Kellen Stepler | staff writer
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Gov. Tom Wolf launched a statewide “listening tour” to discuss the possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana on Jan. 24. Fetterman plans on visiting all 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties to hear citizens’ opinions.
Fetterman, the former mayor of Braddock, was sworn in as on Jan. 15.
“[Fetterman’s] efforts will help ensure we are looking at this issue from all perspectives and from every corner of Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in a press release.
Wolf’s stance on the topic of legalized recreational marijuana has shifted. Previously, Wolf told KDKA that, “I don’t think Pennsylvania’s actually ready for recreational marijuana.”
In December 2018, Wolf said in a tweet that it is “time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at recreational marijuana.”
“We want to make sure all Pennsylvanians have a say,” said Fetterman.
There is an online form Pennsylvanians can fill out to state their opinion on the issue if they are unable to attend the town-hall style meetings in person.
He has visited 52 counties so far, but it hasn’t been without controversy.
Fetterman invites all state reps and other elected officials to attend these meetings, but some state reps have called the tour a “sham,” while others agree with Fetterman’s idea.
John Hershey, Rob Kauffman, Paul Schemel and Jesse Topper, the GOP state reps that make up the Franklin County delegation, are boycotting the Franklin County stop, scheduled for May 2.
“We believe this tour is a sham and we decline to be a part of it,” they said in a joint press statement.
Schemel agrees that the tour is not evidence based, and believes the tour is a bad idea.
“Rather than a listening tour of people who have opinions, but maybe not evidence, why not a genuine investigation by an independent commission which issues a truly independent report,” Schemel said.
Schemel and Kauffman note Fetterman’s background regarding marijuana.
“Lt. Gov Fetterman is a marijuana legalization advocate and an admitted user. Citizens know this. So thus far, this tour has simply been a cheerleading session in every county for marijuana legalization,” Kauffman said.
“The Lt. Gov has already stated his support for legalizing marijuana, he is not looking to be convinced of anything. This tour is just about giving the appearance of strong support from the public, nothing more and nothing less,” Schemel said.
Schemel also asked if citizens know that Fetterman is a “staunch advocate” for marijuana legalization, then why would those who oppose it show up, because the official is already convinced of his own opinion.
“Ever wonder why the Lt. Gov’s meetings seem to show such enthusiastic support? It’s because supporters are primarily the ones who attend,” Schemel said.
Kauffman thinks that there is a political motive behind Fetterman’s tour, and that the tour is to build momentum to try to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania.
“Does the Lt. Gov allow opposing viewpoints to speak? Yes, of course he does. But he and the advocacy community make certain that the marijuana opposition appears to be a minority viewpoint,” said Kauffman.
Topper, Schemel and Kauffman all plan to boycott the Franklin County stop, but Hershey, who serves Juniata, Mifflin and Franklin counties, attended the earlier stop in Juniata County on Feb. 24. It was reported in Juniata County that about 100 people attended, and the majority was in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
The press release from the Franklin County delegation states, “We recognize this event for what it is: cover to push an agenda of legalizing drugs. Rep. Hershey already experienced this firsthand when he attended a ‘listening’ tour in Juniata County at the lieutenant governor’s invitation.”
“Franklin County legislators have chosen to take a stand, to call [Fetterman] out on his disingenuous tour, and to boycott his marijuana tour,” Kauffman said.
Not all state reps feel this way, however. Jim Rigby, who serves Cambria County, attended
Fetterman’s Feb. 26th tour stop at Penn Highlands Community College. Rigby, who is a Republican, went with his counterpart Frank Burns, who is a Democrat. Rigby was impressed with how Fetterman conducted the 90-minute meeting.
Rigby said that Fetterman did not answer any questions and listened to speakers’ thoughts.
Rigby thinks the tour is a good idea, whether someone is for or against legalized recreational marijuana. He encourages people to go in with an open mind.
A 2017 Franklin & Marshall poll found that 56% of registered voters in Pennsylvania would support legalizing recreational marijuana.
Out of 52 counties visited, Fetterman has tweeted that almost while both pro and con sides are represented at meetings, the majority of PA counties are for the legalization of recreational marijuana.