John Fetterman does not want to hear “any bull****” from his Republican opponent Mehmet Oz about his support for decriminalising cannabis, or any attempts from the TV doctor-turned-GOP candidate to conflate weed “with seriously harmful crime”.
Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee for US Senate has pressed Joe Biden’s administration to decriminalise cannabis ahead of the president’s planned trip to Pittsburgh on Labor Day, saying in a message from his campaign that it is “long past time” to remove cannabis from the federal government’s most-restricted categories of drugs, alongside heroin and LSD.
“The president needs to use his executive authority to begin descheduling marijuana,” he said in a statement on 29 August. “I would love to see him do this prior to his visit to Pittsburgh. This is just common sense and Pennslyvanians overwhelmingly support decriminalising marijuana.”
A statement from Mr Fetterman’s campaign communications director also suggests he plans to speak with the president personally about the issue during his visit.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday that the president supports leaving weed legalisation up to the states, moving cannabis to a list of schedule II drugs to make it easier for researchers to study, and expunging possession charges from criminal records, but “we don’t have anything to announce today at this point” about the administration’s next steps.
In April, the president granted clemency to more than 70 people convicted of cannabis-related crimes, and he told reporters in June that he does not believe “anyone should be in prison” for cannabis use.
More than a dozen states have legalised recreational cannabis, and more than half of US states have decriminalised its use in some form within the last decade. Five states passed such legislation in 2021.
But cannabis remains on a federal list of controlled substances, which places drugs into five “schedules”, with weed on the most-restricted schedule alongside drugs with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”.
Self-reported weed use has surged within the last half-century; only 4 per cent of Americans said they tried it in 1969, when Gallup first posed the question. That figure is now at 48 per cent.
More than two-thirds of Americans support its legalisation, including half of Republicans, 71 per cent of independents, and 83 per cent of Democrats, according to Gallup.
That month, another group of senators wrote a letter to members of the Biden administration and US Department of Justice to use executive authority to deschedule cannabis and pardon non-violent cannabis-related offenders.
“We commend the administration’s recent pardons and commutations of 78 people, including nine with non-violent cannabis related offenses,” they wrote. “However, much more has to be done to address the racist and harmful legacy of cannabis policies on Black and Brown communities.”
Dr Oz, meanwhile, is among Republican figures who oppose legalisation, and has repeatedly attacked Mr Fetterman’s support as “crazy” and “radical” despite widespread support among most Americans. The Republican National Committee has characterised his support for broad decriminalisation as “woke drug policy”.
In 2020, Dr Oz said the US should “completely change our policy on marijuana” and “ought to be used more widely and we can’t even study it that easily because of the way it’s regulated” – a policy that the Biden administration also supports.
The Oz campaign has also sought to portray Mr Fetterman as dangerously soft on crime. Meanwhile, with federal law enforcement largely unfocused on cannabis, the war on drugs – from how weed use is policed to the sentences handed down in court – is largely left up to state and local governments, with disproportionate application against Black Americans.
“I don't want to hear any bull**** coming out of Dr. Oz's campaign trying to conflate decriminalizing marijuana with seriously harmful crime,” Mr Fetterman said in his campaign statement.
“Are we supposed to believe that neither he nor any members of his staff have ever used marijuana?” he added. “As mayor of Braddock, I made it my mission to combat serious crime. I know firsthand what real crime looks like. Marjiuana does not fit the bill. It’s time to end the hypocrisy on this issue once and for all.”
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