Former House Speaker Changes Mind About Pot, Joins Cannabis Firm's Board

By Kelly Burch 04/13/18

Former House Speaker John Boehner says his stance on marijuana changed after seeing a friend use it to deal with back pain.

John Boehner

Former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who once said that he was “unalterably opposed” to marijuana legalization, has joined the advisory board of a company that grows, processes and distributes cannabis. 

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

Boehner joined the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis company that is active in 11 states and holds 35 licenses for marijuana-related businesses.

Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, also a Republican, is also on the advisory board

“We view this advocacy that we get from these two gentlemen as immensely positive for the industry,” said George Allen, Acreage’s president.

Boehner said that his stance on marijuana changed after seeing a friend use cannabis to deal with back pain. In addition, studying the criminal justice implications of marijuana criminalization made him realize that the system needs to change. 

“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.”

Part of Boehner’s role for Acreage will be helping the company to navigate federal and state laws, which differ drastically in regards to marijuana. 

“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,” Boehner said.

Although Republicans have generally been less supportive of legalized marijuana than Democrats, Weld said that he has been in favor of medical cannabis since 1992, and that he supported the 2016 Massachusetts ballot initiative that legalized recreational weed. 

“I was a little bit ahead of the field there,” he said, adding that the view of marijuana as a gateway drug is dated, especially given the opioid crisis. “Cannabis could be perceived as an exit drug, not a gateway drug.”

Industry experts said that the connection of two former mainstream politicians with a cannabis firm gives the industry a legitimacy that it has not had in the past. 

“It is difficult to overstate the impact of this monumental event for the U.S. cannabis sector,” said Vahan Ajamian, an analyst at Beacon Securities Ltd.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.