Republican cannabis bandwagon continues to grow as former Rep. Curbelo joins Cannabis Trade Federation

Throughout history, the human race has proved repeatedly that any nation which leans too heavily conservative or too eagerly progressive is doomed to fail. Too progressive and society eventually stumbles into a pitfall. Too conservative and eventually a society will fall behind in progress or miss out on potential opportunities to improve the people’s quality of life.

Most successful modern civilizations tend to hover around the 50/50 conservative/liberal margin, swinging to one side or the other briefly, only to swing back again within a generation. On some issues, societies lean conservative, and on others, societies lean progressive. Eventually—hopefully—we end up on the right side of history.

In the case of marijuana, as happened with alcohol, many Republicans are becoming convinced that, although some progressives are a bit too gung ho on the issue, it’s the prohibitionists that are on the wrong side of history.

[2020 presidential candidates’ views on marijuana: suddenly presidential candidates are 420-friendly?]

The swing has been picking up steam, to put it mildly, in recent years with notable Republicans, such as the speaker of the House John Boehner who last year joined the board of New York-based publicly-traded cannabis conglomerate Acreage Holdings (CSE: ACRG-U, OTC: ACRZF).

However, more moderate conservatives have been jumping bandwagons for decades, such as former Mass. Gov. William Weld, who supported medical cannabis way back in 1992, years before California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Weld also joined Acreage Holdings around the same time as Boehner.

Every conservative politician who jumps ship on the issue does so for different reasons. Some because it’s clearly a lifesaving medicine, some because the social injustice is becoming clear, some to take cash flow away from drug cartels and put it back into the local economy, some for the tax dollars, and some simply because it’s looking mighty attractive as one of the fastest growing industries of modern times—and, well, it’s inevitable—so why not profit from the projected $75 billion industry (by 2030 according to the investment bank Cowen & Co). Most claim some combination of the above.

When Gov. Weld spoke his mind on the issue decades ago, the vast majority of conservatives were against him on this issue. And when Congressman Boehner, a long-time opponent of federal cannabis reform decided, if you can’t beat them, join them, it was progressives that were shaking their head in disbelief.

Near the end of 2017, for the first time in nearly 50 years of Gallup polling, a majority of American Republicans (51 percent) said they support legalizing marijuana in one form or another. That number was up a mountainous 42 percent from the prior year if you can believe it.

Today, in Washington, although there are still some holdouts on both sides of the aisle, progressive and conservative lawmakers are joining hands in the march to end federal prohibition. A handful of Republicans have been leaders in the fight for federal reform such as Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner and former California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.

Republicans lobbying for cannabis

Today, the cannabis industry boasts powerful Republican allies is government, business, and the private sector, all but spelling doom for federal prohibition.

Last month, the Cannabis Trade Federation announced the addition of former Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo to the lobby organization’s team of strategic advisors. Since it was formed in April of 2018, CTF has hired 15 lobbyists.

Curbelo who was unseated in the midterm elections served as U.S. representative from 2015 to 2019. In a press release, the CEO of the CTF, Neal Levine, called Curbelo “a commanding advocate for cannabis reform while he was in Congress.” Curbelo was, indeed, a leader in the fight against IRS Tax Code 280E, as well as a cosponsor of a number of other cannabis reform bills, such as the States Act.

[Florida House beats governor’s deadline for lifting the ban on smoking medical marijuana]

“This is a states’ rights issue,” Curbelo said in the news release. He added that he’s joining CTF’s team “because I know that they are the most effective cannabis industry lobby and that they have the resources, talent, and professional acumen needed to pass game-changing reform at the federal level.”

The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, a bipartisan bill endorsed by President Donald Trump, is aimed at bridging the policy gap between state and federal cannabis law.

Republicans In the cannabis industry

In April of 2018, Acreage Holdings, a diversified cannabis company with dispensaries and growing facilities across the country, announced that former Speaker of the House John Boehner was joining its board of advisors. The flip was a total surprise to drug policy advocates.

During his 24 years in Congress, Boehner voted to deny states with medical marijuana programs protection from federal interference and voted to prohibit medicinal marijuana in Washington, D.C. That’s the full extent of his record prior to his recent reversal. In fact, back in 2011, in a note to a constituent, Boehner wrote that he was "unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana."

Boehner claims that his shift in thinking was driven in part by conversations with veterans who successfully use marijuana to ease conditions such as chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder. "I started to reach out to some of my friends, neighbors, and others, and I thought, 'you know, there's more interest in this than I would have guessed.'"

[Congress makes another go at medical marijuana legislation for veterans]

Earlier this year, Boehner spoke at media mega expo, SXSW. "It's clear this market is going to expand,” he told his audience. “And as it does, lawmakers in Washington have to look up and realize that the federal government is way out of step. It's time for the federal government to get out of the way."

"States have spoken up, and I think even Republicans in Congress would recognize it's time for Washington to get out of the way." — John Boehner

In his speech, Boehner issued his support for the STATES Act, a proposal introduced in the Senate by Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Cory Gardner designed to repeal federal prohibition and allow states to regulate the drug, saying the measure would solve a lot of problems for cannabis operations in states where marijuana is now legal.

In an interview on NPR's All Things Considered, Boehner stated, "I've never used the product. I really have no plans to use the product. But if other people use the product, who am I to say they shouldn't?"

Bill Weld, former US attorney and Republican governor of Massachusetts, joined Acreage around the same time Boehner got on board. Now identifying as a Libertarian, Weld was the party’s nominee for vice president in 2016.

Speaking at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo recently, Weld reminded the audience that he backed medical marijuana as far back as 1992, long before most Republicans.

Weld also strongly endorsed the STATES Act. “That’s my favorite piece of legislation that is on the Hill right now, not only because it’s bipartisan, but because it’s going to the fundamental issue of telling the government to get the hell out of our business,” Weld told the audience.

“I think [national legalization] is inevitable. I don’t think any politician is going to be able to stop it.” — William Weld

“As members of the Board, Speaker Boehner and Governor Weld will bring an immense, collective and unique set of experiences in government affairs, unmatched leadership, and guidance to help drive Acreage towards its strategic mission,” Acreage Holdings wrote in a press release. “Acreage has a mission to make cannabis available to any patient who can benefit from safe and reliable access. The addition of Speaker Boehner and Governor Weld to our Board will lead to even greater access for patients by changing the conversation overnight. These men have shaped the political course of our country for decades, and now they will help shape the course of this nascent, but ascendant, industry.”

[Former House Speaker John Boehner to chair new national cannabis industry lobbying group, push for federal legalization]

Today, 34 states and the District of Columbia have approved the use of marijuana for either medical or recreational purposes. A decent number of those states are run by Republican governors and represented in Washington by Republican lawmakers. It certainly seems inevitable that enough Republicans will come around on the issue to tip the balance in favor of ending Federal prohibition. And many progressives shall rejoice that day.

“Millennials who will inherit the kingdom before long, they are even more positive about cannabis than the populous at large,” Weld told the Cannabis World Congress. “You can look at the trend of millennial opinion and you can see the future.”

This joint statement issued by Acreage Holdings on behalf of Weld and Boehner sums up the evolving Republican position on ending the federal prohibition of marijuana:

While we come at this issue from different perspectives and track records, we both believe the time has come for serious consideration of a shift in federal marijuana policy. Over the past 20 years, a growing number of states have experimented with their right to offer cannabis programs under the protection of the Tenth Amendment. During that period, those rights have lived somewhat in a state of conflict with federal policy. Also, during this period, the public perception of cannabis has dramatically shifted, with 94% of Americans currently in favor of some type of access, a shift driven by increased awareness of marijuana’s many medical applications.

We need to look no further than our nation's 20 million veterans, 20 percent of whom, according to a 2017 American Legion survey, reportedly use cannabis to self-treat PTSD, chronic pain, and other ailments. Yet the VA does not allow its doctors to recommend its usage. There are numerous other patient groups in America whose quality of life has been dramatically improved by the state-sanctioned use of medical cannabis.  

While the Tenth Amendment has allowed much to occur at the state level, there are still many negative implications of the Federal policy to schedule cannabis as a Class 1 drug: 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.

We are excited to join the team at Acreage in pursuit of their mission to bring safe, consistent, and reliable products to patients and consumers who could benefit. We have full confidence in their management team and believe this is the team that will transform the debate, policy, and landscape around this issue.

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