Last week Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) met with President Joe Biden to discuss the decriminalization of cannabis in a closed meeting. Pressure is building for the administration to follow through on campaign promises but executive action seems unlikely.
Last month Fetterman called on Biden to deschedule cannabis at the federal level ahead of the president’s Labor Day visit to Pittsburgh. “It’s long past time that we finally decriminalize marijuana,” Fetterman said in a statement. “The president needs to use his executive authority to begin descheduling marijuana. I would love to see him do this prior to his visit to Pittsburgh. This is just common sense and Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support decriminalizing marijuana.”
Fetterman, who is running against Republican opponent Mehmet Oz in the Senate races, has been making national headlines for his outspoken support of cannabis legalization. The lieutenant governor is so dedicated to the cause that his campaign printed up tee shirts with the ungainly slogan: “It’s high time that we get our sh*t together and legalize weed in PA + USA. More justice, jobs, revenue, and freedom.”
Fetterman has also promoted an expedited petition program in Pennsylvania to have minor cannabis crimes removed from court records. “This is a plant that’s legal in many jurisdictions across America, and it’s not a big deal, but you go through your life in many cases a convicted felon, and that excludes you from a lot of opportunities,” he said during a KDKA interview in 2021.
Fetterman’s increasing stature as a cannabis advocate has made him a high profile target for political enemies.
A few weeks ago, the Oz campaign released a strange animated ad featuring an image of Fetterman that said, “Let’s pull back his hoodie and examine what’s in his head.” “Loose screws” are depicted as escaping an opening at the top of his skull followed by a bong accompanied by smoking sound effects.
The Oz campaign has placed much of its focus on highlighting and demonizing Fetterman’s pro-legalization stance, despite Oz’s previous support for increasing the study of cannabis as a medicine. In 2020, Oz made his own plea for cannabis reform while being interviewed by Fatman Scoop. “We ought to completely change our policy on marijuana. It absolutely works,” he said then.
Earlier this month, Oz admitted that he still supports medical marijuana during an interview with Fox News, although he clarified that there needs to be more research conducted in the area before policy changes can be made. He claimed that his issue with Fetterman is that the lieutenant governor wants to “legalize all drugs,” even though Fetterman has only proposed legalizing cannabis and decriminalizing other drugs.
Fetterman was also targeted by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in late July. Gingrich falsely claimed that the lieutenant governor had removed the American flag from his office and replaced it with a cannabis leaf flag and an LGBTQ pride flag. In reality, Fetterman had hung the flags from his office balcony in defiance of a Pennsylvania law that was passed to ban the display of any flags other than the U.S. flag, the state flag or the flag honoring missing American soldiers at the state capitol. The American flag was never removed.
Fetterman’s pot-flag antics became the target for conservative pundit Ann Coulter who wrote a recent Substack article about a Fetterman tweet in which the lieutenant governor held aloft a flag bearing pot leaves and the message “Don’t tread on weed.” Coulter claimed that Fetterman had removed the tweet for political reasons. “Now that he’s running for the U.S. senate as an everyman, working class man of the people, as opposed to the Bernie Sanders left-wing loon that he is” she wrote, “this is what you get when you click on that Tweet: .” The article displays an error message from Twitter. Coulter didn’t follow up on the accusation; however, the tweet is still live as of this writing and has never been removed. Twitter error messages are common, and it appears that the platform was experiencing technical problems when Coulter encountered the message.
Following Fetterman’s public challenge to Biden to decriminalize cannabis, the White House was initially unresponsive. During a press conference, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was pressed on the matter, but she chose to speak of the president’s recent decision to commute the sentences of 75 people—some of whom were in prison on drug charges—instead of answering whether the president would speak to Fetterman.
Regarding whether Biden would actually follow through on his promise to decriminalize cannabis, she said, “The president supports leaving decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states, rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts and, at the federal level, he supports decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records,” she said. “We don’t have anything to announce today at this point.”
But the president reportedly spoke with Fetterman during his Labor Day visit to Pittsburgh. Fetterman Communications Director Joe Calvello told Marijuana Moment that Fetterman “continued to advocate for the President to use his executive authority to begin the process of rescheduling marijuana, so that people convicted of nonviolent offenses can go on with their lives.”
Another campaigner reportedly told journalists that Fetterman pushed Biden to fully deschedule cannabis, a move the president has said he is unwilling to do. The administration is presently campaigning for rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug to allow it to be researched without fully legalizing it.
It’s unclear how Biden responded to Fetterman’s suggestions, although the president did not move to decriminalize cannabis last week.
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