Can there be a more obvious sign of the pending end of the war on marijuana than this? Former House Speaker John Boehner announced today he's becoming a pot industry lobbyist.
No, really! Here's the Ohio Republican's tweet:
I'm joining the board of #AcreageHoldings because 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. @AcreageCannabis https://t.co/f5i9KcQD0W
— John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) April 11, 2018
He's being joined on the board of advisers of Acreage Holdings (formerly named High Street Capital) with former Republican Massachusetts governor and former Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee Bill Weld. Recall that Republican New Mexico governor turned two-time Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson is already a part of the marijuana industry.
Weld and Boehner put out a joint statement expanding on Boehner's tweet. They are taking a very conservative approach, pushing for a federal rescheduling of marijuana so that it can be researched and used for medical treatment. The pair repeatedly invoke marijuana's use as treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for veterans, they reference its use as a substitute for opioids to reduce the risks of overdose deaths, and they invoke the 10th amendment to get that "states' rights" hook in there.
Veterans groups have been pushing the Department of Veterans Affairs to help its patients gain access to medical marijuana. Only recently did the V.A. give doctors permission even to discuss medical marijuana as a treatment for veterans in state-approved programs. Its doctors still are not permitted to prescribe or assist veterans in obtaining marijuana, even in states where it's legal. And the V.A. will not pay for it.
Acreage Holdings is based in New York State and operates in 11 states. It has cultivation and processing facilities as well as dispensaries. It obviously is well-positioned to take advantage of new business opportunities if the V.A. gets approval not just to prescribe medical marijuana but to cover it. So getting the V.A. to cover medical marijuana for vets seems a likely lobbying aim. The company's ambitions are "keenly focused on expanding its footprint and continuing acquisitions, with aspirations to become the dominant national platform in the space," and they're pojecting that the cannabis industry will be bringing in $9 billion in retail revenue by 2020.
So ultimately, Boehner's transition is just like what we've seen from so many lawmakers before. They retire from Congress, then get jobs representing the very firms that used to lobby lawmakers for friendlier regulations and for porkbarrel spending. Don't be surprised to see Boehner's successor, Paul Ryan, doing something similar now that he's retiring too.
It's a double-edged sword in this case. Boehner's power and influence will be welcome in lobbying for changes to a horrible remnant of a drug war policy that has put thousands and thousands of Americans in prison cells. Boehner's involvement can be particularly important right now, given Attorney General Jeff Sessions' continued opposition to marijuana. Yesterday, Boehner announced that he'll be touring the country to campaign on behalf of Republican lawmakers facing midterm elections. The way he has crafted his message is clearly meant for Republican voters and lawmakers.
At the same time, it'll be important to keep an eye on how federal regulations are crafted if Boehner's efforts are successful. We certainly wouldn't want just one marijuana provider to get a crony contract that gives them prime or exclusive access to V.A. customers.