The fight to end the federal prohibition on marijuana has gained a new, surprising ally. On Wednesday, former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner announced he is joining the advisory board of one of the country’s largest cannabis corporations, Acreage Holdings. The move has stunned commentators, as it marks a dramatic reversal of Boehner’s long-standing, adamant opposition to legal marijuana.
Former House Speaker John Boehner Says He Has “Evolved” On The Issue Of Legalization
Nine years ago, John Boehner told Bloomberg that he was “unalterably opposed” to legalization. Now, he’s sitting on the board of a major U.S. cannabis company, Acreage Holdings. Acreage Holdings is a major player in the U.S. cannabis industry. The company owns cultivation centers, processing facilities, and dispensaries in 11 states.
But the federal prohibition on cannabis holds companies like Acreage and many others back, blocking funding for research and financial services like banking. Then, of course, there’s the human toll of federal prohibition: mass incarceration and a lack of access to alternative medicines.
All of these problems seem to have motivated Boehner to flip his stance on legal cannabis. In a tweet issued Wednesday, Boehner said his thinking on cannabis has evolved.
“I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities,” Boehner said.
All of those are good reasons to push for rescheduling marijuana. At the same time, cannabis advocates have been making those arguments for years. They’ve even made them in the same legislative chambers in which Mr. Boehner was once Speaker.
So why did John Boehner’s thinking on cannabis only evolve now, as he takes a position on the board of one of the most profitable cannabis firms in the country? According to Bloomberg, Boehner said his perspective changed when he saw how medical cannabis helped a close friend manage severe chronic back pain.
“Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically,” Boehner said in an interview. “I find myself in that same position.”
John Boehner: Former House Speaker Turned Cannabis Industry Spokesman
The timing and context of John Boehner’s flip-flop on legal cannabis may raise a few eyebrows. According to reports, Boehner has not made any financial investments in Acreage Holdings, though it’s hard to imagine he’s not considering it.
Still, the arguments for rescheduling marijuana that Boehner is making are strong ones. It can only help to have such a high-profile politico making public statements supporting federal legalization.
President of Acreage Holdings, George Allen, feels the same. “We view this advocacy that we get from these two gentlemen as immensely positive for the industry,” Allen said.
Former Massachusetts Governor and 2016 vice-presidential candidate for the Libertarian party Bill Weld will join Boehner on the advisory board. Weld, unlike Boehner, has a history of supporting progressive marijuana legislation.
Boehner and Weld’s work for Acreage will include public outreach and advocacy and lobbying legislators to move forward with rescheduling cannabis.
The Final Hit: John Boehner is Now Pushing to Reschedule Marijuana
Boehner and Weld are making veteran healthcare a focal point of their advocacy for ending the federal ban on marijuana. Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs refuses to offer medical cannabis as an alternative to dangerous opioids.
But amid a national opioid crisis and with a Justice Department bent on rolling back the progress states have made implementing their own legal cannabis programs, Boehner’s headline-grabbing reversal on marijuana presages the further mainstreaming of cannabis. Whether it will have a discernible influence on federal policy, however, remains to be seen.