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Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is joining the board of Acreage Holdings, a New York-based cannabis company that also counts former U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner among its directors.

It was Mr. Boehner, he said, along with another Acreage director, former Massachusetts governor William Weld, who told him about the company and the opportunity. After he got to know the management team, which is chock-full of Wall Street veterans, he signed on, he said.

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Wednesday’s legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada is an “important social advance,” and he’s joining the company because he sees the potential for cannabis “to make a significant difference in the lives of a number of people,” including soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, Mr. Mulroney said.

“When I looked at the good it could do I thought this might be a way to have a constructive engagement in it,” he said.

His explanation echoes that of Mr. Boehner, whose decision to join the board of a pot company drew public attention because of his track record of opposing the relaxation of marijuana laws in more than two decades in the U.S. House of Representatives, including four years as its speaker. He left Congress in 2015.

“In the fullness of time, things happen,” Mr. Mulroney said. “If you’d told me when I was prime minister same-sex marriage would be on everyone’s radar screen 25 years later, it would have been a real stretch … social change sometimes comes in waves, and I think this is what’s happening here.” He left office in 1993.

Acreage holds cannabis cultivation, production and/or retail assets in 14 U.S. states, primarily in the northeastern part of the country.

Acreage plans to list on the Canadian Securities Exchange once it completes a reverse merger with an Ontario company called Applied Inventions Management Corp. Mr. Mulroney will join the board of the new company as the deal closes sometime in November. The CSE has become the Canadian exchange on which many American cannabis companies are listed because the Toronto Stock Exchange has more restrictive rules for pot firms doing business in the United States.

Chief executive Kevin Murphy, an alternative-asset manager who has been building Acreage’s predecessor company, High Street Capital Partners LLC, since 2014, said Mr. Mulroney brings his company international recognition and his “deep business and international business experience” will be invaluable as the company expands internationally, possibly including Canada. (The company does not have current plans to sell cannabis in the Canadian market, a spokesman said.)

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Mr. Mulroney, a senior partner of law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, is a veteran corporate director. He is chair of the board at Quebecor Inc., where he earned $507,549 in 2017, including $100,000 in consulting fees. He sits on the board of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Inc., serving as the chair of its compensation committee and a member of its corporate governance committee. The company is a spinoff from Wyndham Worldwide Corp., where Mr. Mulroney received US$617,006 in compensation in 2017 for his board service.

He also serves on the boards of Blackstone Group Management LLC, where he earned US$299,836 in 2017.

Acreage has not yet disclosed compensation plans for its directors, who also include Douglas Maine, former chief financial officer of International Business Machines Corp.

One other recent task for Mr. Mulroney has been to offer advice to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet during the recent difficult negotiations over free trade. Mr. Mulroney negotiated a free-trade agreement with then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan, struck in 1988, and the NAFTA deal with then-president George Bush, formalized in 1994.

“These were two extraordinary leaders but they were very gentlemanly at all times and their consideration for Canada was very high. So even though the negotiations in those days were difficult as well, we had an extremely productive and happy relationship,” Mr. Mulroney said. “Mr. Trump is different. He has his own way of doing things, and he was elected by the people of America to do that, so that’s the way it is.”

“The deal is a good one, a good one for Canada and a good one for the three [countries],” he said. Canada, he said, “was very well-represented” in the trade talks. “They came out of it well, in a very difficult and challenging situation … they had a more difficult challenge than I had all those years ago.”

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Mr. Mulroney said that as he’s told people of his new role as a director of a cannabis company, “no one has asked me” if he is a cannabis user. “And they would be very disappointed if they did. Why don’t I just leave it at that?”

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