Fetterman calls on Biden to decriminalize marijuana

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the state’s Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, added his voice to those calling on President Biden to decriminalize marijuana.

“It’s long past time that we finally decriminalize marijuana,” Fetterman said in a statement on Monday. “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 Pennslyvanians overwhelmingly support decriminalizing marijuana.”

A Fetterman spokesman said the lieutenant governor planned to talk Biden about the issue when the president visits Pittsburgh on Labor Day. Fetterman has made weed legalization a plank of his Senate platform.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman. (Quinn Glabicki/Reuters) (REUTERS)

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about Fetterman’s comments during Monday’s briefing with reporters and said the administration had nothing to announce regarding executive action on marijuana. She did note, however, that Biden had commuted 75 sentences and granted three pardons in April.

“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,” Jean-Pierre said.

When asked later in the briefing about using executive action to reschedule marijuana — which currently has the same classification as heroin — Jean-Pierre reiterated that the White House had nothing new to announce. When asked if Biden had the authority to reclassify marijuana, Jean-Pierre declined to answer, saying the administration “had made progress on its promises regarding marijuana” and pointed to licenses being issued for companies to cultivate marijuana for research purposes.

The White House’s reluctance to make major moves on marijuana policy has been a point of frustration for many Democratic politicians and activists, and Biden continues to oppose full legalization. In July, six Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, sent the administration a letter calling on the administration to increase efforts to reclassify marijuana so it would no longer be considered a Schedule I controlled substance.

Joe Biden
President Biden on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday. (Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg via Getty Images) (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“The Administration’s failure to coordinate a timely review of its cannabis policy is harming thousands of Americans, slowing research, and depriving Americans of their ability to use marijuana for medical or other purposes,” the senators wrote. “We ask that the Biden Administration act quickly to rectify this decade-long injustice harming individuals, especially Black and Brown communities.”

The cause of reclassifying marijuana has also been important to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who introduced a plan to decriminalize the drug earlier this year. Marijuana is currently legal for recreational use in 19 states plus the District of Columbia. With tens of millions of Americans now living in areas where recreational marijuana is legal for adults, the contrast between federal and state law is becoming increasingly stark, as some companies make millions on the drug while other Americans sit in prison for cannabis-related crimes.

Recent polling shows that roughly two-thirds of Americans support marijuana legalization, with a Pew Research survey released in June showing nearly nine out of 10 Black Americans supporting legalization of some sort (57% said the drug should be legal for both medical and recreational use, while 28% said it should be legal only for medical use). Advocates for legalization also point to the racial disparity in arrests tied to cannabis, as outlined in a 2020 report from the American Civil Liberties Union. For the first time in the history of Gallup polling, more Americans say they now smoke marijuana than tobacco. Supporters of reform are hoping that Biden — who has seen positive movement in his poll numbers in recent weeks — will take action on the issue.