During last night’s Pennsylvania Senate debate, Republican candidate Mehmet Oz falsely claimed that Democrat John Fetterman wants to “legalize all drugs.” While Fetterman has previously supported decriminalizing drugs — which is distinctly different from legalizing — he has never expressed support for legalizing all drugs, as right-wing media have claimed and provided Oz with a platform to do the same.
In 2015, Fetterman said in an interview that he supported “decriminalizing across the board,” and in 2020, he supported an Oregon referendum decriminalizing possession of small amounts of numerous drugs. Amid his 2022 campaign for the U.S. Senate, Fetterman has clarified his stance, with his campaign saying that while he believes “we should not be criminalizing addiction,” he “does not support decriminalizing all drugs including heroin, methamphetamines, and other hard drugs.”
Despite Fetterman’s stance on decriminalization, he has never supported legalizing all drugs, which is a distinct classification from decriminalizing. According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, “when drug use and possession are [decriminalized], criminal charges are not applied,” though civil charges could be, while “drug [legalization] removes all penalties for possession and personal use of a drug.”
Still, Fox News and others in right-wing media have claimed that Fetterman seeks to “legalize all drugs,” in an effort to continue to portray Fetterman as soft on crime and launch relentless attacks on his campaign. Oz has found a welcome environment on Fox News and other right-wing networks to also push this line of attack, typically with no pushback or fact-checking from the hosts. When Oz repeated the claim during the debate, the Republican National Committee used the opportunity to boost his attack.
Here are some examples of right-wing media outlets saying or allowing Oz to push the narrative that Fetterman wants to legalize all drugs:
- Fox host Sean Hannity claimed that Fetterman wants to “legalize hard drugs” while rattling off a list of Fetterman’s supposed policy positions and “extremism.”
- On Fox & Friends, Oz claimed that Fetterman wants to “legalize all drugs” and connected it to Pennsylvania’s fentanyl crisis. Co-host Steve Doocy did nothing to push back on the claim and instead discussed Republican attacks on Democrats regarding inflation.
- On his Fox show, Tucker Carlson brought up Pennsylvania’s fentanyl crisis to Oz, prompting him to attack Democrats on the issue. Oz claimed that Fetterman wants to “legalize all drugs.” Oz also brought up Fetterman’s previous support for the Oregon referendum while suggesting that the referendum was on legalizing, not decriminalizing, drugs. Carlson responded that it’s “amazing” that despite a rise in overdose deaths, Fetterman is “promoting drug legalization when we know it results in more deaths.” Oz responded that Fetterman is “more concerned about the perpetrator or the criminal” than “the victims.”
- On Newsmax, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum claimed that Fetterman is a “radical, radical guy” who “wants to legalize drugs.”
- Oz told Breitbart News that Fetterman wants to “legalize all drugs” without any clarification from the outlet of Fetterman’s actual position.
- On her daytime Fox show, anchor Martha MacCallum allowed Oz to claim that Fetterman advocated for the “legalization of all drugs” without any pushback.