Former House Speaker John Boehner’s flip-flop on marijuana reform might rank up there with the all-time doozies. After Boehner’s shocking announcement on Wednesday that his “thinking on cannabis has evolved,” advocates on both sides of the cannabis argument remain dubious of his real intention.
After years of fierce opposition to cannabis legalization, the conservative Republican son of a bar owner tweeted that will join the Board of Advisors of Acreage Holdings, a multi-state cannabis company. “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,” he wrote on Twitter.
Was it a change of heart? Or merely an opportunity to fatten his wallet? Deb Haaland, a candidate for a Congressional seat in New Mexico, thinks it is the latter:
“John Boehner announced he was joining a marijuana investing firm after years of opposing legalization, and years of supporting mass arrests in communities of color for marijuana possession and sale. Millions of black, Latino, and Native American people across America are currently sitting in prison or jail on marijuana charges — and millions more are barred from affordable housing, educational opportunities, and jobs because of a criminal record for marijuana.
“Men like John Boehner who have allowed horrific injustices to occur to our communities should not be allowed to make a dime from this industry until every American in jail for marijuana is freed and their records are wiped clean. For too long, our criminal justice system has used the criminalization of marijuana to oppress communities of color, which is why I will fight for federal legalization the moment I get to Congress.”
Haaland, who would be the first Native American congresswoman in history if elected, is not alone in her suspicion. Comedian/actor Mak McKinney tweeted:
If #Boehner wants to validate his ‘evolving thinking’ he should dedicate his energy to getting pardons and releases for the (largely minority) people he helped put in prison … instead of enriching him$elf. @SpeakerBoehner
— Mark McKinney (@Mark_DMcKinney) April 12, 2018
And actress Cynthia Nixon, who is running for governor of New York, also accused Boehner of cashing in on the green rush:
Now that public opinion has shifted on marijuana, rich white men like Boehner and companies like Monsanto are trying to cash in. We can’t let them rake in profits while thousands of people, mostly people of color, continue to sit in jail for possession and use.
— Cynthia Nixon (@CynthiaNixon) April 12, 2018
But Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, the nation’s largest and oldest marijuana reform group, welcomed Boehner. “John Boehner’s evolution on marijuana legalization mirrors that of both the American public in general and Republicans specifically. Recent polling finds that over 60 percent of Americans support adult use marijuana legalization and, for the first time, this percentage includes a majority of self-identified Republicans,” Altieri said.
“Allowing states the flexibility and autonomy to set their own marijuana regulatory policies is consistent with conservatives’ long-held respect for the Tenth Amendment, as well as with the party’s recent embracing of populism,” Altieri added. “Regardless of motive, former Speaker Boehner is still held in high regard by a large percentage of the GOP membership and voter base. We look forward to his voice joining the growing chorus calling for an end to cannabis criminalization. Anything that expedites the ability for patients to access this safe and reliable treatment alternative and that facilitates an end to the practice of arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for the possession of a plant should be welcomed with open arms.”
The Marijuana Policy Project, another large cannabis advocacy group concurred with NORML. “Politicians have traditionally lagged behind the people on this issue, so it is wonderful to see one so adamantly opposed to legalization reversing course like this,” said Morgan Fox, MPPs director of communication.
But Kevin Sabet, a longtime opponent of marijuana legalization, questioned Boehner’s motives:
Just for the record: The guy who handed out Tobacco Industry checks on the CONGRESSIONAL FLOOR has now joined Big Pot.
Which side are you on?https://t.co/kw5ZFFBRox
— Kevin Sabet (@KevinSabet) April 12, 2018
Regardless of his motivation, Boehner joins the majority of Americans who believe marijuana should be legal. According to the latest Gallup survey, 64 percent of Americans, including a majority of both Republicans and Democrats, want to legalize it. In 1969, one year after Boehner graduated from high school, only 12 percent were in favor of legalization.
As Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera says, the time are a changin’:
Bravo #Boehner Times they are a Changin
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) April 11, 2018