Fetterman’s primary landslide puts others on notice: Weed wins

Published on May 18, 2022
Fetterman's outspoken advocacy for marijuana legalization scared fellow Democrats. It didn't scare Democratic voters, though.

The Haymaker is Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott’s opinion column on cannabis politics and culture.

Last night’s Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania wasn’t an election. It was an ass kicking. A pasting. A posterizing slam dunk. And cannabis legalization played a major role.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a political outsider with near-zero backing from the Democratic Party establishment, trounced Rep. Conor Lamb, a sitting Congress member with bushels of institutional endorsements, by a final score of 59% to 26.5%.

Lamb couldn’t even reach half of Fetterman’s vote total.

Trounced the establishment Democrat

The Democratic Party’s status-quo moderates went to bed shocked and appalled last night. Lamb was their fair-haired boy, a Marine and former federal prosecutor who looks like he stepped straight out of the spring Brooks Brothers catalog. He reassures every billionaire and CEO in America. He threatens no apple cart with upset. He is a walking cup of weak tea.

Fetterman is a different cat.

He’s a large man. Fetterman stands six-foot-eight with a gleaming bald head and rough beard. He likes to wear shorts and hoodies to work. If politics doesn’t work out for him, he may have a bright future in professional wrestling.

But his appeal isn’t merely visual. He’s a guy who says what he means and means what he says.

How a 6-foot-8 steel-town mayor became 2020’s unlikely legalization rock star

Straight talk, no-apologies advocacy

Fetterman earned his chops as the three-term mayor of Braddock, PA. As David Bienenstock wrote in a 2020 Leafly profile: “By focusing on developing youth programs, attracting artists and creatives, renovating old buildings in eco-friendly ways, and investing in community programs and outreach, Fetterman turned Braddock into a lively town on the rise.”

He claimed the lieutenant governor’s office in a 2018 upset, and proceeded to spend the past four years defending, without apology, workers rights, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ progress, and cannabis legalization. He proudly flew the rainbow standard and a cannabis leaf flag from the balcony of his office in the capitol building.

Pennsylvania voters want legalization

Look, this isn’t a secret. A Pennsylvania poll last year found 58% of adults supported adult-use legalization. Only 26% opposed the idea.

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And yet so many of Fetterman’s fellow Democrats—the leaders, at least—refuse to believe the evidence set before them. Starting with the Democrat-in-Chief.

In an interview with Bienenstock, Fetterman described Joe Biden’s “decrim only” marijuana position as “cowardly.”

“It was cowardly,” Fetterman added. “You gotta call it what it is. Here’s a hard incontrovertible fact. When it comes to weed, the Democratic Party’s platform was to the right of South Dakota’s voters. Which is absurd. Because if you are to the right of South Dakota on anything, you need to sit down and reevaluate your life. It was cowardly before the election, and now it’s straight-up embarrassing.”

Straight talk like that won the election for John Fetterman last night.

The cowardly position is an election loser

In the months leading up to the primary, Fetterman’s opponent Conor Lamb worried and squirmed around legalization—even as thousands of Pennsylvanians continued to be needlessly arrested for cannabis every year. Like so many fearful Democrats, he retreated to the cowardly Biden position. Let’s “decline to prosecute people for possession,” he mumbled in his official policy brief.

That’s interesting, because the US Senate plays no role in the decision to prosecute people for marijuana. The US Senate does, however, cast votes on maintaining or ending the federal prohibition of marijuana. The House-passed MORE Act awaits Senate action as we speak. Conor Lamb? He’d be a “no.”

Last night the Democratic voters of Pennsylvania said, loudly, fuck that noise. Push progress forward, stand up for what’s right and fight for us—or get the hell out of the way.

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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