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Former GOP House Speaker Backs Marijuana Descheduling, Joins Cannabiz

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Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is the latest public official to endorse significant marijuana law reforms after leaving office.

“Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically,” he told Bloomberg. “I find myself in that same position.”

Boehner, along with former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld (R), is joining the Board of Advisors of Acreage Holdings, which holds 35 licenses for cannabis businesses across the U.S.

“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 said. “We have literally filled up our jails with people who are nonviolent and frankly do not belong there.”

In a tweet, Boehner, who did not endorse marijuana law reform while serving as the House’s top official, said he now supports removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, a process known as descheduling.

In a 2011 letter to a constituent, the speaker wrote, “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.”

But now, Boehner says that he and Weld will advise Acreage on navigating confusing and conflicting federal and state marijuana laws.

“When it comes to an issue like this, that has what I’ll call murky legal issues and political issues, we’re there to provide advice to Acreage in terms of how they work with state and federal governments, how they work with local governments and advice on what states look promising,” he told Bloomberg.

The former top GOP official is critical of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to reverse Obama-era guidance that generally allowed states to implement their own cannabis policies without federal interference.

“When I saw the announcement, I almost chuckled to myself,” Boehner said. “I don’t know why they decided to do this. It could be that the attorney general is trying to force the Congress to act.”

Boehner is not the first high-ranking public official to endorse marijuana law reform after he no longer has the power to do anything about it.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, for example, said that marijuana should be rescheduled shortly after leaving office.

In a press release about their joining Acreage, Boehner and Weld, who was the Libertarian Party’s 2016 vice-presidential nominee, said the following:

“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.

“We are excited to join the team at Acreage in pursuit of their mission to bring safe, consistent and reliable products to patients and consumers who could benefit. We have full confidence in their management team and believe this is the team that will transform the debate, policy and landscape around this issue.”

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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