The former House Speaker and marijuana opponent has now become the weed industry’s highest-profile political ally.
Growing acceptance of marijuana on the right—in 2017, for the first time, a majority of Republicans supported legalization—has precipitated some elaborate ideological contortions as the party of Nancy Reagan and “just say no” evolves to stay in constituents’ good graces. “This is a freedom issue,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California explained earlier this year, seizing on decriminalization as a libertarian cause and accusing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had rescinded Obama-era guidance to stop pursuing marijuana convictions, of having “forgotten the Constitution and the 10th Amendment.” Senator Cory Gardner, whose home state of Colorado has made a killing taxing weed, denounced the effort as “trampling” on states’ rights.
Even John Boehner, the famously orange former Speaker of the House and notorious chainsmoker, has decided to go green, announcing on Wednesday that he is joining the board of directors of Acreage Holdings, one of America’s largest marijuana companies, to help them navigate state and federal policy in their quest for legalization. In an interview with Bloomberg, which called his career move “a watershed event,” Boehner said that his position on weed—to which he was once “unalterably opposed”—had evolved over the years thanks to a “close friend” of his who used marijuana to ease his back pain, as well as his longstanding focus on federal-prison reform. “When you look at the number of people in our state and federal penitentiaries, who are there for possession of small amounts of cannabis, you begin to really scratch your head,” Boehner, who says he has never smoked pot, told Bloomberg. “We have literally filled up our jails with people who are nonviolent and frankly do not belong there.”
Obama: “No, I promised Michelle, no more cigarettes.”
Boehner: “Barack…. These aren’t cigarettes…” pic.twitter.com/fAUW3JYyxW
— Comfortably Smug (@ComfortablySmug) 11 April 2018
It is unlikely that Boehner will be getting rich off of his new position, and he remains on the board of tobacco company Reynolds American Inc. (Neither Boehner nor Weld invested in Acreage, though Weld said he might.) The domestic marijuana industry was worth just $10 billion in 2017; a drop in the bucket compared to the $77.6 billion in revenue alone that the tobacco industry pulled in in 2016. Nevertheless, Boehner’s announcement and full-throated endorsement of legalization caused significant buzz in the industry. “It is difficult to overstate the impact of this monumental event for the U.S. cannabis sector,” Vahan Ajamian, an analyst at Beacon Securities Ltd., told Bloomberg.