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How legal weed reached a tipping point in the Trump era

  • Former House Speaker John Boehner joined the board of a marijuana company, saying his thinking about the drug had "evolved."
  • President Trump assured Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado that his administration would not interfere with the state's legal cannabis industry.
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is laying the groundwork for his state to legalize adult use.
  • There will be a lot to celebrate on 4.20.
MedMen opens a shop on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to sell medical marijuana.
Source: MedMen
MedMen opens a shop on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to sell medical marijuana.

John Boehner says his "thinking on cannabis has evolved."

The former Republican Speaker of the House announced last week he has joined the advisory board of a marijuana company along with former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, saying in a joint statement that "the time has come for serious consideration of a shift in federal marijuana policy."

The announcement — coming the week before 4.20, the international marijuana celebration day — sent a positive shockwave across the nascent cannabis industry, energizing marijuana advocates and cannabis entrepreneurs like myself.

It was accompanied by the news that President Donald Trump gave assurances to Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado that his administration would not interfere with the state's legal cannabis industry and the news that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had just laid the groundwork for his state to legalize adult use. There will be a lot to celebrate this April 20.

If there was ever a tipping point in the country's ongoing debate over marijuana legalization, last week might have very well been it. For Boehner's part, what changed his mind was public opinion, he explained. Weld was an early supporter of medical marijuana in his state, but Boehner was a strong opponent of legalization during his 24 years in Congress.

"Over these last 10 years, my attitude has changed pretty dramatically on this," Boehner told Bloomberg. The vast majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization, including a majority of registered Republicans, so it is time for our laws to reflect the will of the people, he now says.

"If there was ever a tipping point in the country's ongoing debate over marijuana legalization, last week might have very well been it."

That politicians would be swayed by public opinion shouldn't be a surprise. That's how our democracy is supposed to work. What makes last week's developments significant is that they underscore a marked and palpable growth in the momentum for legalization.

Since California first legalized medical marijuana two decades ago, the marijuana legalization movement has been gathering steam. The number of states legalizing medical marijuana has grown to 30; in eight of those states marijuana is regulated for adult use, like alcohol.

As legalization brings marijuana use out of the shadows and increasingly into the mainstream, attitudes have changed steadily. I see that every day in our operations. When California ushered in adult-use sales earlier this year, our stores in the Los Angeles area saw lines of shoppers celebrating out in the open without a hint of stigma.

When we opened our new factory near Reno, Nevada, the ribbon-cutting event last week was attended by local elected officials and business leaders. And MedMen is about to open a new marijuana store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. People are realizing that this is not a gateway drug, it is a product that if regulated tightly and used responsibly could help people address ailments and lead happier lives.

Boehner wants to see the federal government de-schedule marijuana. It's currently a Schedule I drug along with heroin, meaning the federal government sees it as a dangerous substance with no redeeming qualities. De-scheduling means "we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities," Boehner tweeted.

Boehner's change of heart and President Trump's assurances to Gardner last week offered a strong counterpoint to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recent decision to rescind an Obama-era memo that generally left state-sanctioned marijuana programs alone. During an interview with CNBC, Boehner said he believes strongly that marijuana should be left to the states and "the federal government ought to get the hell out of the way."

I couldn't agree more.

Commentary by Adam Bierman, chief executive officer and co-founder of MedMen Enterprises, a Los Angeles-based company that owns and operates licensed cannabis facilities in cultivation, manufacturing and retail in California, Nevada and New York. Follow him on Twitter @_AdamBierman_.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCOpinion on Twitter.

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