We spoke with the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, John Fetterman, on legalizing cannabis, and why we should in fact be calling it weed. Since recording this interview, John Fetterman has announced a campaign for the open United States Senate seat in Pennsylvania for 2022. You can find more information bout him and his campaign on his website.
For more of Appodlachia’s discussion on weed, check out our interview with Jim Higdon of Cornbread Hemp.
Chuck Corra: I want to start by talking about your statewide tour – you visited all 67 counties in Pennsylvania in 2019 on a recreational marijuana listening tour. I’m curious what ultimately prompted you to do that and what was your takeaway from people you talk to in places outside of the major Metro areas?
Statewide marijuana tour of Pennsylvania
John Fetterman: The reason why I decided to do it is that this was a conversation that everybody wanted to have. It was by far the most engaged public policy discussion that Pennsylvania has ever had. We had tens of thousands of people come out for these meetings.
We had 80,000 comments and things submitted online. Just the level of engagement – it’s unprecedented for any other public policy topic here in Pennsylvania. I went to all 67 counties because every one of those counties matters and the people that live there matter too. So often their voices are ignored or marginalized and I wanted to make sure that they were very much part of this conversation. And what they told me is that they want this. They don’t understand why it’s such a big deal. And it affirmed to me what I’ve always said that. Marijuana weed is a bipartisan issue.
Big John: The big thing that Chuck and I always talk about is the economic benefit of cannabis legalization, especially in Appalachia. So I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what it would mean for Pennsylvania to legalize – what would it mean for the average person in Pennsylvania?
What legalization means to the average Pennsylvanian
John Fetterman: It would mean that 20,000 fewer of us would be criminally charged for using a plant every year in Pennsylvania – that we could free tens of tens of thousands of people from a criminal record, that in the past were charged with this nonsense, just some stupid weed conviction.
It would mean a cash crop for our farmers, billions in long-term revenue for our Commonwealth – which could be used to invest in a lot of these smaller counties that are definitely under-invested in and it would mean tens of thousands of new jobs that don’t require a nickel of subsidy. It would give young people another reason to stay in Pennsylvania, to invest in Pennsylvania and put down roots.
“If you’re pro-Jack Daniels, then you gotta be pro-weed.” -Lt. Gov John Fetterman
Prohibition just is utterly indefensible. If you are pro-Jack Daniels, then you gotta be pro-weed because I could hit a big fat one and just be like super chill and maybe eat too many Doritos but a little bottle of Jack could destroy your life.
This idea that we criminalize a plant is absurd. I use CBD lotion on the regular, it’s remarkable.
Chuck Corra: Absolutely. I completely agree. From an economic standpoint and a social justice standpoint, it’s a slam dunk. It’s a moneymaker for states and a big job creator.
John Fetterman: Grand slam across the board. Very related – Pennsylvania is the number one producer of mushrooms in the world and we are also criminalizing a mushroom that has already demonstrated enormous potential for mental wellbeing and micro-dosing.
It’s what you get if you marry agriculture and revolutionary new wellness and decriminalizing plants that you could grow next to your tomatoes and turn it into something that benefits us economically from a freedom standpoint, from a justice standpoint, from a revenue standpoint – it’s free money. Not legalizing it is saying “no, don’t want $5 billion in free money over the next 20 years.”
Political barriers to legalization in Pennsylvania
Chuck Corra: What are the current political barriers to that happening in Pennsylvania right now?
John Fetterman: Key members of the Republican party in the state legislature. That’s it.
Chuck Corra: What is their reason?
John Fetterman: I honestly don’t know. They don’t really articulate it in any kind of a way that I could discern. They keep saying “we have bigger things to talk about the legal weed,” well, there sure are a lot of conservative states that are talking about legal weed and voting for it.
If you’re to the right of South Dakota on anything. I think that should tell you that you need to revisit some of these things. You don’t have to love weed to acknowledge that it should be legal, just the same way I don’t consume tobacco at any level and never have.
Pressure from neighboring states legalizing weed
Chuck Corra: Your neighboring state of New Jersey legalized it last month. Does that create any more pressure ?
John Fetterman: Huge. And now New York is too. Then we’re also going to have Canada and Mexico. Like, we’re the filling in a weed sandwich geographically. All these states, it’s just a matter of time. I know I’m right about it. It’s a matter of how long it takes the legislature to acknowledge it. It’s so much harder to support prohibition than to just say they’ve evolved on weed. Let’s just figure this out together.
Big John: You hinted at it earlier about the two, you talked about the number of 20,000 and number of Pennsylvania arrested due to cannabis-related arrests.
What does legalization mean for the social justice part of the cannabis movement? Because I think a lot of people talk about finances, but they forget about that part.
Legalization and social justice in Pennsylvania
John Fetterman: This idea that your record could be damaged because of some stupid weed conviction 20 years ago is absurd and that’s not justice – that’s perpetual punishment. It stops you from volunteering at your kid’s school, it stops you from getting a better job or getting a clearance or a license that you need professionally. It’s punitive and it’s very much a jobs issue as far as I’m concerned.
Big John: We have a number of listeners in Pennsylvania. Do you have any suggestions for what they should be doing to help change the legislature’s mind?
“Prohibition of [weed] is the fringe perspective.” -Lt. Gov. John Fetterman
John Fetterman: Keep calling their state rep or state senator with “legal weed for Pennsylvania!” And do it respectfully. It’s not a secret that most people want this and the ones that don’t are a minority fringe perspective. Prohibition of it is the fringe perspective. The reefer madness notion is the fringe perspective.
Trying to make the argument on the very real, legitimate, factual basis that we have right now.
2020 Election in Pennsylvania
Big John: The big thing going on in Pennsylvania right now is the election. So obviously it looks like Donald Trump has lost in Pennsylvania. You’ve been very vocal about what’s been going on.
John Fetterman: No, I’ve been very truthful
Big John: Right.
John Fetterman: The idea that it’s a dispute is what’s so disingenuous. You wouldn’t have a podcast where we argue every week “one plus one equals three” because factually that’s not true. So, to say there was voter fraud is just factually not true. I don’t like the fact that I lost my hair, but I’m not going to argue “No I didn’t! it’s there. You just can’t see it.”
There are outcomes in life where we do not like them, but that does allow us to question them. When you are actively damaging the American franchise that underpins our society, that’s yelling fire in a crowded theater when there isn’t.
Big John: And the reason I wanted to bring it up too, is because we just talked about how some of the members on the Republican side in Pennsylvania have been holding up cannabis legislation. This type of stuff worries me in the sense of in the future, do we become more of a divided. Party versus party, especially now we’re disputing whether or not elections have actually been won.
Divisiveness among parties
John Fetterman: The truth always prevails and the Republicans know the truth about the election. I understand there’s a strong need to cater to the snake-handling weird fringe of their party because that’s very much real.
The same people that think 270,000 dead Americans through COVID is a hoax are willing to believe that 430,000 dead people voted for Joe Biden using dominion. It’s this odd intersection that is utterly illogical at every juncture.
Do you want to know who the biggest winner in the election and 2020 was? Weed. South Dakota, Montana, New Jersey Mississippi, up until a month ago ahead, the Confederate flag was in their state flag and they just voted for medical marijuana. This is not fringe stuff here.
“Do you know who the biggest winner in the 2020 election was? Weed.”
How long is it going to take for West Virginia to come around? You have an older population than medical can do wonders for. And that has changed the hearts and minds of people too. Everyone knows the truth about marijuana. Everyone understands that weed does not belong in the same category as meth. The fact that its schedule 1 is reefer madness that is rooted in racism and a sense of, “we got to find something to be against because we can’t be against alcohol.”
Democrats winning rural
Chuck Corra: What are some things that you would give advice to other Democrats running and rural parts of the country to really appeal to people and get past the negative stigmas attached to having a D next year’s name?
John Fetterman: I wouldn’t give any Democrat advice.
Run the race that you want to run, because there’d be plenty of Democrats that would say to you don’t run. Each person represents their respective district to the best of their respective ability. They must have some validity to carry that flag if they were democratically elected. I’m not going to be in the business of saying “if you do this, or you do that, or it’s your fault, or it’s not, or whatever.” I trust you to articulate a vision for your district and its citizens. And I think there are universal themes, but at the end of the day, I’m not in the advice-giving business I’m in the tell it the way I see it business.
Big John: I think that’s probably why you’re one of the more respected politicians, especially out there. We like that and that’s what we want to see.
John Fetterman: The truth ultimately wins, whether you do or not. I’m not going to run on something that I fundamentally know or believe is a lie or it’s not true. If one of my positions is enough to keep you from voting for me, then I’d rather have where I stand than try to pretend that I’m something that I’m not.
“The truth ultimately wins, whether you do or not.”
Big John: We certainly admire that.
Calling it weed instead of cannabis
John Fetterman: Let me just say this. It seems you are conscientiously referring to cannabis over and over again. And I will continue to always refer to it as weed because there are a lot of people that don’t know what cannabis is or they are unsure. Look, I’m aware of the racist, original origin story of marijuana. I call it what most everybody I know and ever calls it, weed. It keeps it simple for people.
I think that’s the most important part of messaging is just keeping things as simple and impactful as they can.
Anyone can say “well, it’s cannabis.” Well, a Kleenex is also a “paper-based facial tissue” but you don’t call it a paper-based facial tissue, you call it a Kleenex. People need to understand what we’re talking about.
I don’t know anyone that would call up their dealer and say, “I’d like to purchase some cannabis from you today.”
Big John: I’m with you. I wish people in the industry spoke like that.
John Fetterman: And I’m going to be that guy.
“You don’t call a beer a ‘fermented malt beverage’ – you call it a beer…”
You don’t call a beer, a fermented malt beverage – it’s a beer or a brew. It de-mystifies it. If you’re a 68-year-old retired dude from Clarion County and you hear “cannabis”, you probably think “what the hell is cannabis?” Running headfirst into this debate. I think it’s important that we use accessible authentic language universally used by anyone in that space.
Chuck Corra: I think you make a great point and it’s safe to say that from now on, we are going to be referring to it as weed 100% from now on.
John Fetterman: I understand that it’s technically cannabis, but for me, it’s going to be weed because we need legal weed in PA. It would be weird for me to say I’d like to legalize cannabis. We, as humans, linguistically say things like Kleenex or GrubHub or whatever when something becomes shorthand for what it is instead of trying to articulate it down to the minutia.
I want to be clear, I wasn’t critical of your use of cannabis.
Chuck Corra: I appreciate that and I think it’s helpful to us because one of our goals with this is to help people understand this issue better and get on board with it.
“We are adults and we should be able to use these substances in a safe, legal, tax-regulated manner in the comfort and safety of our own homes.”
John Fetterman: Supporting legal weed doesn’t mean that you’re going to smoke legal weed. It doesn’t mean you love legal. I don’t consume Jack Daniels really, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the right to do it safely.
it just means that we are all adults and we should be able to use these substances in a safe, legal tax-regulated manner in the comfort and safety of our own homes.
Big John: Lieutenant governor, we really do appreciate the time. It means a lot to us to have you on it’s a really big deal for us.
So we really do appreciate
John Fetterman: You’re too kind to say that, and I don’t agree with that. Thank you. I thank you for, thank you so much. See ya.