In a shock announcement from Acreage Holdings on April 11, former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner revealed that he has joined the cannabis investment company, and hence, the cannabis industry.
Boehner now finds himself with a place on the company’s advisory board alongside former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who was also announced in the statement.
While Weld said he has been supportive of medical marijuana since 1992, Boehner spent much of his political career working against cannabis legalization. For example, in 2011, Boehner reportedly told one of his constituents that he was “unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana or any other FDA Schedule I drug” and that he was “concerned that legalization will result in increased abuse of all varieties of drugs, including alcohol.”
I’m joining the board of #AcreageHoldings because my 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. @AcreageCannabis https://t.co/f5i9KcQD0W
— John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) April 11, 2018
However, Acreage Holdings — which has invested in companies that cultivate, process and dispense cannabis in 11 U.S. states — appears not to care about Boehner’s anti-pot past. The announcement from Acreage featured a joint statement from Boehner and Weld, where they did their best to get ahead of the forthcoming question of “What on earth is going on?!”
“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,” the statement read. “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.”
The two former politicians also mentioned the realities that veterans have to deal with obtaining cannabis outside the scope of the rest of their healthcare provided by the Veterans Administration. They also noted that they think Acreage “will transform the debate, policy and landscape around this issue.”
Acreage Founder and CEO, Kevin Murphy, shared his thoughts on the two new additions to the company.
“Acreage has a mission to make cannabis available to any patient who can benefit from safe and reliable access,” said Murphy in the announcement. “The addition of Speaker Boehner and Governor Weld to our Board will lead to even greater access for patients by changing the conversation overnight. These men have shaped the political course of our country for decades and now they will help shape the course of this nascent but ascendant industry.”
Many activists who worked to progress marijuana reform during Boehner’s time in Washington, D.C. had mixed feelings on the news.
Mike Liszewski, who led the legislative efforts of Americans for Safe Access on Capitol Hill during Boehner’s tenure as Speaker of the House from 2011 to 2015, told Cannabis Now that Boehner “wasn’t really viewed as the problem” when he was the speaker.
Liszewski never had any direct interaction with his office other than attempting to schedule a few meetings, he said, “but based on everything I remember, Boehner was essentially neutral on marijuana reform.”
“He voted against the then-Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment from 2003 to 2007, but didn’t vote as Speaker when it came up as Rohrabacher-Farr in 2012, 2014 or 2015,” said Liszewski. “I’ve heard Congressional staff say the Rules Committee is essentially an extension of leadership, which makes it notable that [Rules Committee chairman] Pete Sessions didn’t block our amendments when Boehner was Speaker, he only did so once Ryan became Speaker.”
But Liszewski wasn’t giving Boehner a free pass.
“That’s not to say that he was even particularly good on marijuana reform, because he was in fact generally bad, but he was neutral enough to allow our floor votes to take place and let the cards fall where they may,” said Liszewski.
That meant that when it came to marijuana, Boehner was probably better than two-thirds of his Republican colleagues on marijuana during his tenure as Speaker, said Liszewski, who added that Boehner “also undeniably voted as an opponent [to marijuana legalization] during his tenure as a rank and file rep.”
NORML also issued a statement on Wednesday following the news.
“John Boehner’s evolution on marijuana legalization mirrors that of both the American public in general and Republicans specifically,” said NORML Executive Erik Altieri, “Recent polling finds that over 60 percent of Americans support adult use marijuana legalization and, for the first time, this percentage includes a majority of self-identified Republicans. Allowing states the flexibility and autonomy to set their own marijuana regulatory policies is consistent with conservatives’ long-held respect for the Tenth Amendment, as well as with the party’s recent embracing of populism.”
Altieri positively noted that there is plenty Boehner has to offer the national dialogue with so much work still to be done.
“Regardless of motive, former Speaker Boehner is still held in high regard by a large percentage of the GOP membership and voter base,” said Altieri. “We look forward to his voice joining the growing chorus calling for an end to cannabis criminalization. Anything that expedites the ability for patients to access this safe and reliable treatment alternative, and that facilitates an end to the practice of arresting otherwise law abiding citizens for the possession of a plant should be welcomed with open arms.”
TELL US, do you think former politicians should enter the cannabis industry?