The cannabis industry may just have added an unlikely ally.
Former Speaker of the House (and former marijuana prohibitionist) John Boehner, as well as former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, have been appointed to the advisory board for multi-state cannabis corporation Acreage Holdings, sending shockwaves through the industry and creating optimism that the appointments will help drive marijuana policy reform.
"We were excited to see Acreage’s announcement this morning that Speaker Boehner and Governor Weld will be joining Acreage’s board and believe that the state-legal cannabis industry just got two powerful allies,” said David Feuerstein, co-founder and partner at cannabis law firm Feuerstein Kulick LLP. “We know the Acreage team to be great industry leaders and are optimistic that with their new advisory board, Acreage can help lead the way for commonsense reform at the federal level."
"Boehner joining Acreage is a step in the right direction both for him and also for the industry,” added Arnaud Dumas de Rauly, chief strategy officer for The Blinc Group, a distribution-centric vapor and cannabis incubator. “This board seat is also symbolic on a few levels. First and foremost, seeing an eminent GOP leader stick his neck out and endorsing our industry proves once again that marijuana can bridge both sides of the aisle. Second, this position and its aura for Acreage will bring a whole new dimension to federal lobbying."
As members of Acreage Holdings’ Board of Advisors, Boehner and Weld will “bring an immense, collective and unique set of experiences in government affairs, unmatched leadership and guidance to help drive Acreage towards its strategic mission,” according to a company press release.
“Acreage has a mission to make cannabis available to any patient who can benefit from safe and reliable access,” Acreage Holdings’ CEO Kevin Murphy said, in the press release. “The addition of Speaker Boehner and Governor Weld to our Board will lead to even greater access for patients by changing the conversation 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.”
Robert Fireman, CEO of MariMed Inc., a vertically-integrated cannabis producer, applauded Acreage Holdings’ decision to add Boehner to its advisory board, saying, “The appointment of former House Speaker John Boehner to the Acreage Holdings Advisory Board is a smart and game changing validation of cannabis' future promise and value to human health and the wellness of the American public.”
Boehner’s position on the advisory board is a fundamental shift from his former stance as a marijuana prohibitionist. Nine years ago, he stated that he was “unalterably opposed” to legalization, according to a Financial Post report. Even as recently as 2015, Boehner reiterated his opposition to the legalization of “marijuana or other FDA Schedule I drugs."
"It's encouraging to see that Boehner's views on cannabis are evolving, especially given the nationwide trend towards increased support for legalization,” said Wil Ralston, president of SinglePoint, a publicly-traded cannabis and technology holding company. “With time, we'll likely see more elected officials come out in strong support of de-scheduling the plant, to the benefit of medical patients, communities and taxpayers alike.”
Weld said he’s been in favor of medical marijuana for years and supported the initiative that legalized adult-use in Massachusetts in 2016, the Financial Post reported.
“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,” Boehner and Weld said in a joint statement regarding their appointments to Acreage Holdings’ board.
Vahan Ajamian, an analyst at Beacon Securities Ltd., has indicated that Boehner’s involvement in the cannabis industry may help “legitimize” the sector and generate investor interest, the Financial Post reported. This sentiment is echoed by others in the industry.
"I’m cautiously optimistic that the former Republican Speaker of the House joined the advisory board of a cannabis company firm,” said Jim Pakulis, CEO of TransCanna Holdings Inc., a privately held firm specializing in branding and logistics in California. “I have great respect for Mr. Boehner, and his decision to become involved with the industry and therefore by default an advocate of cannabis is remarkable. It seems that each day or week another material event takes place in our industry that validates and helps promote the cannabis marketplace overall."
Boehner’s move may also give hope to the industry after Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rescission of Obama-era policies that allowed cannabis businesses to thrive in states with regulated markets.
"This is a great step for the industry and a strong indicator of the political and social winds blowing in favor of legalization,” said Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, a publicly traded cannabis company in the U.S. with medical dispensaries in California and Nevada. “With high ranking former elected officials coming out for legalization after looking at the research more closely, and Congress considering this issue more by the year, politicians currently in office should take note and act now to be a leader on this issue."
Boehner’s change of heart on the marijuana issue is also reflective of broader evolution in the U.S.
"With the majority of Republicans favoring legalization and states’ rights, it is no surprise that mainstream, right-leaning politicians are beginning to gravitate towards cannabis,” said Erik Knutson, CEO of Keef Brands, a manufacturer of cannabis infused products. “Luckily for all of us, the Reagan era drug warrior platform is dying."
“John Boehner’s evolution on marijuana legalization mirrors that of both the American public in general and Republicans specifically,” added NORML’s executive director, Erik Altieri, in a press release. “Recent polling finds that over 60 percent of Americans support adult use marijuana legalization and, for the first time, this percentage includes a majority of self-identified Republicans. Allowing states the flexibility and autonomy to set their own marijuana regulatory policies is consistent with conservatives’ long-held respect for the Tenth Amendment, as well as with the party’s recent embracing of populism.”
And despite Boehner’s former stance on marijuana policy reform, Altieri welcomes his participation in the industry.
“Regardless of motive, former Speaker Boehner is still held in high regard by a large percentage of the GOP membership and voter base. We look forward to his voice joining the growing chorus calling for an end to cannabis criminalization,” Altieri said. “Anything that expedites the ability for patients to access this safe and reliable treatment alternative, and that facilitates an end to the practice of arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for the possession of a plant should be welcomed with open arms.”
Top Image: © Terra Eclipse | Wikimedia