s prior work managing a state-level pardon program that saw more than 3,500 people apply for relief from Pennsylvania’s governor. About a year after his conversation with the president, Fetterman said that’s when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended that cannabis be rescheduled under federal law.
“Joe is a man of his word,” he said, describing the rescheduling recommendation a “commonsense acknowledgment of where it should go.”
He also talked to City & State about his belief that legalization should be coupled with equity provisions—namely “mass expungement” to ensure that those who have been most harmed under prohibition are able to participate in the legal market.
“I don’t think anyone thinks your life should be messed up because you have some stupid weed charge, as long as it’s nonviolent. And as lieutenant governor and head of the pardoning process, we got that process started,” he said. “It’s always astonishing when you have people in front of you who can’t be a volunteer at their child’s school, can’t get a better job, can’t get a loan because 12 years ago they got caught with a joint.”
Since entering the Senate, Fetterman has also made a point of advocating for psychedelics reform, arguing that psilocybin mushrooms could represent a “revolution” in mental health treatment and an economic “boon” for his home state of Pennsylvania, which he referred to as the “mushroom capital of the world.”
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gov. Tom Wolf.