Inside the John Boehner Weed Trial


Either way, the details of the case, which was filed this spring but relates to events before and immediately after Boehner’s emergence from his retirement as an advocate for marijuana legalization, cast a new light. shed light on the origins of one of the most improbable conversions in recent political history. , a development that helped transform the image of the former surly legislative filibuster orator into the bawdy Uncle John.

Pericola’s bill begins in January 2018, when Donald Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned the Obama administration’s policy not to interfere with states that relaxed their marijuana laws. The move riled an industry that had grown as states across the country ended their bans. According to Pericola, now 46, he came up with the idea for something called The 10 Campaign, named after the 10th Amendment, which says states have all the powers the constitution doesn’t give to government. federal.

The account presented in Pericola’s lawsuit says The 10 Campaign came up with a « proprietary new plan for marijuana reform » and he eventually met an old friend who had been Boehner’s chief of staff. Although Boehner had been a drug warrior while elected, Pericola thought his middle-American cigar build would make him an excellent spokesperson for the cause. The friend, Pericola claims, agreed to share some of Campaign 10’s information with the former speaker.

Further meetings would have followed with Squire Patton Boggs, where Boehner had landed after leaving Congress. Pericola, 46, says key members of the company signed nondisclosure agreements before seeing some of his strategic initiatives. He says he also advised them ahead of meetings with a private equity firm about funding a legalization initiative.

A few weeks later, Boehner announced he was joining the advisory board of cannabis company Acreage Holdings, saying his views on marijuana had evolved and garnering national media attention. According to Pericola, his talking points in these media accounts were taken from suggestions by The 10 Campaign. His complaint says he continued to brainstorm and make plans with Boehner’s company until, months later, they abruptly told him that Boehner wasn’t going to join Campaign 10 after all. . The following year, he became honorary chair of the National Cannabis Roundtable, a different organization.

« Why should we pay you when we can do it ourselves, » Pericola’s complaint claims, he was told. « Defendants misappropriated Plaintiffs’ detailed proprietary and legislative plan and unjustly enriched themselves by plagiarizing that plan to establish themselves as the preeminent thought leaders in the cannabis space, » the suit concludes.

A representative for Boehner and Squire declined to comment on the pending litigation, but their attorneys filed a lengthy response last month that boiled down to: what is this guy smoking?

On the one hand, they say, « the plaintiffs’ purported ideas for marijuana reform are not ‘trade secrets’. » that legal cannabis injects billions into the economy; that marijuana can have therapeutic effects; that the Constitution gives states the power to enact their own laws – are not exactly revolutionary ideas.

To underscore that point, their filing contains a library of media footnotes — from the National Review and the Washington Times to Vox and Huffpost — making some of the points they say Pericola wants to treat as proprietary.

Additionally, they say, Pericola does not identify any actual misrepresentation by the company or the former speaker. Boehner never agreed to lead Pericola’s organization; they never agreed on money or anything. What was really going on, according to their response, was that he was soliciting business and hoping to land a big name, and after exploring the idea for a while, it didn’t work out. The allegations of inappropriate behavior, they say, are « based on the idea that Squire Patton Boggs and Chairman Boehner somehow interfered with the complainants’ job expectations. » with Squire Patton Boggs and President Boehner», something that is laughable.

Boehner and Squire want the case closed. A DC judge will rule on the request next month.

And the Pericola team, meanwhile, want the court to let them escape the dismissive elimination of a VIP. « We believe there are several factual issues that are going to come to light through the discovery process and the depositions of key people who are going to have a lot of explaining to do, » said former US Congressman Bruce Braley, the lobbyist’s lawyer. « They will hopefully have to explain their behavior under oath. »

Ironically, the lawsuit – based on the idea that small fry are being cheated out of big pay – comes at a time when, as my colleagues Hailey Fuchs and Natalie Fertig reported earlier this year, the industry cannabis has actually slipped back a bit on the lobbying front, plagued by internal divisions that followed the surge of enthusiasm at the start of the Biden administration and the current Congress.

Although parts of the country seem overrun with cannabis stores, the industry is not yet a heavy hitter in Washington. That’s partly because while Americans spend a lot of money on weed, it’s unclear if anyone is making a lot of money selling it to them. That, in turn, is primarily a function of the one thing Washington can control: federal prohibition. Because it’s classified as an illegal drug, people in the company don’t have access to parts of the banking system or even some basic tax benefits (like still being able to write off expenses), constraints that hold back profits . Many big companies are content not to make a lot of money now on the logic that stepping into the game will establish them as big players once legalization happens and the taps are turned on.

Braley says the injustice of this particular case stems from the open environment at the time of Pericola’s discussions with Squire Patton Boggs. “A lot of parts were moving fast. It was a real growth opportunity for someone like Jamie who had bipartisan relationships,” says Braley, who first met Pericola during his 2007-2015 term representing Iowa in Congress. « It was a unique moment in history, but that’s why it’s so tragic for Jamie. »

Weed’s strange legal and political status, I suppose, has a lot to do with the lawsuit against Boehner as well. It’s hard to imagine this taking place in the Washington influence operations of a mature, fully legal industry. Cannabis’ novelty and lingering jitters mean it’s a sector where ambitious unknowns like Pericola and political titans like Boehner are far more likely to clash – as collaborators or rivals – than in an industry like, say, the automobile.

Likewise, in a more familiar company, a fundamental disagreement about what constitutes a trade secret would be much less likely. If Pericola had unsuccessfully sought to enroll Boehner in a sweater industry advocacy group, he would have had a hard time taking umbrage if the former speaker later went on TV to talk about how clothes can help you. keep warm on a cold fall day.

But maybe all the chatter about strategic innovation is just sidestepping. Tasked with coming up with arguments to legalize cannabis, the most reasonably bright people — John Boehner, a veteran Washington lobbyist, an 11th grader writing a civics class essay — would likely end up in roughly the same place. In the end, fancy-pants strategic thinking can be a minor thing compared to the bigger question of who you know. In this case, a former Speaker of the House and a legendary Beltway company will always win.

Not that any of them want to argue this point in court.


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