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Should Marijuana Consumers Welcome Former Drug Warriors in Cannabusiness?

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Should Marijuana Consumers Welcome Former Drug Warriors in Cannabusiness?

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States where Acreage Holdings is operating (image: Acreage Holdings)

The cannabisphere is heating up with the news that former Speaker of the House John Boehner has joined the board of Acreage Holdings – a company with 35 licenses for marijuana businesses in eleven states.

How conveeeeeeenient! Now that there’s money to be made, Boehner’s had an epiphany!

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

Boehner’s position now is revealed in a tweet:

“Descheduling” of marijuana means removing it from the Controlled Substances Act altogether. No prescription, no doctors, no federal concern over it whatsoever, a matter to be left wholly up to the states.

That was something former Congressman Barney Frank proposed with H.R. 2306, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011. As Speaker of the House, Boehner made sure the bill went nowhere. In a response to a constituent urging support of the bill, Boehner explained why he was adamantly opposed:

“I am unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana or any other FDA Schedule I drug.  I remain concerned that legalization will result in increased abuse of all varieties of drugs, including alcohol.”

from NORML Blog (click for full article)

But now, just shy of seven years later, Boehner’s altered his view enough to enrich himself by joining a company with 35 marijuana business licenses in eleven states. Suddenly, the former Speaker who believed that “marijuana use in its raw form is harmful” is all woke about mass incarceration.

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

Who’s this “we” you’re talking about? As Quartz writer Tim Fernholz notes:

Before taking on the job of growing, distributing and retailing marijuana, Boehner was Speaker of the House, one of the most powerful people in national politics. During this time, from 2011 and 2015, 420,000 people were arrested in the US for marijuana sales and trafficking.

I don’t know who coined the term “cannabis carpetbagger” – someone previously unaffiliated with or opposed to marijuana who now supports it to enrich themselves – but John Boehner isn’t the first one drug warrior to change his stripes for profit. Marc & Jodie Emery have been railing against the same phenomenon in Canada, where not just former politicians, but former narcs are getting in on the green rush:

“It’s a mix of hypocrisy and pure profiteering,” Jodie Emery told the Guardian. “They made a living off tax dollars for trying to keep people out of the cannabis business and now they’re going to position themselves to cash in.”

Does it matter if someone was a drug warrior in the past if they are supporting ending the drug war now? At least, the marijuana part of it? Even if they are doing it for purely craven reasons?

Tommy Chong is someone who’s been a victim of the war on marijuana, having served nine months in prison on paraphernalia charges. He’s also cashing in on the legalization of marijuana, which nobody in the cannabis community can fault him for doing, since he’s been an avid supporter of legalization for longer than some tokers have been alive.

Chong takes more of a “turn the other cheek approach” to cannabis carpetbaggers like Boehner:

Leading marijuana journalist Tom Angell takes a practical look at Boehner’s “evolution” in comparison to leadership in the Democratic Party:

Chong also notes the bipartisan nature of marijuana prohibition:

For me, it’s not whether someone was a drug warrior in the past, it’s whether they acknowledge that they were. Call it my Lt. Aldo Raine approach to cannabis carpetbaggers.

I’m glad that Boehner is finally on the right side, though it would be better if he came to the light out of virtue rather than greed. If he had made these pronouncements independent of joining Acreage’s board, they’d land with more moral weight. That he mouths these platitudes now without so much as an “I’m sorry I helped to lock y’all up” to his customers, shrouding his drug war leadership in mistakes-were-made-style passive framing, makes his “evolution” ring hollow to me.

Fortunately, under legalization here in Oregon, I have many choices of marijuana businesses run by people who have always opposed locking me up over it. So I don’t have to shop at Cannabliss, the Oregon shops operated by Acreage Holdings, and thereby help enrich John Boehner, a man who was the third-most powerful man in the Executive Branch and ardently supported locking me up.

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