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April 11, 2018

Could former House Speaker John Boehner become the first big drug dealer capitally charged by AG Jeff Sessions?

Boehner-gopThe question in the title of this post is my (tongue-in-cheek?) reaction to this news that former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives John Boehner and former Governor of the State of Massachusetts Bill Weld have joined the Board of Advisors of Acreage Holdings.  This company in this press release calls itself "one of the nation’s largest, multi-state actively-managed cannabis corporations" and on this webpage states that it has "cultivation, processing and dispensing operations across 11 states with plans to expand." 

What this really means, legally speaking, is astutely explained in this tweet by LawProf Alex Kreit: "Oh look, here’s the former speaker of the house publicly announcing that he’s joined a conspiracy to manufacture and distribute a schedule I controlled substance and commit federal drug crimes on an ongoing basis."  But, critically, Boehner is not merely announcing that his is not part of a massive drug conspiracy, he is also perhaps putting himself in position to be subject to the new push by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, discussed here, to "strongly encourage federal prosecutors to use" a federal statute that allows for pursuing the death penalty under 18 U.S.C. § 3591(b)(1) for persons guilty of "dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs." 

Of course, as Christopher Ingraham explained in this Washington Post piece a few weeks ago, a whole lot of marijuana is required to make one eligible for the death penalty under federal law: "there is a federal capital punishment on the books for large quantities of marijuana — a substance with no known lethal dose that is legal for recreational use in nine states plus the District. The threshold is huge — 60,000 kilograms, or 60,000 plants, enough to fill several shipping containers."  But, for a company — or should I say major drug conspiracy — like Acreage Holdings, this amount of marijuana may well be a regular part of regular business operations: 

The quantity-based capital punishment provision is of particular concern to state-legal marijuana businesses.  The plant remains illegal under federal law, regardless of what state laws say.  Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group, said in an email that “there are many state-licensed cannabis businesses cultivating 60,000 plants or more.”

Needless to say, I am not expecting John Boehner or Bill Weld to be charged with a federal capital crime or any crime anytime soon.  But I am expecting folks who read this post to better understand why existing federal marijuana prohibition laws garner so little respect and why I think anyone seriously committed to the rule of law ought to be advocating for at least some kind of federal reforms regardless of their particular policy views on particular state marijuana reforms.

April 11, 2018 at 07:57 PM | Permalink


William Otis was nominated to be on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Don't know if there are any confirmation hearings, but his position here in the past was supportive of marijuana criminalization. I once made a "respect for the rule of law" argument to him against it. He did not seem impressed. Wonder what his opinion on this is.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 11, 2018 8:45:58 PM

I have a good friend in South Carolina who recently told me she has chronic pain from a spinal compression fracture. I started to write, "Have you tried pot for that?" and tell her that one of my wife's 70-something-year-old, very conventional friends has found a marijuana-based cream that works wonders for knee pain. Then I realized, "Oh, she's not here in Washington State." I think Boehner's move is a good one, a step in gradually dispelling the paranoia that has characterized national policy on pot for so long ... and continues to characterize that policy under the current Attorney General.

Posted by: Late Inning Relief | Apr 11, 2018 11:45:26 PM

Paul-Booker-Gillibrand sponsored legislation regarding medicinal marijuana use and it's something that has a chance to get wide support.

We are adults. We can admit that some want more than that and will use medicinal marijuana as a "gateway" to broad marijuana usage. Two points. (1) Marijuana usage is about personal health and well being on a basic level even beyond use for those in severe distress. (2) so be it. The more narrow use is still important and possible bleeding out to other uses (only up to a point) is not a problem that warrants not allowing it.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 12, 2018 11:09:36 AM

The way to get rid of unjust laws is to vigorously enforce them.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Apr 12, 2018 11:45:19 AM

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