Ex-Speaker John Boehner Reverses His Attitude on Marijuana, Now Supports Reform

Once “unalterably opposed” to marijuana legalization, the former speaker of the House now supports major cannabis reform and has joined the advisory board of a marijuana company.

John A. Boehner, a Republican leader and the speaker of the House from 2011 to 2015, has announced that he’s reversed his long-held opposition to marijuana legalization. Boehner, who in 2011 described himself as “unalterably opposed” to legalizing cannabis, has also joined the board of advisors of a cannabis corporation that operates in 11 states.

“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,” Boehner wrote on Twitter, adding that his “thinking on cannabis has evolved.”

The newfound support for marijuana is dramatic for Boehner, who during his lawmaking days didn’t support any legalization efforts. As the U.S. Representative from Ohio’s 8th congressional district from 1991 to 2015, the Republican leader only voted on marijuana legalization once in 1999, and it was in favor of prohibiting medical marijuana in Washington, D.C.

Boehner, who said that he’s never tried marijuana, said his attitudes around cannabis shifted after he saw it benefit a close friend with debilitating back pain. He’s also interested in the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis for military veterans.

“Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically,” Boehner said in an interview with Bloomberg. “I find myself in that same position.”

Support for marijuana legalization among Americans is higher than it’s ever been, with at least 60 percent in favor according to recent polls.

Boehner added that for years he’s been studying the problems of the U.S. criminal justice system, and is convinced reform is a crucial for addressing the overpopulation of prisons.

“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,” said Boehner. “We have literally filled up our jails with people who are nonviolent and frankly do not belong there.”

marijuana boehner support

Boehner Will Help Push for Cannabis Reform

In addition to revealing his pivot on marijuana, Boehner also announced that he’s joined the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis company that cultivates, processes, and distributes marijuana in 11 states where marijuana has been legalized. He and William F. Weld, the former Republican Massachusetts governor, who also joined the board, will assist the company as it navigates complexities related to conflicting state and federal marijuana laws.

While marijuana has been legalized in some capacity in 29 U.S. states, it remains prohibited and classified as a Schedule I substance under federal law.

“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,” said Boehner.

The appointment of leading Republicans to the cannabis company comes at the same time as the current Republican administration is cracking down on state-level marijuana. In January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era federal policy that directed prosecutors to not interfere with marijuana state laws, essentially ending the “hands-off” approach of the previous administration.

“When I saw the announcement, I almost chuckled to myself,” said Boehner. “I don’t know why they decided to do this. It could be that the attorney general is trying to force the Congress to act.”

Learn More About Marijuana

Nearly 30 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical marijuana, while eight states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana. You can learn more about cannabis through our education page, or keep up with the latest industry updates through our news page.