John Boehner's 'Evolution' on Marijuana Could Come With a Huge Payday—For Him and the Weed Industry

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner appeared to embrace the medical potential of marijuana Wednesday by announcing he was joining a cannabis company. The surprising move gives credibility to the growing marijuana industry and represents a reversal in Boehner's attitude toward the plant since his time in office, when the Ohio Republican once wrote to a constituent that he was “unalterably opposed ” to marijuana legalization.

But while Boehner has said his new embrace of cannabis is due to his evolving thoughts on the drug, his come-to-Jesus moment could also have been spurred by the prospect of a big payday. 

Boehner announced Wednesday that, along with former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, he was joining the advisory board at cannabis company Acreage Holdings, a private company that said last month it was executing a plan “to pursue an initial public offering.” Boehner and Weld have also committed to joining the company’s full board once it is formed, according to the company.

If Acreage Holdings gave Boehner and Weld equity in the company, a practice experts said is common for advisory board members, then the two men could see a payday if the company does indeed go public. 

“My expectation is that he would certainly stand to profit. I would be very surprised if he did not,” Susan Shultz, founder and CEO of The Board Institute, a creator of board evaluation tools, told Newsweek. “His name is significant, he's going to add a lot of credibility and value just by virtue of him sitting on that board...I would think he would participate in equity as the company goes public.”

The company could not be reached for comment. A call to a Boehner spokesperson was not immediately returned. But it is not the former speaker's first foray onto a company's board. After he left Congress in 2015, Boehner joined the board at tobacco company Reynolds American.

As a private company, Acreage has not disclosed any information about the compensation Boehner and Weld will receive in their new roles, or its own financials, making it difficult to estimate how much money an IPO could raise, analysts told Newsweek. But Bloomberg did report that neither Boehner nor Weld has invested their own money in the company.  

 


Acreage, which changed its name from High Street Capital Partners less than a month ago, says it either operates dispensaries or owns dispensary licenses in 11 states. Last month, the company brought on a new Chief Financial Officer who led a global IPO team at accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers as part of preparations for going public.

Boehner and Weld, a former Republican who ran as the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate in the 2016 election, issued a joint statement Wednesday announcing their decision to join the advisory board. They also called for a “serious consideration of a shift in federal marijuana policy.”

“There are still many negative implications of the Federal policy to schedule cannabis as a Class 1 drug,” the statement said, referencing the federal drug classification system that deems cannabis to have less medical value than cocaine or methamphetamine. “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.”

While Boehner and Weld did not call for nationwide legalization of marijuana in their statement, their desire a shift in federal marijuana policy represents a turn for Boehner, who said in an interview that his views have shifted over time. (The Libertarian Party Weld represented called for the repeal of laws against medical or recreational drug use.)

“Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically,” Boehner told Bloomberg. “I find myself in that same position.”

GettyImages-494818758 (1) Newly elected Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (L) (R-WI) is embraced by outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) (R-OH) after Ryan's election to the leadership position October 29, 2015 in Washington, D.C. Getty

It is not just Boehner who stands to benefit from the move. His addition to the company’s board is being praised as a watershed moment for the American cannabis industry, which was seen to be in regulatory limbo after Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January rescinded the Cole Memo, an Obama-era policy that advised federal authorities to let states regulate marijuana.

“It is difficult to overstate the impact of this monumental event for the U.S. cannabis sector,” Vahan Ajamian, a research analyst with Beacon Securities said in a note to investors. “We believe the implicit sponsorship of the sector by two influential former politicians, supports what we have been saying for quite some time–that the risk of federal intervention in the U.S. cannabis sector is low. Accordingly, this news should serve to ‘legitimize’ the sector and further perk up investor interest.”

The National Organization For The Reform Of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said Boehner’s decision to join the company’s advisory board should be praised regardless of the reasons for the decision.

“Regardless of motive, former Speaker Boehner is still held in high esteem by a large percentage of the GOP membership and voter base and we look forward to his voice joining the growing chorus calling for an end to our failed prohibition,” Erik Altieri, NORML’s Executive Director, told Newsweek in an email. “Anything that expedites the ability for patients to access this safe and reliable treatment alternative and put an end to the practice of arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for the possession of a plant should be welcomed with open arms.”

Boehner’s announcement came the same day his successor as speaker of the house, Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, announced he would not seek reelection.

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