Marijuana

Bill Weld: Former governor, now marijuana hype man

Former governor Bill Weld was a featured speaker Friday at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
Former governor Bill Weld was a featured speaker Friday at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.

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If Big Red keeps this up, we may have to start calling him Big Green.

Bill Weld, the former US attorney and governor of Massachusetts, climbed on stage at the Hynes Convention Center Friday morning to deliver an interview-style keynote at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo.

His remarks, to a sleepy crowd of marijuana industry executives and lawyers, were just the latest turn in Weld’s second act — or is it the third or fourth? — as a hype man for Acreage Holdings.

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In April, Weld and former House speaker John Boehner joined the advisory board of the company, one of several unproven but well-capitalized Wall Street-backed conglomerates rolling up dispensaries and growing facilities across the country in “first mover” bids to corner the newly legal pot market.

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The news drew an intense backlash from drug policy advocates, who noted Boehner’s strident opposition to even decriminalizing marijuana while in office and said the firm is the embodiment of the privileged, come-lately profiteers trying to co-opt their movement.

But Weld, as he reminded his audience Friday, backed medical marijuana as governor in the early 1990s, long before that policy had the widespread support of Americans. He said he was motivated by studies at the time showing the drug could help treat glaucoma and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

“Being an enterprising sort, I thought I’d raise my hand and say, ‘Well, we really should make marijuana legal to treat these,’ ” said Weld, who practices at Boston law firm Mintz Levin. “That to me was an obvious thing to do.”

But, he recalled, “My motion failed for want of a second. Nobody paid the slightest attention except for saying I was a whacko. [Republicans] would just laugh.”

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Weld, colorful as ever, touched on a variety of subjects, at turns joking about his “long and friendly” relationship with alcohol and blasting President Trump’s administration for, in his view, intentionally inflaming and dividing Americans on issues such as immigration.

Weld was particularly upset over the revelation by BuzzFeed in August that the White House had directed a number of federal agencies to collect data demonstrating the negative effects of marijuana legalization, saying the move was “vintage Trump.”

“I want to wish these guys a lot of luck in the midterms if they’re hoping that demonizing marijuana is going to help them,” Weld said sarcastically, adding that such tactics “as a prudential matter are bad for society.”

Weld also strongly endorsed the STATES Act, a bill proposed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner that would repeal the federal prohibition of marijuana and allow states to set their own policies on the drug.

“That’s my favorite piece of legislation that is on the Hill right now,” Weld said, “not only because it’s bipartisan, but because it’s going to the fundamental issue of telling the government to get the hell out of our business.”

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Weld, the 2016 Libertarian nominee for vice president, praised Canada for legalizing marijuana nationally. Weld mocked Trump for his occasional hostility toward Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying Canadian leaders are “holding their nose” at the American president. And in an apparent reference to Trump immigration policies that have led to sanctions against Canadian marijuana consumers and workers trying to cross into the United States, Weld said US officials are acting “like they’re transmitting syphilis. It’s crazy.”

Weld’s on-stage interview with author Joe Dolce was prefaced by a three-minute corporate video plugging Acreage’s “clean, dosable, predictable medicine in the cannabis space” and claiming the firm is “bringing professionalism into the world of cannabis.” It included clips of television news segments about Weld and Boehner joining the company, which is planning to go public next month on the Canadian Securities Exchange.

The clips portray Weld and Boehner as key to Acreage’s success — lending it a sense of credibility in a volatile, legally uncertain industry that’s trying to build relationships with regulators and legislators.

“I think [national legalization] is inevitable,” Weld concluded. “I don’t think any politician is going to be able to stop it.”

Dan Adams can be reached at daniel.adams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.