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Fetterman weed

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a progressive Democrat running for the U.S. Senate, holds a pro-marijuana flag reading "Don't Tread on Weed" while draped in a Progress Pride flag, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg in this photo published on his Facebook page on March 17, 2021. (Photo: John Fetterman/Facebook)

Fetterman Calls Biden Marijuana Pardons and Reforms a 'BFD'

"Too many lives—and lives of Black and Brown Americans in particular—have been derailed by this criminalization of this plant," the progressive Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and Pennsylvania asserted.

Brett Wilkins

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate, joined other progressive congressional candidates and members of Congress Thursday in hailing President Joe Biden's pardon for all people convicted for federal simple federal marijuana possession.

"I don't want to hear any bullshit from Dr. Oz or any Republican conflating decriminalizing marijuana with seriously harmful crime."

"This is a BFD and a massive step towards justice," Fetterman said in a statement responding to the president's pardon and directive for U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to "initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law."

Becerra answered Biden's request at precisely 4:20 pm, saying he "is looking forward" to answering the president's call to action.

"When I heard President Biden would be in Pittsburgh a month ago, I knew that if I had a chance to sit down with him, I would use that opportunity to talk about the need to decriminalize marijuana," said Fetterman. "And that's exactly what I did."

"People's lives should not be derailed because of minor, nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. That's common sense," Fetterman asserted, adding that "too many lives—and lives of Black and Brown Americans in particular—have been derailed by this criminalization of this plant."

Referring to Dr. Mehmet Oz, his Republican opponent in the Senate race, Fetterman said, "I don't want to hear any bullshit from Dr. Oz or any Republican conflating decriminalizing marijuana with seriously harmful crime."

Oz—who as recently as 2020 said that "we ought to completely change our policy on marijuana," which he called "one of the most underused tools in America"—on Thursday attacked Fetterman via campaign communications director Brittany Yannick, who claimed the Democrat "wants to go even further than Biden. He'd decriminalize hard drugs like fentanyl and crystal meth that are literally killing Pennsylvanians."

While Fetterman formerly favored decriminalizing possession of small amounts of all illicit drugs—as Oregonians voted to do in 2020—he has since narrowed his support for the policy.

"As mayor of Braddock, I worked to combat serious crime. I know what it looks like," he said. "And I know that marijuana just doesn't fit the bill."

"More than 350,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related offenses in 2020," Fetterman noted. "The resources to make those arrests should be going towards combating serious crime—and now they will. This decision will make Americans safer."

As chair of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, Fetterman has encouraged people with nonviolent marijuana convictions to apply for expedited pardons.

Other progressive candidates for U.S. Congress also cheered Biden's announcement, while asserting that the president's move must be just the first step toward eventual decriminalization and, ultimately, legalization of a plant whose use is legal for either recreational or medical purposes in a vast majority of states.

"Happy 4:20," tweeted Summer Lee, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives who is the Democratic nominee to represent the commonwealth's 12th Congressional District in the U.S. House.

"This is a massive step to not only recognize the harm the War on Drugs has done to so many [Black and Brown] folks, but actually pardon so many [people] who were unjustly convicted on marijuana charges," she added. "Next, legalize it nationwide and expunge all records."

Lee tempered her praise by arguing that Biden's action "misses the mark for many Black folks impacted by drug convictions," and illustrates "why we need comprehensive drug reform."

Democrats in Congress—many of whom have long advocated pardoning nonviolent cannabis offenders—also applauded Biden's announcement, with the Congressional Progressive Caucus declaring that "the ongoing federal prohibition of marijuana is a vestige of the failed, racist War on Drugs that targeted and devastated Black and Brown communities."

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) called the president's move "a monumental decision" and "a massive step towards reducing mass incarceration."

Polling in March by Data for Progress showed that 73% of U.S. voters—including 82% of Democrats, 75% of Independents, and 62% of Republicans—support expunging nonviolent marijuana convictions. Just 22% of survey respondents opposed the policy.

The same survey found that 70% of voters backed legalizing marijuana at the federal level, with support strongest among Democrats (78%). A majority, 58%, of Republican respondents also said they favored legalization.

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