Former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner announced Wednesday that he has joined the advisory board of a marijuana firm, saying that his "thinking on cannabis has evolved."
In a joint statement with former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who is also joining the Acreage Holdings board, Boehner said it was time for "serious considerations of a shift in federal marijuana policy."
"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," the statement read.
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Acreage, a New York City-based company that owns marijuana cultivation facilities and dispensaries in 11 U.S. states, said the addition of Boehner and Weld to the board will help shift the conversation on legalization "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," Acreage CEO Kevin Murphy said in a news release.
The move marks a significant shift for the former congressman, who had previously said he was "unalterably opposed" to legalization. Boehner, a Republican, represented Ohio's 8th congressional district from 1990 to 2015 and served as speaker of the House from 2011 to 2015.
Weld, on the other hand, said he has been in favor of medical marijuana since 1992 and supported the 2016 referendum that legalized recreational pot use in his home state. Weld, 72, was governor from 1991 to 1997.
Boehner, 69, told Bloomberg in an interview published Wednesday that his views on marijuana changed after seeing cannabis helped a friend cope with debilitating back pain.
He says he believes legalizing marijuana can be helpful to the nation's veterans and as a way to help fight the U.S. opioid drug crisis. He wants to see federally funded research done and to allow Veterans Affairs to offer marijuana as a treatment option.
“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,” Boehner said. “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.”
According to the latest Gallup poll, 64 percent of American support legalizing marijuana and for the first time, a majority of Republicans — 51 percent — also support legalization. Marijuana is legal for medical use in 28 states and nine of those have legalized adult recreational use, accounting for more than 60 percent of the U.S. population in all.
Still, the drug remains federally illegal. The Schedule 1 classification from the Drug Enforcement Administration forces the industry to endure some unique challenges. Shut out of banks, businesses can't get loans and shops are stockpiling cash, creating a significant security threat. Federal policy is also an obstacle in furthering research on marijuana’s medical uses and benefits, Boehner noted.
"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," Boehner said in a tweet on Wednesday morning.
Boehner and Weld's position puts the two Republicans at odds with many in their party, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who earlier this year rescinded the Obama-era policy of a hands-off approach to state-level legalization efforts.