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John Boehner joins with Acreage Holdings - a potential game changer for legalization

By Roger Malespin

In a move that has stunned just about everyone, former congressman and Speaker of the House John Boehner has announced that he has joined the board of Acreage Holdings, saying that “my thinking on cannabis has evolved. 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 retired from congress in 2015 amid strong opposition to his party leadership and his position as Speaker was succeeded by Paul Ryan. Throughout his political career, Boehner was a staunch opponent of legalization, describing himself as ‘unalterably opposed’ to any form.  In 1999, he voted against medical marijuana use in Washington DC. In 2015, he was opposed to reclassifying cannabis as less dangerous under federal law, citing he was “concerned that legalization will result in increased abuse of all varieties of drugs, including alcohol.”
Acreage Holdings, formerly known as High Street Capital Partners, claim to have the most diverse portfolio of any company in the American cannabis industry, with cultivation, processing and dispensing operations across 11 states with plans to expand. According to their company statement, “Acreage is poised to build on its leadership position by expanding its footprint and capabilities in bringing safe, dosable and affordable cannabis to the market.”

So what does this mean for the legalization movement? Potentially, it can be a tipping point for legalization at the federal level. Boehner is by far the most powerful political figure to openly associate himself with the cannabis industry. Boehner spent nearly 25 years in federal congress and although recently retired, he no doubt maintains high connections and influence there. His appointment, along with that of Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, come at a time when political support for legalization is at an unprecedented level. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has failed to gain significant support for his fiery anti cannabis rhetoric, and has been forced to soften his tone about rolling back Obama-era policy of an essentially hands off federal approach to cannabis.

Acreage founder and CEO Kevin Murphy said appointing Boehner and Weld “will help shape the course of this nascent but ascendant industry.”Acreage has a mission to make cannabis available to any patient who can benefit from safe and reliable access,” Murphy said in a statement. “The addition of Speaker Boehner and Governor Weld to our Board will lead to even greater access for patients by changing the conversation overnight.” 

While there may be some eye-rolling at the thought of Boehner as an ally, legalization advocates should nonetheless be thrilled with this move for the greater good. With many states considering some form of legalization this year, federal lawmakers will be keeping a close watch on all. The House supported the Obama policy in 2014 in 2014 by a 219-189 margin with 49 Republicans voting for it. Its most consistent sponsors are  Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). Boehner’s influence in the Republican party can certainly increase that number, and if the states vote in favor later this year, it could be a major step in changing a complete federal ban on cannabi