He may have never inhaled it, but Republican and former Speaker of the House John Boehner has a new role: marijuana advocate. On April 11, Bloomberg reported that Boehner joined the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis dispensary and cultivation company. This shocking announcement confirms that the “botanical arts” has finally crossed over.
Marijuana legalization was never a popular topic among Republicans, and even Democrats have historically punted on the issue. Yet despite this known opposition, Boehner stood out for his obstinacy. He once wrote, “I am unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana or any other FDA Schedule I drug. I remain concerned that legalization will result in increased abuse of all varieties of drugs, including alcohol.”
Boehner’s position on cannabis contrasted sharply with then President Barack Obama, who openly admitted to experimenting in his youth. At the time, Boehner held a prominent role as the GOP House Speaker. His tough opposition against marijuana legalization had political overtones: nothing could be worse for any party than to appear indistinguishable from the opposition.
Several industry advocates are not just enthused with Boehner’s change of heart; it aligns with increasingly favorable sentiment towards some level of legalization.
According to the Pew Research Center, only 12% of Americans supported legalization initiatives in 1969. In that same year, an overwhelming 84% were opposed, while 4% apparently didn’t know. But in 2017, the sentiment shifted dramatically. While it’s not a complete reversal, 61% support legalization, while 37% do not. Interestingly, 2% did not have an opinion.
The current trend bodes very well for the entire marijuana industry. The 2016 general election was a watershed moment for weed. Today, recreational use is legal in nine states and Washington, D.C. That said, not everyone buys Boehner’s sincerity.
What Is the True Impact of John Boehner’s Reversal?
Speaking cynically but frankly, John Boehner isn’t impugning his own political reputation for free. Although he states that his thinking on the cannabis issue “has evolved,” one can’t help but notice the financial implications. Companies like Weed Inc (OTCMKTS:BUDZ), mCig Inc (OTCMKTS:MCIG), and CannTrust Holdings Inc (OTCMKTS:CNTTF) have exploded into the mainstream consciousness.
In other words, Boehner himself claims to have never smoked green, but he stands a good chance of pocketing it! It’s also worth noting that Boehner loves his cigarettes — a hardly safe pastime — and he currently sits on Reynolds American Inc.’s board.
But on a much more important level, Boehner will have difficulty getting his newfound friends to forget his record. During his time as House Speaker, 420,000 people were arrested for marijuana sales and trafficking, according to Quartz. Although we should avoid pinning the blame directly on Boehner, he did have significant political leverage.
The harshest criticism is that while he has the luxury of a rethink, many of these 420,000 individuals are sitting in prison for what many regard as a victimless crime. And now that an influential Republican has crossed over to the greener side, this perception is all the stronger.
Thus, it’s difficult to gauge what real impact John Boehner sitting on Acreage Holdings’ board will have. On one hand, long-time cannabis advocates believe his presence and his voice is a net positive. If he can change his mind from his staunch, conservative view, so can those with similar belief systems.
On the other hand, Boehner today has no real influence. With him doing an about-face, current Republican politicians are likely to avoid association. In addition, this move optically reeks of financial or personal interest, not necessarily a genuine change of heart.
A Step in the Right Direction
Regardless of the real motivation, the former House Speaker’s foray into the legal marijuana sector is a significant PR victory. No doubt, Boehner has a checkered history with herbal connoisseurs. Still, the industry can utilize his name in ways previously unimaginable.
For instance, while 69% of Democrats and 65 of independent voters believed that marijuana should be legalized, only 43% of Republicans agreed with that concept. In fact, the Republicans are the only significant political party where the majority still want marijuana classified as a narcotic.
Making matters worse for cannabis proponents is that white evangelical Protestants vehemently oppose legalization. In this group, 60% believed marijuana should be illegal, while only 38% supported legalization.
No other social category that the Pew Research Center defined — gender, race, education, political party and religion — opposed marijuana as much as they did.
With Boehner onboard, cannabis activists can make a powerful argument that current conservative views on marijuana are anachronistic. More importantly, they can address the ludicrousness of draconian law enforcement against marijuana use. A record number of states have voted for legalization to varying degrees. Even U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has softened his rhetoric on the drug.
John Boehner can be that push to bring Republicans and Democrats together for an unexpectedly bipartisan platform.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.