Pubdate: Wed, 11 Apr 2018
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2018 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Authors: Alex Horton & Christopher Ingraham


Former GOP House speaker John A. Boehner, a longtime opponent of
marijuana legalization, is joining a company that grows and sells
cannabis, he announced Wednesday.

He has been appointed to the board of advisers of Acreage Holdings,
which operates in 11 states, Boehner said in a statement.

Acreage Holdings was formerly known as High Street Capital Partners.
The company is a financial backer of Prime Wellness, which owns a
permit to cultivate medical marijuana in South Heidelberg near Reading.

"I have concluded descheduling the drug is needed so that we can do
research and allow [the Department of Veterans Affairs] to offer it as
a treatment option in the fight against the opioid epidemic that is
ravaging our communities," Boehner said.

The move is a stark reversal for the former speaker, who in 2011 wrote
a constituent that he was "unalterably opposed to the legalization of
marijuana or any other FDA Schedule I drug," adding that "I remain
concerned that legalization will result in increased abuse of all
varieties of drugs, including alcohol."

Boehner reiterated his opposition to legalization as recently as
September 2015.

Spokesman David Schnittger said Boehner's evolving position has been
the result of close study after leaving office.

Boehner's daughter, Lindsay Marie, married a Jamaican-born Rastafarian
in May 2013. Rastas believe marijuana is a sacrament.

Currently, nine states plus Washington, D.C. have legalized
recreational use of the drug, while many others -- Pennsylvania, New
Jersey, and Delaware among them -- allow some sort of medical use. The
Justice Department has been prohibited from using federal funds to
target state-legal medical marijuana businesses since 2014.

Erik Altieri, the executive director for the Washington-based
marijuana advocacy group NORML, told The Washington Post that
Boehner's acceptance of marijuana tracks with rising American and even
Republican lawmaker evolving beliefs about the drug and its uses.

Acreage Holdings spokesman Lewis Goldberg declined to discuss salary
or benefits of its executives.

Boehner is joined on the board of advisers by former Massachusetts
governor Bill Weld, a Republican who left office in 1997. As governor,
Weld advocated for medical marijuana legalization since 1992 but his
time as a federal prosecutor limited his stance on how far to
decriminalize marijuana, he said in 2016.

In a joint statement, Boehner and Weld focused on a long-standing
concern among veterans and advocacy groups -- federal law classifies
marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin and ecstasy.

"While the Tenth Amendment has allowed much to occur at the state
level, there are still many negative implications of the Federal
policy to schedule cannabis as a Class 1 drug: most notably the lack
of research, the ambiguity around financial services, and the refusal
of the VA to offer it as an alternative to the harmful opioids that
are ravishing our communities," Boehner and Weld said.

Current prohibitions have stymied research at the Department of
Veterans Affairs to evaluate the drug's efficacy in treating
post-traumatic stress and physical pain as the result of military
service, former VA Secretary David Shulkin said earlier this year.
Critics of restrictions say a tangle of federal laws that regulate
research and funding have confused VA and lawmakers on what it can and
cannot evaluate.

Veterans advocating for decriminalizing marijuana have spoken with
Boehner in the past, he said. "It was an argument he heard as a
member, considered and never dismissed," Schnittger said.

Descheduling cannabis would not legalize it nationally, but it would
end federal marijuana enforcement and allow states to set their own
marijuana policies without federal interference.

Polls show that over 60 percent of Americans favor legalizing
marijuana completely, with well over 90 percent in favor of legal
medical use. Democrats eying a 2020 presidential run have grown
increasingly vocal about the shortcomings of current federal law.

The American Legion, the largest veterans group in the country, found
in a 2017 survey that veterans overwhelmingly support marijuana use
for medical reasons. About 22 percent of veteran households said they
use weed for medical reasons.

Altieri said he hopes Bohener will use his influence within the GOP to
extend acceptance of marijuana that may lead to legalization laws.

But, he said, Boehner probably would have been more influential had he
been a proponent of marijuana use for veterans while he was Speaker.
Altieri said that intervention "could've reduced veteran suicide,"
which VA has estimated claims the life of 20 veterans a day.

"It would've been more helpful for him advocating for this ten years
ago," he said.

Inquirer staff writer Sam Wood contributed to this article.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt