John Boehner, a prominent Republican politician and former Speaker of the House, was staunchly anti-marijuana for years. In 2011, when he was serving as a U.S. Representative from Ohio’s 8th congressional district, Boehner wrote, “I am unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana or any other FDA Schedule I drug.”
In the years since his declaration, Boehner’s daughter married a man who had been arrested in Florida for marijuana possession. And in 2016, Boehner’s home state of Ohio legalized medical marijuana.
On April 11th, Acreage Holdings announced that Boehner has reversed his opposition and joined their advisory board. Acreage is a large marijuana company that grows, processes, and distributes cannabis and cannabis products. The company’s mission is “to champion and provide access to cannabis’ beneficial properties by creating the best quality products and experiences.”
The company was founded in 2014 as High Street Capital Partners. They formally rebranded themselves as Acreage Holdings in March of 2018 as part of their plan to take the company public. Across the 11 states in which the company has cultivation, processing and dispensary operations, cannabis is projected to generate $9 billion in annual revenue by 2020. It’s not clear what portion of that revenue would be cornered by Acreage. It’s also not clear what kind of financial compensation they offered Boehner to entice him to join them.
“Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically,” Boehner told Bloomberg in an interview. “I find myself in that same position.”
Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld is also joining the advisory board. Weld, who is also a former vice-presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, is a long-time medical marijuana proponent. He and Boehner issued a joint statement in the company’s press release:
While we come at this issue from different perspectives and track records, we both believe the time has come for serious consideration of a shift in federal marijuana policy. Over the past 20 years a growing number of states have experimented with their right to offer cannabis programs under the protection of the 10th amendment. During that period, those rights have lived somewhat in a state of conflict with federal policy. Also, during this period, the public perception of cannabis has dramatically shifted, with 94% of Americans currently in favor of some type of access, a shift driven by increased awareness of marijuana’s many medical applications.
We need to look no further than our nation’s 20 million veterans, 20 percent of whom, according to a 2017 American Legion survey, reportedly use cannabis to self-treat PTSD, chronic pain and other ailments. Yet the VA does not allow its doctors to recommend its usage. There are numerous other patient groups in America whose quality of life has been dramatically improved by the state-sanctioned use of medical cannabis.
While the Tenth Amendment has allowed much to occur at the state level, there are still many negative implications of the Federal policy to schedule cannabis as a Class 1 drug: most notably the lack of research, the ambiguity around financial services and the refusal of the VA to offer it as an alternative to the harmful opioids that are ravishing our communities.
The joint statement makes it seem as though Boehner will lend his political clout to legalizing cannabis at the federal level. Other Republican politicians such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is pushing for the legalization of hemp, may also work to break down long-standing Republican resistance to cannabis legalization.
Boehner, a lifelong tobacco smoker, is also on the board of tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc. Some industry observers have taken his embrace of the booming cannabis industry as a sign that marijuana has gone as mainstream as tobacco.