Former U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner has joined the board of an American cannabis company, a huge departure for a man who once described himself as “unalterably opposed” to the drug.
Boehner will join former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld on the board of Acreage Holdings, a New York-based cannabis company that owns licences to manufacture or sell marijuana in 11 states.
Possession and distribution of marijuana is a federal crime, but legal in some form in nine states and the District of Columbia. The Trump administration sent shockwaves through the industry earlier this year by threatening to end the federal government’s laissez-faire approach to prosecuting cannabis charges, so the appearance of Boehner on the other side of the fence is a major political victory.
It’s also an about-face for the former legislator, who during his congressional career as a Republican was opposed to any loosening of drug-related legislation. In 2009, he reportedly told CNN that he was opposed to legalizing marijuana even for medicinal use.
He also repeatedly voted against any liberalization laws, including the failed Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment in 2007 that would have given more protection for states with medical marijuana laws from being encroached upon by federal prosecutorial overreach.
But in contrast to his past views, Boehner said his “thinking on cannabis has evolved,” citing in a press release the number of veterans who “use cannabis to self-treat PTSD, chronic pain and other ailments.”
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—@SpeakerBoehner
Unlike Boehner, Weld, who was governor of the state for six years starting in 1991, has been in favour of modest liberalization of marijuana laws for his entire political career. He most recently ran as the vice-presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party, behind Gary Johnson, in the 2016 presidential election.
“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 two men said in a statement.
Boehner and Weld will be tasked with putting their extensive network of political contacts and influence to work to usher the industry through the murky waters of legalization.
A number of Canadian politicians have made similar moves in Canada in recent years, most notably former Conservative minister of veterans affairs and former police officer Julian Fantino.
Fantino once compared legalizing marijuana to legalizing murder, but he recently joined the board of medial marijuana firm Aleafia, which went public on the TSX Venture exchange this month.
He defended his activities in a heated interview with the CBC’s As It Happens last year.
And just this week, former finance minister Joe Oliver reportedly joined Israeli-Canadian medical marijuana firm PlantExt, which will not be involved in recreational marijuana but is instead focusing on treating bowel problems such as Crohn’s and colitis.
A month earlier, he laid out his views in favour of medical marijuana in an opinion piece in the Toronto Sun.