Former Republican House Speaker and one-time cannabis prohibitionist John Boehner told crowds gathered at South by Southwest that it's time for the federal government to catch up with public opinions on cannabis reform.
Support for cannabis legalization has been growing quickly among Americans in recent years. Estimates suggest that some 62 percent of Americans believe it's time for the federal government to change their approach to marijuana laws. And while recreational cannabis is now legal in ten states, one US territory and the District of Columbia, cannabis reform has been much slower to catch on at the federal level. But, as the legal cannabis industry continues to spread across the country, the feds have an obligation to support the industry's growth, according to Boehner.
"It's clear this market is going to expand. And as it does, lawmakers in Washington have to look up and realize that the federal government is way out of step," Boehner told CNBC before his SXSW talk on Friday. "It's time for the federal government to get out of the way."
He thinks that's going to happen soon too. Boehner told the crowd during his talk that he believes Congress will take a big step toward marijuana reform by passing the STATES Act. If successful, the bill would prevent the federal government from prosecuting states that have legalized cannabis within their borders.
"Right now, I think the STATES Act is where most of the momentum is," said Boehner.
After years of upholding prohibition, Boehner made an unexpected 180 in 2018 by not only voicing support for medical marijuana but also joining the board of directors for the cannabis investment firm Acreage Holdings.
Cannabis reform has become a huge part of the upcoming 2020 presidential race with numerous candidates positioning legalization as central piece of their platform. So even if Boehner's prediction about the STATES Act doesn't come to pass, it seems increasingly likely that we'll see some significant changes in federal drug policy in the coming years.