Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman isn’t the typical American politician, with a demeanor and tone that often feels more authentic than the polished personalities on both sides of the aisle. Coupled with his 6’8″ stature and tattoos, Fetterman’s political approach is shaped by a civil service career that almost didn’t happen. Prompted by the gun violence deaths of two of his students, Fetterman ran for mayor of Braddock, PA, in 2005, winning by one vote.
Today, John Fetterman is a champion of progressive policy reforms he considers common sense. Those rights include cannabis legalization and the end to the criminalization of the plant. With cannabis as a foundational component to his campaign, the Lt. Gov. is in the midst of a Senate run where he isn’t holding back on the policies he feels America needs to embrace.
Always Pro-Weed, John Fetterman’s Beliefs Grow in Braddock
Unlike most American politicians, Fetterman says he never had an evolution on cannabis reform. “There was never a point in my life where I thought it should be illegal,” he stated, adding that Braddock was “undeniably formative” in showing him first-hand how destructive drug prohibition is.
He believes it’s time American politicians admit they were wrong on the drug war, acknowledging the effects it continues to inflict on individuals and communities. He hopes to keep that connection in people’s minds as legalization spreads across America. Fetterman endeavors to advance pot-policy with his actions and his deliberate choice of words. Preferring to use the term “weed,” Fetterman has pushed back on requests to change his terminology, stating that weed is the term used in his community, and its usage helps keep the topic accessible.
John Fetterman considers Braddock “emblematic of what happened to a lot of communities and places in Pennsylvania, across the country.” Inequality began to rise in the mid-90s. In 2001, Fetterman moved to town, first as part of an AmeriCorps effort to help local youth. All too often, he’d see students judged or turned away because they smelled like cannabis. Fetterman said he put a stop to the practice because he was just happy to see the students there in the first place—their cannabis use shouldn’t be a factor in their participation.
The hardships created by drug records were not lost on Fetterman, who said that numerous people he worked with were held back from obtaining better-paying jobs, couldn’t pay off legal fines, and all-around saw their lives made harder by a past drug offense.
“It was all just so pointless and stupid,” said Fetterman. He added, “This idea that we’ve criminalized a plant you can grow in your backyard never really made any sense.”
Fetterman would serve as mayor of Braddock until 2018, when he won the race to become Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor.
Cannabis At The Forefront Of Policy
John Fetterman is far from a one-topic politician, campaigning on several progressive issues. Cannabis protections are a central component of the agenda, with Fetterman reporting that “50% of our residents are going to be a half an hour drive or less from as much legal weed as they want.”
Pennsylvania is one of the more successful U.S. medical markets to date, with cannabis data firm Headset reporting the state generated $910.3 million in cannabis sales over the past 13 months. The state is also neighbor to two newly legalized adult use markets, New York and New Jersey, that expect to become significant earners in the coming years.
Access to cannabis in Pennsylvania is just one positive sign of reform’s momentum, according to Fetterman. His enthusiasm noticeably heightened when discussing conservative states like South Dakota, Montana and Texas all taking up efforts to expand cannabis access.
While progress is underway in conservative states, pushback continues. In South Dakota, a successful ballot initiative to legalize adult use is in dispute after Governor Kristi Noem helped lead an effort to overturn the decision. The ruling is now in the hands of the state Supreme Court.
Fetterman isn’t surprised that the citizens are now largely pro-cannabis. He said that legalization is an issue supported by all walks of life at this point. When touring Pennsylvania, he notes support from the most conservative of counties just as he does in progressive areas. “They wanted to talk about it too,” he stated.
An April 2021 Muhlenberg University poll noted that 58% of Pennsylvania adults supported the measure, a record high for the state.
Fetterman wants to see the criminalization of the plant halted in America as its effects continue to wreak havoc on citizens. In Pennsylvania, more than 20,000 people were arrested for cannabis offenses during the pandemic. The arrests continue despite the state’s support for legalization, including 2019’s tweet from Attorney General Josh Shapiro announcing his support for adult use laws.
Fetterman added that he’s only heard support for legalization from police officers. He reported that police support the decision as it frees them from the “stupidity of engagement in this awful introduction to the criminal justice system here in Pennsylvania.”
John Fetterman On Cannabis Legalization, LGBTQ Protections, Rights For All
On the national stage, cannabis and LGBTQ rights have been his most notable of Fetterman’s policies. His outspoken support for both comes backed by a months-long battle at the statehouse over his display of LGBTQ pride and cannabis rights flags from his office balcony. For months, the Lt. Gov. sparred with the conservative-held legislature, even after lawmakers passed a ban on unauthorized flags.
Today, John Fetterman says the flags get confiscated “within an hour.”
“I genuinely don’t understand,” the opposition to the flags or the causes, said Fetterman. Furthermore, he said he doesn’t understand the disparity over some wanting to be able to buy Jack Daniels in a grocery store but not allow the sale of regulated cannabis.
“Why are we arguing over the access to healthcare in this country when we could develop a comprehensive solution to fix it,” Fetterman asked.
He said the same philosophy extends to equal protections for marginalized communities, including members of the LGBTQ and immigrant communities. He credits his wife, Gisele, and her experience as an immigrant from Brazil, for helping inform and shape his views.
Other key points to his campaign include closing the wealth gap, which he calls, “Un-American and as unfair as I can possibly imagine.”
John Fetterman’s policies, mirroring the stances he took during a 2016 Senate primary run, appear to be resonating with Pennsylvanians and beyond. In a crowded primary pool, he is expected to face off with State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, as the two appear to lead the crowded field of Democratic contenders. The Lt. Gov. has his financial backers, amassing $4 million since launching his bid. Fetterman’s camp said the fund largely came from small donors, totaling roughly 140,000 small donors so far.
Regardless of the race’s outcome, it is almost guaranteed that Fetterman continues championing the policies he’s run on since his days as mayor. He envisions an adult use market in Pennsylvania booming just as the medical program has, creating a financial pipeline for restorative justice. He hopes to see the same for the national stage.
“This isn’t controversial,” he said of legalization. “Canada, the whole country has legalized, and somehow they managed to keep doing pretty darn well…they haven’t descended into anarchy, you know?”