Former Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, made waves in 2011 when he said that he was “utterly opposed” to cannabis legalization in any form. On Wednesday, Boehner, who served as the Speaker between 2011 and 2015, announced that his “thinking on cannabis has evolved.”
Boehner announced the change of heart in coordination with an announcement that he will be joining the board of directors of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis corporation that operates in eleven states. He will join the board alongside William Weld, the former Massachusetts Governor and 2016 Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate who has long been outspoken in favor of cannabis legalization.
Boehner’s Evolving Opinions On Cannabis
My mission every day is to fight for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government. Over the last five years, our majority has advanced conservative reforms that will help our children and their children. I am proud of what we have accomplished. The first job of any Speaker is to protect the institution that we all love. It was my plan to only serve as Speaker until the end of last year, but I stayed on to provide continuity to the Republican conference and the House. It is my view, however, that prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution. Therefore, I will resign the Speakership and my seat in Congress on October 30. Today, my heart is full with gratitude to the people of Ohio's Eighth District, my colleagues, and this great country that has given me - the son of a bar owner from Cincinnati - the chance to serve.
In his Twitter statement, Boehner stated that he is “convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities.”
Boehner remained steadfast in opposition to cannabis but never voted on any legalization legislation during his tenure as Speaker. His rather recent declaration of support comes as a surprise to many. In an interview with Bloomberg, Boehner said that “you really begin to scratch your head” when you consider how many people are in prison for possession of cannabis. In that same interview he also mentioned “Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically,” he said. “I find myself in that same position.”
The Shifting American Cannabis Views
Politicians are elected by and are meant to serve their constituents. Typically, if a constituency large support for a specific policy, their politicians will work harder to pass that policy. Boehner, a career politician, is aware of the cultural landscape in America regarding cannabis reform. Nearly 60% of the United States has some type of legal cannabis laws. A Pew poll from October found that 61% of Americans support cannabis legalization.
What is surprising and important about Boehner’s changing beliefs is the partisan divide on cannabis reform. Pew found that while nearly 70% of Democrats support legalization, only 43% of Republicans do. Should Boehner choose to be open and outspoken about his newfound support of legalization, he could become a driving force in increasing Republican support.
The American political landscape is as fluid and changing as it ever has been. Members of each party share certain viewpoints that they wouldn’t have traditionally shared. This is the case with Boehner who once vehemently opposed the legalization of cannabis and now is joining the board of a multi-state cannabis corporation, and believes that cannabis should be researched and considered for medicinal purposes.