Democrats Renew Push for Biden to Decriminalize Weed, an Idea Pennsylvanians Overwhelmingly Support

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: A woman walks with a sign supporting legalizing marijuana during the Democratic National Convention (DNC) on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The convention officially began on Monday and has attracted thousands of protesters, members of the media and Democratic delegates to the City of Brotherly Love. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

By Keya Vakil

August 31, 2022

Decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana is overwhelmingly popular with Pennsylvania residents of all political affiliations, as 69% of voters in the state support legalizing cannabis, according to the polling firm Civiqs.

Most Pennsylvanians want legal weed and so do seven in 10 Americans. It’s about as popular an idea as exists in modern politics, with majorities of virtually every demographic supporting legalization. 

Now, Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee for Senate, John Fetterman, is making a renewed push for President Joe Biden to decriminalize marijuana, which would mark a major first step towards legalization. 

Fetterman, the state’s incumbent Lt. Governor, called on Biden this week to use his executive power to decriminalize marijuana.

“It’s long past time that we finally decriminalize marijuana,” Fetterman said in a statement. “The President needs to use his executive authority to begin descheduling marijuana.”

Fetterman’s comments come as several other Democrats have also pushed Biden to decriminalize marijuana in recent months.

Under a 1970 law, marijuana—which is exponentially safer than alcohol and has led to zero documented overdoses—is illegal on the national level and is categorized as a “Schedule I drug,” in the same grouping as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Under the federal government’s drug policy, cannabis is considered more dangerous than cocaine and methamphetamine, which were linked to the deaths of more than 57,000 Americans last year alone.

The federal government’s criminalization of cannabis as part of the failed “War on Drugs” has disproportionately devastated Black people, who are incarcerated for drug crimes at a rate 10 times greater than white people, even though they use drugs at roughly the same rates. 

Rather than combat drug overdoses and save lives, the government’s war on drugs has instead devastated millions of American families while leading to a 500% increase in America’s prison population since 1970. There are now more than 2 million Americans in jail and prison—the highest rate of incarceration in the world—and overdose rates have actually grown exponentially since 1970.

Since 2021, legislators in the state House and state Senate have introduced three bills proposing the legalization of adult-use marijuana in Pennsylvania. All the bills still sit in committees.

Marijuana is fully legal for recreational use in 19 states—including New Jersey and New York—and Washington D.C., and legal for medicinal use in 18 additional states, including Pennsylvania. But cannabis technically remains illegal at the national level, which has created headaches for states and cannabis dispensaries and has allowed federal prosecution of cannabis offenders to continue.

Decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana is overwhelmingly popular with Pennsylvanians of all political affiliations, as 69% of voters in the commonwealth support legalizing cannabis, according to the polling firm Civiqs.

Biden, who had campaigned on a promise to decriminalize marijuana, has not yet taken significant action on the issue. In comments made last month, Biden said he plans to follow through on a pledge to release people who were imprisoned over non-violent federal marijuana offenses. He also added that he does not believe Americans should be locked up for using cannabis and that he was working on a “crime bill,” though it’s unclear what legislation he was referring to.

House Democrats passed a bill earlier this year to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and expunge cannabis-related criminal records. Only three House Republicans (none of them from Pennsylvania) voted for the bill, which has not yet received a vote in the Senate, where it is likely to be blocked by Republicans.


  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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