John Boehner has shifted his stance on marijuana legalization. The former Speaker of the House has joined the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis corporation that cultivates, processes and dispenses cannabis in 11 states. “…my thinking on cannabis has evolved,” Boehner said on Twitter.
Currently, any variety of cannabis, including hemp, is classified as a schedule I drug by the federal government. The federal law conflicts with the 30 states that have legalized cannabis for medicinal or recreational purpose. The conflicting laws create issues such as the disqualification of cannabis for government-funded research and banking restrictions for marijuana companies. Boehner’s tweet continues, “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.”
This is a major reversal from Boehner’s previous attitude toward cannabis. When contacted by a constituent in 2011, Boehner said, ““I am unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana or any other FDA Schedule I drug. I remain concerned that legalization will result in increased abuse of all varieties of drugs, including alcohol” (source). Boehner’s only vote on cannabis legalization was in 1999 when he voted to prohibit medical marijuana in Washington.
“I found myself like a lot of Americans over the last 10 years or so beginning to look at this issue a little differently,” Boehner said in an interview with Savannah Guthrie of the Today show. “When I began to sit down with Kevin Murphy—the founder of Acreage Holdings—I began to learn more. And then I began to have conversations with my friends, and I found myself in a position where I thought I could lend my voice to this discussion about the medical use of marijuana.”
Boehner told Guthrie that he is not advocating for the federal legalization of marijuana for recreational use but thought it should be up to each state to determine their own laws.
Boehner had a change in perception when he saw a close friend use cannabis to help with back pain, which he spoke about in an interview with Bloomberg. The potential for cannabis as a treatment for veterans was also a determining factor in his decision.
He also told Bloomberg the debate over marijuana legalization is a discussion of the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
In a statement with Governor of the State of Massachusetts Bill Weld, Boehner said, “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.”
As public acceptance of cannabis continues to grow, representatives from both parties are calling for cannabis reform to open opportunity for research and development. Boehner’s announcement is another indication of cannabis’s establishment as a big business. This is a positive for the hemp industry, which will benefit from cannabis expansion and reform.