The War on Drugs Has Been ‘an Absolute Failure of the Highest Order’: Q&A With Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman
John Fetterman

The War on Drugs Has Been ‘an Absolute Failure of the Highest Order’: Q&A With Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman

Fetterman, a 2022 U.S. Senate candidate, outlines his position on cannabis—and doesn’t hold back.

May 27, 2021

John Fetterman, Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, launched his U.S. Senate campaign earlier this year with cannabis legalization on the forefront of his political agenda. With more than a dozen states across the country having legalized adult-use and/or medicinal cannabis in recent years and months, Fetterman is pushing for legalization not just in his home state, but at the federal level, too. Cannabis Business Times caught up with Fetterman as he ramps up his Senate campaign and his push for cannabis adult-use legalization.

© credit |

Zach Mentz: As someone who is running for U.S. Senate in 2022, what are your priorities as a lawmaker and how does cannabis legalization fit into that?

John Fetterman: [Cannabis legalization] is a no brainer. I would challenge anybody to come up with a public policy decision that would generate more revenue, jobs, freedom and justice than just simply saying yes to a plant. It's not about re-making health care. It's not about some complicated infrastructure. It's just saying, ‘Okay, we're not going to arrest anybody anymore for weed. We're going to make it a legitimate business and reap billions and billions and billions in free money that's already being given to the cartels in places where it's illegal, and we're going to expunge the criminal records of anyone that's ever had their lives damaged by this ridiculous prohibition.’ All it means is saying yes to a plant. It's pretty simple.

ZM: You mentioned plenty of people that have had their lives negatively affected by this prohibition and have been in jail for years. And that’s largely in minority communities.

JF: It disproportionately impacts people from those communities. And there's literally no good reason for it. None. I don't know how you can compartmentalize your brain and say you'd be adamantly opposed to the prohibition of alcohol but you're you support prohibition of marijuana, given that alcohol kills close to 90,000 people every year and creates all kinds of extra finalities on society, yet marijuana with no overdose deaths … it doesn't make any sense to me.

ZM: From your perspective, are there any state models that you'd like Pennsylvania to follow? Any states you think are doing a great job?

JF: I think Illinois has consistently done a really great job, but I've also said that I support the[federal] legalization bill. I don't want the good to be sacrificed at the alter of the perfect, in that regard. But Illinois has done a really good job. They've acknowledged that it's got to be legal. They acknowledge that some of the benefits will be directed to the communities that were disproportionally impacted. And it makes a lot of sense. So [Illinois] is certainly one of them. I just think we just need to end this ridiculous hang-up and just take care of it.

ZM: What’s the next step from here then? Is it the passage of the SAFE Act or the MORE Act in Congress? Do those need to be broken down into smaller, more palatable bills to get something done on a federal level?

JF: We just need to make sure we're electing people that are for legalization or also anti-prohibition. That's really what it is; it’s prohibition of a plant. This idea that we (Democrats) don't even have our own caucus shored up, but I suspect we would have Republicans on the other side too … You look at every state where they’ve been able to legalize it and there hasn't been even the most remote type of outcomes that the handwringing reefer madness types have predicted would come. Canada legalized it and somehow they haven't slid into anarchy and mass dysfunction. What's the justification at this point? There isn’t. They’ve stopped trying to argue it; they’re just like, well, no. It's just reefer madness or prohibition. They'll [say], ‘well, this isn't your grandparents marijuana.’ I'm like, well, you can go buy as much grain alcohol as you want and no one’s wringing their hands over that. There's literally not a single logical argument other than just basic reefer madness.

ZM: What's your level of optimism that a federal legalization bill gets passed in the Biden administration, and passed maybe before the 2022 midterms even?

JF: I don't know about the midterms just simply because it could be seen as a political win for the Democrats. I just keep trying to yank it out of the realm of the partisan and just put it firmly down where it really truly is: a bipartisan issue. It's just like, what are we arguing about here? Seriously. A majority of Republicans want it. An overwhelming majority of Democrats want it. I think the number of people that are like hard against it, like the reefer madness types, is maybe 15% of the population. The other ones that are just like whatever, I don't really feel that strongly one way or the other, but if it happens, make it legal and safe.

ZM: Certainly there's been a lot going on the last year-and-a-half or so. Why is now the time to really shine the light on cannabis legalization? Why is this such an important topic right now?

JF: It’s always been. I've always been pushing for [legalization]. When I ran for [Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania] the first time in [2017], I was the only candidate that supported legalizing it. It's an important issue because it is an impediment in Pennsylvania to the tune of over 20,000 arrests [each year]. We fill [Penn State’s] Beaver Stadium every five years with the number of stupid weed arrests in Pennsylvania. It just doesn't make any sense. We (Pennsylvania) just sold $120 million of medical marijuana in April. Think about that number. So can you imagine how gigantic the recreational market would be in Pennsylvania? Can you imagine the revenue that it would generate, the jobs that it would generate? Like I said, 20,000 fewer stupid arrests.

ZM: And that just leads to the war on drugs, which you're certainly a critic of as well. How would you sum up the war on drugs if you had to put it lightly?

JF: An absolute failure of the highest order that has wasted trillions of dollars and harmed billions of lives and not made us any safer or sound, and it just needs to end. I don't understand why there are people that, despite all evidence to the contrary, still try to carry that flag. I don't understand it.

ZM: One thing we hear from those in the cannabis industry is there seems to be some discontent that, as the industry becomes more mainstream, there are a lot of minorities in jail for marijuana while there are a lot of white executives profiting off this industry. How do we fix that?

JF: There shouldn't be anybody in prison for non-violent marijuana crimes, period. That's a blanket statement. And no one should have a permanent criminal record as a result of that either. That’s for starters. Addressing equity issues, in terms of who's in this space, that's critical, too. I tweeted about this the other day: In Arizona, if you're growing 12 plants at home, you're puttering in your garden. If that's in Pennsylvania, you are going to probably go to prison if you're caught. How can that be? How can we allow that to continue? It’s absurd.

ZM: I want to touch on the revenue and the jobs aspect and how it can also help farmers throughout Pennsylvania and the country, many of whom who have been hit hard over the last year-and-a-half.

JF: I haven't met a farmer that wouldn't love another cash crop. With jobs, if you're all about capitalism and the private sector, well, these jobs don't need any subsidizing. They are all guaranteed to be well above that $15/hour threshold. All you have to do is just say yes to a plant. That’s it: yes to a plant. There is not one single state or one single country that has taken the plunge and it has not gone exactly as advocates would have hoped. Like I said, Canada has managed to do pretty darn well throughout all of this. They haven't slid into anarchy.

ZM: Certainly the conversation around cannabis has changed a lot just in the past five years and even more so over the past 10 or 20 years. Looking ahead to the rest of this decade here, where do you kind of see the cannabis industry and its relation to America as a whole come 2025 or 2030 even?

JF: I think it's going to become normalized in the same vein as marriage equality. Remember when marriage equality was going to spin us off our axis and traditional marriage would be destroyed? Now we have marriage equality and they're actually some of the best examples of what marriage is. If somebody making somebody afraid of something is the best argument you have, then you've already lost that argument.