Former Speaker of the House John Boehner has joined the advisory board of a cannabis company, a surprising career move for a Republican who firmly opposed all cannabis reform while in office. Boehner has been appointed to the board of advisers of Acreage Holdings, a New York City-based canna-business running cultivation, dispensary, and processing operations in 11 states. Also joining the company's board of advisors is former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, who has more recently served as a board member for a tobacco company.
Boehner's career change is especially shocking considering that the former Congressman said he was "unalterably opposed" to cannabis decriminalization less than a decade ago. In 2011, during his first term as Speaker, Boehner wrote that he was against the "legalization of marijuana" and "concerned that legalization will result in increased abuse of all varieties of drugs," NORML reports. Even as recently as 2015, Boehner still publicly spoke out against legal weed.
"Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people's attitudes have changed dramatically," Boehner told Bloomberg. "I find myself in that same position." Boehner said that his perspective on the drug changed after a friend used medical marijuana to successfully treat his chronic pain. Further research into the matter led the former Speaker to conclude that "descheduling the drug is needed so that we can do research and allow VA [the Department of Veterans Affairs] to offer it as a treatment option in the fight against the opioid epidemic that is ravaging our communities," according to the Washington Post.
Unlike Boehner, Weld has been consistently advocating for medical cannabis since 1992, and supported his home state's legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016. Weld also believes that cannabis has great potential to help wean the country off its opioid problem. "Cannabis could be perceived as an exit drug, not a gateway drug," he said to Bloomberg.
Weld and Boehner also agree that the issue of cannabis legalization is largely a debate over whether or not the 10th Amendment grants states the legal right to legalize a federally-prohibited drug. "If some states don't want marijuana to be legal, that's their prerogative," Weld said. "But that shouldn't be dictated by the nanny state in Washington."
In a joint statement, Boehner and Weld wrote that "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… 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," the statement continues. "Yet the VA does not allow its doctors to recommend its usage."
Cannabis advocates have lauded the former Congressman's public shift in favor of cannabis. "Politicians have traditionally lagged behind the people on this issue, so it is wonderful to see one so adamantly opposed to legalization reversing course like this," Morgan Fox, Director of Communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, said to NPR. Erik Altieri, executive director for NORML, also said that Boehner's newfound support of cannabis is in line with the recent growth of public support, but added that "it would've been more helpful for him advocating for this 10 years ago."