On this week’s podcast, we talk to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman about his signature issue of cannabis reform in Pennsylvania and what kind of effect legal recreational marijuana would have on the hemp industry in the state.
The hemp program is not without its challenges, most notably, the arbitrary THC limits that force farmers to skirt the edge of criminality through no fault of their own, something which Fetterman describes as simple "Reefer Madness," a reference to the federal government’s propaganda campaign in the 1930s that did much to turn public sentiment against the cannabis plant, which had until that time many uses in society, from fiber to rope to medicine.
“Whether you're with me politically or not, we should have one thing absolutely in common and that’s the government should be out of your business on how much THC is in your hemp, and we should never be criminalizing what could be just simple, random errors in nature and the fact that you would just have to destroy a crop and waste that is, like I said, reefer madness,” Fetterman said.
How would legal recreational marijuana affect the hemp industry?
“I think they're going to complement each other, because, as you know, hemp has a lot of other uses too. We've legalized hemp and medical marijuana, has the world spun off its axis because of that?” he said.
But there is opposition in the state House to any sort of cannabis reform. Does the opposition present a well-reasoned, fact-based argument? Fetterman says it’s just plain party politics, but he says that hemp and cannabis are bipartisan issues that can benefit Pennsylvania and could create billions of dollars in revenue.
“You don't have to agree with me politically across the board, you know, what I am saying though is: be open to this idea that this is a whole brand-new industry and it could be a cash crop for Pennsylvania’s farmers in a way that, you know, would only come along once every generation or two, and why would we want to turn our backs on that?”
He says Pennsylvania hemp farmers should get first option for recreational cannabis growing licenses. “Agriculture is Pennsylvania’s number one and most important industry, and any cannabis bill should be ag-centered in Pennsylvania, because Pennsylvania farmers take care of us and we need to make sure we take care of them,’ he said.
Read a lightly edited transcript of the entire conversation below.
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Read a transcript of this interview below:
Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, welcome to the Lancaster Farming Industrial Hemp Podcast.
Hey, thanks for having me; it's a pleasure to be here.
Absolutely. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk about hemp with me.
Yeah, of course, I’m delighted and you know, this is exciting for me because I get a chance to reach a segment of our audience that I may not necessarily get the chance to, so I’m truly delighted to be here.
Well, these are rather exciting times in Pennsylvania and I’m sure you're very proud of the role that our state played in this presidential election, but it looks like it's not over yet, so before we get into talking about hemp, how do you think this is going to go in the next couple of months, like transition-of-power-wise?
Well, I hope it goes smoothly. I’m well aware that there's going to be some of your listeners that are unhappy with the results, and then there'll be some of your listeners that are happy with the result.
But I would hope that we could all just kind of understand that in 2016 those roles were reversed. And in 2020, you know, they are what they are. And I think we all need to kind of come together and acknowledge that, while we can we can be disagreeable, but on some issues we very much are Americans. And we have this crisis of the coronavirus that we have to address, and we all need to come together and acknowledge that this election was conducted under the utmost transparency and these results were the same system that delivered the president's victory in 2016.
So you can't pick and choose which result that you like and don't like in terms of how valid it is.
Right. And we really don't need another crisis on our hands. We've had quite a few crises this year.
Yeah, I’d much rather talk about other things, because while it's fine to agree to disagree on certain things, you know, there is zero evidence of anything other than democracy at work in this last election.
All right, well, I’ve been covering hemp in the state for the past couple of years and you've been sort of the face and voice of legalized cannabis in the state for about the same amount of time, and while hemp and marijuana are a little different, they are essentially the same plant, so I think we've got a lot to talk about.
Well, let me just say, my personal affinity for hemp, I was on the front edge of using CBD for my own medicinal uses. I use it to help with sleep, and I also used it for anxiety too, and it made a world of difference for me too. I’m just such an enthusiast and believer, and just would point out the absurdity that this amazing plant was illegal for 80 years based on this idea of reefer madness, and it's so absurd, and it's been so destructive.
Well, it looks like we're on the edge of some cannabis reform. Let's start with New Jersey, so now that New Jersey has legalized adult use recreational cannabis, what sort of pressure does that put on Pennsylvania?
I mean let's be honest here, forty percent of our state's population is going to be essentially a drive-to-the-grocery-store away from as much legal weed as they want. And I think your listeners could grow better stuff than New Jersey’s. Or in New York, you know it's just a matter of time before New York goes too.
And this is my message to those that might be in a different political party than me — and I just can't emphasize this fact enough that marijuana, cannabis, weed — whatever you want to call it — is truly bipartisan.
And if you haven't been keeping up on the latest news, South Dakota voted to legalize it. So did Arizona. So did Montana. Mississippi just voted for medical marijuana. So this idea that it's a democrat (issue) or whatever, no it's a bipartisan issue.
And it's for our farmers. That's one of the reasons why I champion it the way I do. And it's for our veterans too, that's why I champion it so much.
All right, so I know there's opposition in our republican-controlled legislature to act on cannabis reform. Do you think this reluctance is based simply on party politics or are they presenting a well-reasoned, evidence-based argument?
Just politics and I don't understand it, yeah you know this is Lancaster, I actually I think Speaker Cutler is a good dude, you know, but I don't know for the life of me why he wouldn’t want to bring Pennsylvania to the forefront of this amazing plant and this amazing opportunity for Pennsylvania’s farmers, as well as criminal justice reform, and the freedom that that would provide, as well as the revenue that our state needs to make investments in Pennsylvania too.
I mean the amount of money that we're turning down is astonishing. You're talking five billion dollars over a 20-year window of free money.
Wow, yeah, so you're right, hemp is this non-partisan issue. It's got something for everybody: It’s good for farmers. Good for business. Good for local economies. Good for the environment. It’s good for restorative justice. But do you think a legal marijuana industry would jeopardize the bipartisan nature of the hemp industry? Like, how will legal weed affect the hemp industry?
I don't. I think they're going to complement each other, because, as you know, hemp has a lot of other uses too. We've legalized hemp and medical marijuana, has the world spun off its axis because of that? You know, have we been overtaken by reefer madness? It just it doesn't make any sense at all.
And I’ve been using CBD products as long as they've been legal, and I can tell you what it's done for me, and I can say the outrage that I feel that prohibitionists had made this plant some kind of forbidden fruit or the devil's tobacco or whatever – all this reefer madness nonsense – when you can actually see it, it's like no, actually it's none of that, but it's all these wonderful things.
Right. It’s just this sort of perfect plant, a gift from God if you will, that's been with us for hundreds of thousands of years.
I mean ask yourself this: how truly dangerous can a plant be if you can grow it next to your tomatoes? This is my point, it's bipartisan, and I would just say to your listeners, you don't have to agree with me politically across the board, you know, what I am saying though is: be open to this idea that this is a whole brand new industry and it could be a cash crop for Pennsylvania’s farmers in a way that, you know, would only come along once every generation or two, and why would we want to turn our backs on that? I don't understand it truly.
So I talk to a lot of hemp farmers and I hear about their issues with the hemp program, and there's still some weird stuff in there. There's that legal barrier between hemp and marijuana at 0.3 percent THC and if a hemp farmer's crop goes over that threshold even by like two tenths of a percent that farmer is then required to destroy the crop which of course is very costly for the farmer who most likely paid thousands of dollars for the seed.
It's outrageous. It is outrageous. Let me just unequivocally condemn that. It's outrageous and it's all reefer madness. Like oh my god, it's got, you know, too much THC or whatever. Outrageous. And that's my point, and if you look at where all of this originates from and where it comes from and what's left – it's just reefer madness.
If a farmer gets three of these violations they then face criminal charges. So farmers are being criminalized for being farmers, because the plant itself produces THC naturally, you know, often in response to environmental conditions like drought, things that the farmer has no control over, and then that THC can even be remediated in processing, so it seems like it's out of whack, out of balance to criminalize farmers.
It’s reefer madness.
So how do we get to THC irrelevancy at the farm level?
By acknowledging what this really is, that it's a plant. It's a plant, and you know, the government doesn't have any business micromanaging that at that level, and this idea that you can, you know, make your own wine or brew your own beer, you know? Why do we – Imagine criminalizing a farmer because a plant, you know, develops a little bit higher levels of a drug that has no known overdose deaths, you know, none, that wouldn't even fall into the hands of the those dope smoking hippies or whatever the reefer madness thing is, it's like it doesn't make any sense.
And that's my pitch to everybody, that if you stop and listen to anything that's coming out of that side, it all comes down to reefer madness. And let me just let say this: you don't have to love something or embrace something or use something to say that it should be legal. Like for example, I don't drink Jack Daniels on the regular, but I think you have a right to go to a store and buy it, you know?
I don't smoke cigarettes but I think you should have the right to go do it safely, legally, and have that be taxed and all that above, you know, this idea that legalization somehow implies that you're fine with it or you should use it – no, it doesn't mean that at all.
So let's say the cannabis legislation goes through and it passes, would Pennsylvania hemp farmers get first option for licensing, since they're the ones who really have been putting a lot of effort into learning how to grow this plant?
Agriculture is Pennsylvania’s number one and most important industry, and any cannabis bill should be ag-centered in Pennsylvania, you know, it should be, because Pennsylvania farmers take care of us and we need to make sure we take care of them.
And my whole point in all of this is why should that go to New Jersey or New York or any of these other states. It's like it should go to you all, you know? And that's and that's my message, where it's like look: whether you're with me politically or not, we should have one thing absolutely in common and that’s the government should be out of your business on how much THC is in your hemp, and we should never be criminalizing what could be just simple, random errors in nature and the fact that you would just have to destroy a crop and waste that is, like I said, reefer madness.
So the medical marijuana program in the state seems to be a game for the rich and well-connected. Would a recreational program be like that?
I certainly would hope not, you know? Like I said, I would want it to be ag-centered as well too.
Would that be run by the Department of Ag, because the Department of Health oversees the medical program, right?
I don't know. It’s all going to come down, and let me tell you, your republican leadership would have a lot of say over that because they're the ones, the few ones, that are standing in the way of evolving to common sense cannabis reform in Pennsylvania.
Last February, before the pandemic hit, I interviewed Representatives Russ Diamond and Margo Davis and they were forming a hemp caucus in the State House, and because like you said, it's a bipartisan issue, and I think everybody gets that, so we just have to get past that reefer madness part and make everybody see that cannabis reform in general is a bipartisan issue.
I agree with that. And that's why like people like Speaker Cutler, who represents parts of parts of Lancaster and whatever, it's like whatever we agree on politically or not, this should be one of them. You know? And it can benefit Pennsylvanians across the board. And as I said, it doesn't mean that you are going to go out and start you know smoking marijuana, or you love it, it just means like, I don't chew Copenhagen, for example, but you should have the right to, you know, or any of these other things that we can do. I don't personally go to casinos, but if you want to go blow off some steam and play some blackjack or roulette or whatever, that's your choice as an adult, and you think of the things that we can do in Pennsylvania legally and then you come up with, well marijuana, you're a criminal for the rest of your life, if you get if you get charged. You know? It doesn't make any sense to me.
Would you be open to forming an advisory committee of Pennsylvania farmers to help sort of guide how the legislation is crafted, like a steering committee?
Hell, yes. I went to all 67 Pennsylvania counties. Do you think I wouldn’t want to listen to farmers too? I mean like that's the whole point, and because the party that's obstructing this reform is the one that represents farmers far more disproportionately than ours, you know, like it's a lock that the farmers would have a big say in this. And they should.
No one's arguing that they shouldn’t, at least no one that I know of, you know? And that's the thing. Here, I’m just going to say this and I don't mean any offense to anybody, but if you're to the right of South Dakota on any issue, I would just respectfully say “Maybe we should just kind of take another look at things,” you know? South Dakota, arguably the most conservative state in the country, and it also has a rich agricultural history too, legalized marijuana this month, so you're telling me that Pennsylvania isn't ready for that conversation? And the farmers, I think are (ready for that conversation) too.
A lot of the buzz around hemp revolves around CBD and cannabinoid production but in my opinion, the great promise of the cannabis plant comes from fiber and grain production.
But we’re lacking that infrastructure in the state and the country to make large-scale fiber production economically viable, and there's still some limitations on the usage of hemp grain as a livestock feed. What can you do in your capacity as lieutenant governor to help develop the infrastructure and to get more Pennsylvania farmers growing hemp?
Let me just tell you this: the Heavens open up when a republican and a democrat can agree on a common set of facts, and that's what it's going to take.
I’m not going to lie to you and say something this or that, you know. How quickly did hemp get legal after (Mitch) McConnell finally said, “You know what, this is crazy, and this could be good.” And then all of a sudden, boom, it wasn't controversial anymore.
It wasn't, oh my god reefer madness, no, you know? And that's what it takes, you know, and like I said, I think Speaker Cutler is a good dude, you know, I’ve always said that, you know, and I don't ever make it a mandate that he agree with me or vice versa, but I know there's enough common ground where I hope we can all agree that this makes sense for Pennsylvania’s farmers, veterans, people that have these low-level convictions, people that just want to say, you know what, I don't want to have to drink, you know, four shots of something or half a bottle of wine to take the edge off; I just want to, you know, take (in some of) of Pennsylvania’s finest and then I’m good for the night or whatever, you know?
So it all comes down to reefer madness, and the second our parties can say, you know what, we agree on a set of basic facts, things happen and it all works out.
So you're looking for reefer sanity?
I’m looking for…that the world hasn't spun off its axis, and a lot of people are benefiting by hemp and the products that have come from it, and the fact that we as a nation have been deprived of that for the last 80 years, based on nothing other than reefer madness, enrages me, quite frankly.
And again I have a libertarian streak, you know, as a democrat. You know, like you don't have any right to do that to people. And the fact that your crop could be destroyed based on some arbitrary nonsense that's just steeped in reefer madness, it's offensive to me at any level.
And that reefer madness came out of like active lobbying from corporate interests, right? Like the DuPonts and the paper companies.
I know. Absolutely. Exactly. I'm just saying: study the history, you know. I’m not a conspiracy nut but I mean, like an agreed set of facts, it's like how did this all come about? And you can see for yourself.
Yeah, so a lot of the talk in the hemp industry is about developing local supply chains, and so here's this chance to develop local supply chains in the state that aren't at the mercy of t global transportation or geopolitics, and we saw during the early days of the pandemic how easily global supply chains can be disrupted, and then climate change even promises more disruption, but what I love about hemp it's this radically elegant solution to so many of the challenges we face, but how do we get there? If we do it right, we can lay the foundation for a different kind of world.
Bipartisanship. Bipartisanship, that's the key and Pennsylvania, you know, I'm gonna venture that many of your listeners are republican, and I would just say look I’m not here to argue any other issue in front of you other than getting away with reefer madness, you know, for the benefit of all of us.
And like for me, this is this is a lot about climate change, you know, like from my research (about hemp) it seems like we can pull out a whole lot of carbon from the atmosphere by growing and then producing lots of our domestic goods out of fiber hemp. And it's like I think farmers can save the world here.
Well, they they've been feeding the world for as long as there's been a world, and Pennsylvania, I don't have to tell you, that's our number one industry.
Yeah so you know I'm in this for the future, for kids, not just my kids, but all the kids, you know, I want us all to have a clean, livable world, and I honestly think hemp can do that.
And the only reason you haven't had an 80-year head start on that is pure old-fashioned reefer madness.
Which I think also comes down to greed, right? Like that reefer madness was a seed that was planted from greed.
It all comes from greed, but the tools that they use to enforce it look differently than that.
And that's just the sad reality, and I’m saying, you know, what's lost is gone, but what we want for the next 80 years?
What other sort of issues can we talk about, not just marijuana and hemp, but are there other things on your mind?
Yeah, agriculture is on my mind because it's Pennsylvania. Mushrooms, you know, mushrooms.
We’re the Mushroom Capitol of the world.
Yeah, we are, you know, and we are at the cusp of a microdosing revolution and…
Ah, those mushrooms. Psilocybin, ok.
Yeah, and think about think about that. Think about what that could mean for Pennsylvania farmers and Pennsylvania businesses as well too, you know. And again, it's all rooted in this kind of basal prejudice that it's something whereas it's just not true, and you can't watch an hour of television at night without seeing three different commercials for drugs for
or anxiety or whatever, and we are learning more and more that so much of that can be addressed or cured through what God gave us and what we can grow ourselves.
Let's back up a little bit, because I wonder if some people aren't sure what we're talking about, but you're talking about magic mushrooms, psilocybin, and there's been a lot of research lately. I know Michael Pollan, the journalist who wrote a book called How to Change Your Mind, all about how hallucinogenics and psychedelics are helping people with depression, with end of life issues, all kinds of different things that, like you said pharmaceuticals are just making tons of money off of now, and we could shift that money to farmers growing mushrooms.
You got it. You got it, and that's all I’m saying. And that's my point: like look beyond the stereotypes or the reefer madness or the whatever, and just realize for what it is and what's possible, and that's all, and that's why I was so thrilled for the opportunity to accept this invitation to speak with your listeners today, is to cut through the partisanship, to cut through the whatever, and just be like look here's the reality on the ground and I don't have a bill of goods to sell you. I have a specific policy proposal that, no matter where you are, should make sense. And it should offend you as an American and as a Pennsylvanian that people think you are incapable of making these very basic decisions for yourself as a freedom-loving Pennsylvanian.
Right. Yeah, through my work here with this podcast and getting to know the various farming communities that are involved in hemp, it's like cannabis loves community, like I’ve seen people from all different walks of life just come together and have these just amazing experiences through education and field days and all kinds of stuff, and yeah, I think you're onto something here about the bipartisan nature of cannabis.
It is, and that's the point.
Do you know who the most important man in cannabis is right now in Pennsylvania? Bryan Cutler, you know, because if the Speaker of the House says we would run a bill that we could work out, it would have the votes, I guarantee you it would have the votes, you know?
And that would open up that would open up everything, and like I said, you know I’ve never said an unkind word about Speaker Cutler, and I believe he's a good dude. I know he is. And I’m just saying that this isn't about politics this is what's best for Pennsylvania and that's my message, and it's always going to be my message.
Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, thank you so much for your time today. It's great to talk to you.
I want to thank you for the invitation to join you and to speak without a filter directly to your listeners. And I hope I’ve reached some people and this isn't about politics. This is about what's good for Pennsylvania, because at the core I think that's what politics should be about is what's best for Pennsylvania. So thank you for this opportunity.