Boehner joins fight to loosen marijuana laws saying his thinking has “evolved”

An unexpected voice has joined the fight to change federal marijuana laws.

Former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has joined the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, one of the nation’s largest cannabis corporations, saying “my thinking on cannabis has evolved” and that he now supports changing federal marijuana policy.

In a joint statement released Wednesday Boehner, who served as Speaker from 2011 to 2015, and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, cited the recent experimentation by a number of U.S. states that have changed their marijuana laws in recent years as part of the reason for their decision.

Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via APJoe Biden and former House Speaker John Boehner, right, share a moment as they take the stage for the University of Notre Dame Commencement Ceremony on May 15, 2016, inside Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.

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“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,” Weld and Boehner wrote, “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.”

Boehner and Weld also cited marijuana’s benefits for American veterans suffering from chronic pain and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as another part of their rationale for why federal laws should be changed.

“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,” they wrote, “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.”

Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty ImagesSunshine Johnston, 43, grows cannabis with her husband Eric, 41, on a small family farm in Humboldt County, Calif. on May 5, 2016.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, a total of 29 states and the District of Columbia now allow for “comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs.” Nine states and Washington, D.C. currently allow the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, with varying levels of regulation.

Boehner and Weld also voiced support for declassifying marijuana as a Class 1 drug under federal law, placing it among other drugs and substances with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

“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,” they wrote.

Kevin Murphy, the Founder and CEO of Acreage Holdings, which owns cannabis cultivation, processing and dispensary operations in 11 states, said the addition of Boehner and Weld changes the conversation about marijuana policy “overnight.”

“These men have shaped the political course of our country for decades and now they will help shape the course of this nascent but ascendant industry,” Murphy wrote in a statement Wednesday.

Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesMarijuana samples are shown to customers at the Maine’s Honest Herbs Co. booth during the 4th Annual New England Cannabis Convention in Boston, March 25, 2018.

Boehner’s announcement also comes just months after Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed the Justice Department to rescind Obama-era guidance over how federal authorities should go after marijuana-related crimes, moving away from the policy of non-interference in states that have loosened regulations on marijuana.

The move from Boehner is a significant shift for the Ohio Republican, who just nine years ago said he was “unalterably opposed” to the legalization of marijuana, according to Bloomberg.

Since his abrupt exit from Congress in 2015, Boehner has kept a relatively low profile, but during his days in Congress he made his penchant for wine well-known.

In a 2010 interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Boehner responded to a question about a potential “Slurpee summit” with then President Barack Obama to work on policy issues with his beverage preference.

“I don’t know about a Slurpee. How about a glass of merlot?” Boehner said.

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