When John Boehner smokes, it’s Camel Ultra Lights, not Super Lemon Haze. He says he’s never tried the weed he once demonized, that when it’s time to relax he prefers a healthy pour of red wine.
That’s what makes the former House speaker’s decision to join the advisory board for cannabis company Acreage Holdings such a pivotal moment in marijuana’s journey to full acceptance. That and the fact that Boehner will always be identified with the Republican Party, known as more likely to represent the dads who wag their fingers at their children’s mind alterations, not the dads who might ask their kids to show them how a bong works.
“The fact that a former speaker of the House, a Republican nonetheless, has joined the board of a cannabis company says volumes about how far we’ve come as an industry,” said Daniel Yi, a spokesman for MedMen, a Los Angeles-based cannabis company. “It shows that we’re on the right side of this issue, and that the momentum is building for the eventual end of the federal prohibition.”
Of course, the federal prohibition is policed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Republican of the finger-wagging variety, who said in 2016 that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
No Problem, Man
Boehner shrugged off that obstacle to legalization. He said in an exclusive interview with Bloomberg that when he heard Sessions say the Trump administration was rolling back Obama-era protections for marijuana, “I almost chuckled to myself.”
“I don’t know why they decided to do this,” Boehner said. “It could be that the attorney general is trying to force the Congress to act.”
That’s the value of Boehner, 68, to Acreage, to the weed industry and to the millions of Americans rooting for legalization. He’s no Willie Nelson, or Cheech and Chong, or Snoop Dogg — other pot-industry spokesmen. He’s a Republican. He’s establishment. He’s from Ohio. He’s older. He’s gotten his hands dirty making the legislative sausage in Washington. He can advise kush fans not to freak out.
“Former Speaker Boehner is still held in high regard by a large percentage of the GOP membership and voter base,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, a marijuana advocacy group, said in a statement. “We look forward to his voice joining the growing chorus calling for an end to cannabis criminalization.”
As a politician, Boehner can feel the wind shift. Even a majority of Republicans now support legalization, according to an October Gallup poll. If that has something to do with the growing size of the marijuana industry, so be it. Legal weed brought in $6 billion in 2016, and is expected to reach $75 billion by 2030, according to Vivien Azer, an analyst at Cowen & Co.
In the interview, Boehner couldn’t keep from wagging his finger, just a little. But it was at Congress members who won’t get on board the pineapple express, not the folks who smoke it.
“As public opinion shifts, members’ opinions on this are going to shift — I’m a prime example,” Boehner said. “Over these last 10 years, my attitude has changed pretty dramatically on this.”
Boehner compared his turnabout on marijuana with the evolution of opinion on same-sex marriage, which is now legal throughout the U.S.
“Members will see the light,” he said.