NEW YORK – The news that the White House has confirmed a deal between President Donald J. Trump and Colorado Senator Cory Gardner that will end Booker’s filibuster of federal judge nominations in return for Trump’s promise to let the states proceed with cannabis legalization may turn out to be significant if the president keeps his word.
But what happened today on CNBC is definitely one for the record books.
This morning on Squawk on the Street, cannabis finally got its due in the form of positive commentary from CNBC analysts Bob Pisani and Jim Cramer, and an in-depth interview with former Speaker of the House John Boehner, who this week announced (via tweet) that he was joining the board of Acreage Holdings, a company that “grows and sells marijuana in eleven states,” per Carl Quintanilla, who, along with fellow hosts Sara Eisen and David Faber, interviewed Boehner and Acreage CEO Kevin Murphy.
Cannabis stocks have periodically been discussed on the business cable network over the years, but not seriously until today, when Pisani, reporting from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the market opened, singled out cannabis stocks, among others, as having influenced recent upswings in the market.
“Believe it or not, trading in bitcoin-related stocks and pot stocks, marijuana stocks, in January and part of February, was huge, and was a factor helping things out here,” he said.
A few minutes later, CNBC regular Cramer weighed in on the subject. “Very, very exciting,” he said. “Constellation Brands owns ten percent of stock in a Canadian cannabis company, preparing for the idea that worldwide it is going to be legal, and what can I say? There’s no one smarter than Rob Sands, who runs Constellation. I think it’s going to be a good business, cannabis. Not yet in America, obviously, because our attorney general has been, let’s say, very tough on it—and I know that Constellation does not intend to do anything in this country yet because they don’t want to run afoul of the government. But it’s been a big win for the company already.”
“But how do you price out the [possibility] of a change in federal policy that would make this business a lot more difficult,” asked Quintanilla.
“I think people are betting on a five-year plan, betting that the current regime will be overrun and unable to stop it at the state level,” replied Cramer. “I’m not familiar with why Canada is so front and center on this, but I know Constellation doesn’t expect anything to happen in the U.S. for multiple years because of the current regime.” This comment was made before the Cory Booker news broke this morning.
About 40 minutes later, Boehner and Murphy sat down with Quintanilla, Eisen, and Faber to discuss the news the former speaker tweeted Wednesday, when he wrote, “I’m joining the board of #AcreageHoldings because my thinking on cannabis has evolved. I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research. Help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities. @AcreageCannabis.”
By the time the segment ended about 20 minutes later, many of the subjects important to the cannabis legalization movement—from banking problems and veterans’ issues to reducing the number of people in prison—had been addressed, a testament to the preparation of both the interviewers and interviewees.
A transcript of the interview follows:
Carl Quintanilla: Your tweet took some people by surprise. When did this evolution in thinking occur? How long has this been going on?
Boehner: Well, you know, like many Americans over the past few years, people’s opinion on this issue has evolved. And I felt, like any other American, my position evolving over the years, but I never really thought about it too much until Kevin and I began conversations four, five, six months ago, and I said to myself, ‘This might be something I could lend my voice to that makes sense.’”
Quintanilla: The fact that you’re joining the board – does that mean that you now see a path in which either state legislations spread like wildfire or the federal level begins to embrace this instead of reject it?
Boehner: Well, clearly, 29 states have had a vote, either a referendum or the state legislature voted to legalize the use of cannabis in some form. But there is a big conflict with federal law, where it is a Schedule l narcotic. Congress over the last couple of years has pretty much stopped any real enforcement, but federally funded institutions can’t touch this, can’t do research, and most every university takes federal funds, and they don’t want to get very close to it. The banking system is scared to death to take this money so there’s a lot of cash rolling around. It’s time for the federal government to take another look at this. I think de-scheduling this drug, allowing for the research, would be very helpful to the American people.
Sara Eisen: Hasn’t the Trump Administration moved in the opposite direction, especially under Attorney general Jeff Sessions?
Boehner: The attorney general decided that he was not going to abide by the letter that Eric Holder had issued, where they basically said that they’re not going to enforce it. I think Sessions is basically forcing the congress to act.
David Faber: Do you think there will be any actions, Mr. Murphy? It seems hard to imagine at this point that we’re going to see any action on this particular issue, and Mr. Sessions is being very aggressive, it would seem, in terms of pushing what some would say is a very antiquated view, still calling it a gateway drug, for example, things like that.
Kevin Murphy: At Acreage, we’re trying to change the conversation, and having John, the speaker, and Governor Bill Weld joining us is changing that conversation, 29 states now have medical cannabis use, and those states are growing. States are also coming online for adult use because they need the money. Given the size of the market today, it is anticipated that it will be a $75 billion market soon.
Faber: The speaker mentioned the banks not doing your business, and a lot of these places having a lot of cash on hand. Is that still an issue?
Murphy: It is an issue for some. We bank at a lot of local banks, so it’s less of an issue for us, but it’s our job to prove that this money has not come from illicit activity, and that’s really the issue with the banks.”
Quintanilla: [To Boehner] On the Today Show this morning, you talked about medicinal use and were asked about recreational use, and you said you were not advocating for that.
Boehner: That’s not my position. My position is that the states under the 10th Amendment have the right to pass laws for their own citizens. Let the states decide what they want to do. My point is the federal government ought to get the hell out of the way.
Quintanilla: If referendums come up for recreational use, will Acreage push for it?
Murphy: We have participated in medical states to start. Those states have since started to make those states recreational, and we have gone along with that. The reason for that is that we are medical focused at Acreage, but do not discriminate against people who want to use the plant recreationally, because we have found that more than fifteen percent of people using cannabis recreationally are self-medicating and don’t want to go through the rigmarole of getting a card or a prescription.
Eisen: Speaker Boehner, will we be seeing you lobbying some of your old colleagues now?
Boehner: I don’t lobby. But I think adding my voice to this discussion elevates the discussion, and maybe a few people in Washington will notice.
Faber: What about the hundreds of thousands of people who have been put in jail for selling marijuana during your tenure, and the millions arrested for possession?
Boehner: That was a part of my evolution. I got into the criminal justice reform movement and began to see that we’ve got all these jails full of people because they either used some or had some small possession of it. It’s not a wise use of our society’s money.
Faber: And there did seem to be some consensus between both democrats and republicans to change that, but now we’ve got a Justice Department that feels very differently.
Boehner: I’m a little surprised that the broader issue of justice reform has not moved further than it has. There is a large bipartisan group of members in both the house and senate that really want to tackle this issue. But they get hung up on a couple of issues and it holds up the whole process.
Quintanilla: Are you alone in this or will other former politicians start speaking up like you are?
Boehner: I have no idea.
Quintanilla: You’re not getting any sense…
Boehner: Welcome to the party.
[Following a discussion of Boehner’s opinion on the ballooning federal deficit, Faber used the issue as a segue back to cannabis.]
Faber: Mr. Murphy, I can think of one area of revenue that people might want to tap into.
Murphy: And we highly encourage that.
Faber: It can become significant for the states in question.
Murphy: It can, and that’s why states are transitioning to recreational. People are going to use cannabis either way. It is estimated the black market is $50-100 billion dollars in comparison. We’re trying to capture that illicit market and make it legitimate. This business today is a $7 billion business. We anticipate that it will be a $75 billion business. As the largest footprint in the country, want to capture that and then we want to spend on research. We want to go beyond and tale this to the next level.
Faber: What does that mean?
Murphy:Today it is a Schedule 1 drug, but the state of Pennsylvania has welcomed eight university hospitals to do clinical research on the plant. We could not be more thrilled to be a part of that program, and the reason we are is tat we want to transition the anecdotal stories you hear every day to clinical stories. We can take the non-psycho elements of this plant and treat a six-year-old child with epilepsy, and that child will go from 70 seizures a day to one a month. There is nothing anecdotal about that for the parents of that child. To de-schedule this drug affords the [Veterans Administration] the opportunity to proscribe. Ninety percent of the veterans in this country want to have cannabis available to them for medical use. Twenty-two percent of the veterans in this country essentially use cannabis, putting their veteran status at risk. To me, that’s a shame, and we want to change that. With the speaker and the governor, we’re going to change the conversation in the United States, and we can do it because we are the largest player in the United States.
Quintanilla: It’s going to be interesting to see if financing and security, all those ancillary businesses around cannabis, start to mature.
Murphy: Today it is an advantage for us that there is not a lot of financing because we self-financed this business and that gave us a head start. If this were a Schedule II or III [drug], you’d be interviewing a guy from Merck, Pfizer, or Anheuser-Busch. That’s a fact. This is a land-grab for us.
[Following more general policy and political questions for Boehner, Quintanilla ended the segment by asking the former speaker the one question that had not yet been asked.]
Quintanilla: Finally, we could talk about cannabis forever, but viewers will want to know if you use.
Boehner: No! I’ve never used it.
Boehner: Never, ever used it, and I don’t expect to. Cigarettes and red wine are my creatures of habit.
The segment can be viewed here.