Former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank has signed on to work with Beantown Greentown, a Boston collective of growers and other cannabis professionals currently navigating the regulatory process to obtain a state license to operate legally. Under terms of the deal, Frank will make public appearances and use his political influence to advocate for broader marijuana legalization, particularly at the federal level, and will receive a 1.5 percent interest in the cooperative in return.
Frank has been supported cannabis legalization since the 1970s when he served as a Massachusetts state legislator. He said in an interview with the Boston Globe that he continued to advocate for the reform of marijuana laws until the end of his career in public service.
“When I announced my retirement [in 2011], [then-President Barack] Obama invited me and my husband to a private lunch,” Frank said. “I only raised two issues with him: cutting military spending and allowing states that had legalized marijuana to go forward without federal prosecution.”
Frank said that he joined Beantown Greentown because he is impressed with the group’s business plan and approach to cannabis, which extends beyond the motivation of profit. And while he supports small businesses and co-ops, he also sees a place in the cannabis industry for larger firms.
“I have no objection in principle to corporations, but I think the people who have been working away on this forever shouldn’t get squeezed out,” said Frank. “I like the fact that, for them, it’s both a business and an ideological commitment. It gave me confidence there aren’t going to be any unethical practices or exploitation — they’re part of the community they’re trying to serve.”
Although recreational cannabis has been legal in Massachusetts since late last year, Frank sees opportunities for additional reform, including home delivery of cannabis products. He also believes that the state should allow consumption lounges.
“Of course we should have them,” Frank said. “Marijuana is much less deleterious in its social impact than alcohol. We have bars, which generate by far the most impaired driving, so I don’t understand what the problem would be.”
Predicts Federal Reforms
Frank predicted that the reform of federal marijuana laws will come soon. He said that Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, who served with Frank in
the House of Representatives, “guaranteed” him that legislation to permit banks to do business with cannabis companies would succeed this year.
“It’s going to pass the House overwhelmingly,” Frank said. “Democrats want it. Banks want it. The Republicans are split. But the main obstacle before was [former Attorney General] Jeff Sessions, who was obstinate on this, and now he’s gone.”
Frank also expects senators from states with legal cannabis will lobby their Republican colleagues to support the bill to help them win reelection.
“Cory [Gardner] is going to go to [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch [McConnell] and say, ‘hey, if you want me back in office, we need to pass this bill,’ “ Frank said. “I’m fully convinced it will be legal for banks to take this money by the end of the year.”
He said that the ultimate goal is full legalization of cannabis at the federal level and believes that legislation could get presidential approval.
“A lot of Trump voters smoke this stuff,” Frank said.
Frank added that cannabis legalization is the right thing to do.
“I’ve been a major advocate for that my whole career,” Frank said. “It’s just good public policy, and it would actually improve people’s respect for federal law.”