A company that cultivates, processes, and dispenses cannabis in 11 US states has added former Massachusetts governor William Weld and former speaker of the House John Boehner to its advisory board.
The decision to join the Acreage Holdings Board is a big shift for Boehner, a 68-year-old Ohio Republican who was speaker from 2011 to 2015 and who said nine years ago that he was “unalterably opposed” to legalization.
“Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically,” Boehner said in an interview. “I find myself in that same position.”
Weld, on the other hand, said he’s been in favor of medical marijuana since 1992 and supported the referendum that legalized recreational pot use in his home state in 2016.
“I was a little bit ahead of the field there,” he said in an interview. Weld, 72, was governor from 1991 to 1997.
Sixty-four percent of Americans, including a majority of both Republicans and Democrats, want to legalize it, according to an October Gallup survey. That’s the most since the pollster began asking the question in 1969, when 12 percent of the population favored legalization.
“We view this advocacy that we get from these two gentlemen as immensely positive for the industry,” said George Allen, Acreage’s president.
The two former Republican politicians join Acreage — which holds 35 licenses for cannabis businesses in the United States — as current officeholders vacillate on their support for weed. President Trump has gone back and forth, while Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a longtime opponent. The Justice Department in January rescinded the Obama-era policies that allowed state legal pot markets to flourish.
Both Boehner and Weld say they’ve never tried the drug, but adult recreational use is legal in nine states and Washington, D.C. That means more than one in five American adults can partake. Twenty additional states allow for some form of medical marijuana. The legal market is expected to reach $75 billion by 2030, according to the investment bank Cowen & Co.
Still, the drug remains federally illegal and is classified as a Schedule I narcotic, the harshest of five government ratings.
Boehner said his perspective shifted after he saw the plant’s efficacy in helping a close friend deal with debilitating back pain. Marijuana’s potential use as a treatment for veterans helped sway him, too. And he’s been studying the problems of the US criminal justice system for years.
“When you look at the number of people in our state and federal penitentiaries, who are there for possession of small amounts of cannabis, you begin to really scratch your head,” Boehner said. “We have literally filled up our jails with people who are nonviolent and frankly do not belong there.”
On top of all those reasons to support the plant, Boehner and Weld say the debate over legalization is, at its core, a discussion of the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which allows states to do what they want.
“If some states don’t want marijuana to be legal, that’s their prerogative,” Weld said. “But that shouldn’t be dictated by the nanny state in Washington.”
Boehner and Weld’s years in public office may help the company navigate the winding road to federal legalization.
“When it comes to an issue like this, that has what I’ll call murky legal issues and political issues, we’re there to provide advice to Acreage in terms of how they work with state and federal governments, how they work with local governments and advice on what states look promising,” Boehner said.
Neither Boehner nor Weld has made a financial investment in Acreage, though Weld says he’s considering it.
“Millennials who will inherit the kingdom before long, they are even more positive about cannabis than the populace at large,” Weld said. “You can look at the trend of millennial opinion and you can see the future.”