Pot politics can depend on when you ask
For the politics of pot, the times they are a-changing. But in which direction? For some politicians, that can depend on when you ask.
For example, former House Speaker John Boehner, who was “unalterably opposed” to marijuana legalization as recently as 2015, announced in a tweet last week that he is joining the weed industry and the legalization cause.
Boehner, who served as speaker from 2011 to 2015 — and voted against legalizing medicinal marijuana in the District of Columbia in 1999 — announced that he is joining the board of advisers for Acreage Holdings, a company that cultivates, processes and dispenses cannabis in 11 states.
More than half of the states have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, although the laws and regulations vary widely from state to state.
“I’m joining the board of #AcreageHoldings because my thinking on cannabis has evolved,” Boehner wrote in a tweet linked to a company news release. “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.”
That’s quite a pivot. My reaction is two-fold: a.) Welcome aboard the legalization movement, Mr. Speaker, and b.) what took you so long?
With no pun intended, Boehner’s announcement came in a joint statement with William Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts who ran on the Libertarian Party’s ticket in 2016 with former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. Unlike Weld, a long-time supporter of legalization, Boehner has not often been associated with much of anything that is more exotic than cigarettes, golf and a nice glass of Merlot.
Now, in a living example of the old adage “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” Boehner’s joining the cannabis industry and legalization cause — neither Boehner nor Weld would reveal whether they were being paid — illustrates how much the way we Americans think about weed has changed as decriminalization, state by state, has brought it a new level of respectability.
Amid a sea of changing attitudes, President Donald Trump has been on both sides of the marijuana legalization issue. As a presidential candidate, he said in a Colorado TV interview that legalization is “up to the states,” which sounded like he supports the right of individual states to legalize weed, despite the existing federal prohibition.
But after his election, his very conservative attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced that he was revoking a policy from President Barack Obama’s administration that discouraged prosecutors from enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that had legalized the drug.
That reversal, an apparent part of President Trump’s ongoing campaign to undo everything President Obama did, outraged Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, which legalized cannabis for recreational use in 2014.
During Sessions’ confirmation hearings, Gardner had asked him to promise that the feds wouldn’t interfere with pot businesses and users that complied with state laws. After Sessions rescinded Obama’s policy, Gardner chastised him from the floor of the Senate and began to hold up Trump’s Justice Department nominees in a political hostage drama.
That standoff appears to have ended April 11, coincidentally the same day as Boehner’s announcement. Trump told Gardner in a phone call that he would support congressional efforts to protect states that have legalized marijuana. Gardner expressed satisfaction with the call, although skeptics suggested that he should get Trump’s promise in writing first.
Gardner says he hopes to do better than that. He has been talking quietly with other senators about possible legislation to bar federal interference with states that have voted to legalize marijuana. I wish him luck. If there is any grand experiment that should be tested in the laboratory of the states, not our currently polarized and gridlocked national government, this is it.
Federal law has irrationally classified marijuana as a “schedule 1” drug under a law passed in 1970 during President Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs.” By listing marijuana as having no acceptable medical use and a potential for abuse and dependency as high as heroin and ecstasy, that law actually prevents useful research into the actual effects of the drug.
Removing federal interference from states that have decided to legalize pot would not be the same as a national legalization bill, but it would be an important step in the right direction at a time when common sense seems to have gone up in smoke.