They Say It’s an Evolution: On John Boehner’s Cannabis Switcheroo
The April 11 announcement from Acreage Holdings, a diversified multistate cannabis corporation headquartered in New York, that former House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, would join its board of advisors affirms reformers’ lament that the closer the U.S. gets to legalizing cannabis, the more persecutors-turned-profiteers like Boehner will seek to join the nascent and booming industry.
Despite being a well-known devoted consumer of tobacco and alcohol, Boehner in his 20-plus years in Congress voted against all proposed measures to reform any aspect of cannabis prohibition—from adult use to industrial hemp to medical access. Every single one.
As recently as 2015, Boehner opposed the effort to legalize recreational use in Ohio, his home state. In 2011, he said marijuana should remain a Schedule I drug, stating: “I remain concerned that legalization will result in increased abuse of a variety of drugs.”
Predictably, since Colorado and Washington legalized the commercial production, sale and taxation of cannabis products in 2012, individuals previously associated with maintaining cannabis prohibition and advocating for rigorous law enforcement have begun using their positions of power and influence to profit from the fruits of decades of advocacy work by nonprofit organizations like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Some are noting that Boehner had his chance to effect change when he was in office and how convenient it is to say you’ve evolved without even an apology.
Many in the reform community had long and rightly anticipated that as cannabis moved into a legal market, the architects of prohibition would inevitably try to cash in on its new status. Who better to witness the genesis of public-policy change and how they could profit from the wide swing in public opinion than elected policy makers, prosecutors, judges and even cops? Who better than a Republican former Speaker of the House?
“I’m joining the board of Acreage Holdings because my thinking on cannabis has evolved,” Boehner tweeted. “I’m convinced the descheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities.”
Some are noting that Boehner had his chance to effect change when he was in office and how convenient it is to say you’ve evolved without even an apology. A blunt headline in the Portland Mercury reads: “John Boehner Sucks. I Don’t Care If He’s Pro Cannabis Now.”
“It would have been more helpful for him advocating for this 10 years ago,” says NORML executive director Erik Altieiri. “Think of the number of veterans who could’ve had relief sooner.”
Boehner is hardly alone, in today’s political parlance, to “evolve” on the issue of cannabis law reform. Fellow “evolvers” include former Republican New York Senator Alfonse D’Amato (who recently joined MPP’s efforts in New York), former Democratic Massachusetts Congressman William Delahunt, and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld (also on Acreage Holdings’ board and the Libertarian Party’s 2016 vice-presidential candidate).
In 2013, Drug Enforcement Administration general counsel Patrick Moen retired to become the chief lawyer for one of the largest cannabis-related venture capital companies, Privateer Holdings of Seattle.
BOENHER: “I remain concerned that legalization will result in increased abuse of a variety of drugs.”
Less surprising (and more morally legitimate) is the increasing number of pro-reform former elected officials who’ve entered the cannabis space, such as Gary Johnson, a Republican governor of New Mexico who was the Libertarians’ 2016 presidential candidate, and Maryland Delegate Dr. Daniel Morhaim, author of the state’s medical-cannabis law.
Heritage Foundation analyst (and Senator Rand Paul staffer) Brian Darling rushed to Boehner’s defense, maintaining that after the former Speaker left the House in 2015, he saw Ohio pass medical-cannabis legislation in 2016 that has created hundreds of licensed businesses, studied claims from military veterans that cannabis can have therapeutic effects, and read reports of a reduction in opioid overdoses in places that have reformed cannabis laws. (Check out my 2010 debate with Darling on ABC News.)
Maybe the major uptake from all of this political “evolving” by dyed-in-the-wool pot prohibitionists is best summed up by a very good friend, who, once he learned of Boehner’s surprising switcheroo, correctly reminded me that rats don’t swim towards sinking ships.
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