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Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem

The former Speaker of House, John Boehner, and former Massachusetts Governor, Bill Weld, were added to the Board of Advisors for Acreage Holdings, an investment company heavily involved in the legal cannabis industry.

This pair of former conservative leaders will certainly help to bring bipartisan support for the pro-legalization movement. They’re also part of an emerging trend of conservative revolving door lobbyists working on behalf of the legal marijuana industry.

Last September, the former three-term Republican Senator from New York, Al D’Amato, wrote an op-ed for the Daily News in support of a state medical marijuana bill. It was titled, “My epiphany on medical marijuana: Sen. Al D’Amato explains why he came around on pot policy.” At the end of his piece, there was a disclosure that D’Amato is a “paid senior advisor” for the Marijuana Policy Project of New York.

He wrote a similar op-ed in 2014 in the Long Island Herald not long after signing a $15,000 per month lobbying contract with two cannabis-related companies. The co-founder of one of those companies, Richard Yost, noted that $200,000 was budgeted for the full year. He told Newsday, “It’s a Republican issue in the Senate, and Park Strategies has a strong relationship on that side.”It’s this kind of influence peddling that is ruining our political system.

These men’s views on cannabis may have genuinely shifted over the years, but it’s very convenient (and lucrative) to now be lobbying on behalf of the right side of history. John Boehner recently claimed that his position on marijuana “evolved,” but he had a 0% rating from the pro-marijuana legalization group, NORML, before leaving office. He was also the leading recipient of donations from the tobacco industry, which has aggressively lobbied against marijuana legalization.

Al D’Amato was also one of the largest recipients of special interest money from the groups that have opposed marijuana legalization. In particular, he was once the top benefactor of the alcoholindustry and the third-highest recipient of donations from big pharma.

In fact, D’Amato built his political brand by being a “drug warrior.” He literally conducted a publicity stunt by doing an undercover crack cocaine buy with Rudy Giuliani, who was wearing a Hells Angels leather jacket. D’Amato was so adamant in his “tough on crime” stance that he advocated for the death penalty for drug traffickers. Suffice it to say, D’Amato was an integral part of the Just Say No era that essentially conflated cannabis with more harmful drugs and stigmatized this issue in the minds of Middle American voters.

With that said, everyone is entitled to change their opinion on a political topic. Of this group, only Bill Weld’s change-of-heart appears to be genuine. He was a fairly firm supporter of drug laws during his time as Governor in the 90s. However, he adamantly campaigned in 2016 for legalization as a Vice Presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party.

That was a popular stance with most Americans. In fact, for the first time, a recent Gallup poll found that the majority of Republicans (51%) now support legalized marijuana. The overall level of support among the full national electorate is at a record level of 64%.

That means that there’s a pronounced dichotomy between public opinion and the actual state of affairs. For instance, there are two proposals in the Senate to legalize marijuana, Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act and Ron Wyden’s Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act. But, both bills have an estimated 1-2% chance of being passed, according to analytics forecasting group Skopos Labs.

Obviously, special interest groups are the main culprits for why the progress with cannabis legislation has been a slow process. Hence, it’s a positive development to have former political leaders fighting on behalf of reforming marijuana laws, but it also shines a light on the unscrupulous nature of our political system.

There are now 428 former members of Congress working as professional lobbyists. This “revolving door” is an inherently corrupt system that exploits legislative loopholes. Politicians also stand to make much more money after leaving office as a professional lobbyist, which creates rampant conflicts of interest for these elected officials while in office.

One of the main reasons that the pro-legalization message is gaining some traction on Capitol Hill is that it represents a thriving industry that is projected to gross $37.3 billion by 2024. Therefore, it now has a small seat at the table.

For decades, the marijuana legalization movement was essentially devoid of corporate financing. Hence, the change in every state with legal recreational marijuana came about via ballot measures, not the state legislatures (excluding New Hampshire).

Eventually, the marijuana industry will be fully legalized, but not until it has enough resources to counter the special interests of its opponents. In the end, marijuana reform will be a positive development for our country. More important, it will hopefully illustrate the necessary reforms that are necessary for our entire political system.

 

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