Boehner, 7 U.S. Mayors Blast Feds on Marijuana Legalization: 'Prohibition Has Failed'

Former Ohio Republican Congressman and Speaker of the House John Boehner joined several U.S. mayors this week in telling the federal government to get out of the way of marijuana legalization.

Boehner, a longtime staunch opponent of marijuana, joined the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis investment firm that pursues cultivation and dispensary businesses in addition to touting cannabis’s “transformational power to heal and change the world.” Speaking with WCPO-TV on Monday, Boehner touted the effectiveness of medical marijuana treatment for military veterans, opioid addicts and children with epilepsy.

“There’s a lot of evidence that it works, when you look at kids with epilepsy and the fact that they’re taking the non-psychotic part of this plant and reducing the number of seizures they have,” Boehner told WCPO-TV. The former GOP House leader has completely switched on this issue, having said in 2011 he was “unalterably opposed” to legalization as well as voting against its use in Washington, D.C., in 1999. In 2015, Boehner told a constituent he didn’t support reclassifying cannabis over concerns “all varieties of drugs” would then see an increase in abuse, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

But after talking with several U.S. military veterans in recent years, Boehner now says that veterans suffering from chronic pain issues and PTSD should be able to “have access to medical marijuana because we believe it will actually help them … when you look at the states where medical marijuana is pretty prevalent the use of opioids is down 25 percent.” Boehner said many universities shun marijuana research because it's a Schedule I drug, however National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Newsweek that federal regulations do permit clinicians to apply for licensing to conduct clinical trials using cannabis. But he added that the stringent regulations on these tests require that researchers work only with marijuana grown and provided by federal government agencies.

Boehner added that “if the states decide they want to do this, it’s up to them. I’m not going to be an advocate in terms of what the states should or shouldn’t do that’s clearly up to them.” This push against the federal government pot prohibition was echoed by Democratic senators Cory Gardner and Elizabeth Warren, who appeared on MSNBC to promote bipartisan legislation called “Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States” to eliminate federal threats of intervention in state-by-state marijuana laws. 

Last week, President Trump undermined U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions by telling reporters at the White House he'll "probably end up supporting" Gardner and Warren's bipartisan bill.

Mayors from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Portland and West Sacramento sponsored a resolution at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Boston this week, asking the U.S. government to pull cannabis from its list of illegal narcotics.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler touted the business and job opportunities that legalization has brought to Oregon in addition to its generation of millions of dollars in tax revenue. “Cannabis prohibition has failed. It has failed to keep our children safe, it has failed law enforcement, and it has especially failed communities of color disproportionately targeted and prosecuted for low-level drug offenses,” he told KNSD-TV in San Diego. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told Herald Radio on Tuesday that he and the other city leaders plan to follow evolving regulations laws and “tax the hell out of [marijuana]" in states where it’s legalized.

A cascade of states began passing marijuana legalization bills under President Barack Obama’s administration after the Justice Department instructed federal law enforcement agencies not to bother states where marijuana was legalized along with strong regulation. Today, 30 states and the District of Columbia have broadly legalized marijuana in some form, with eight states and D.C. having fully legalized recreational marijuana use. But in January, President Trump–appointed Attorney General Sessions issued a memo reverting back to its policy of aggressively prosecuting marijuana activities.

“The Department of Justice today issued a memo on federal marijuana enforcement policy announcing a return to the rule of law and the rescission of previous guidance documents,” the DOJ announced in January. "Attorney General Jeff Sessions directs all U.S. Attorneys to enforce the laws enacted by Congress and to follow well-established principles when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana activities … to reduce violent crime, stem the tide of the drug crisis, and dismantle criminal gangs.”

Under current federal laws, marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency alongside LSD, cocaine and heroin. Boehner told WCPO-TV Monday he thinks marijuana and cannabis should be removed as a Class I narcotic. An April 2018 survey from Quinnipiac University found that a majority—63 percent—of U.S. voters say “marijuana should be made legal in the United States.” This poll echoes several Gallup, CBS News and Fox News respondents, which are seeing the highest percentage of pro-pot legalization.

NORML's Armentano told Newsweek Tuesday that politicians "from both sides of the aisle" are being hit with the blunt truth that a majority of voters from all ideologies—Democrat, Republican and Independents—support substantive marijuana policy reform. "More and more, elected officials—and those who wish to be elected—are acknowledging that advocating in favor of marijuana policy reform is a political opportunity, not a political liability," Armentano said.

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