By Jonathan Kaminsky
SEATTLE (Reuters) - A former Microsoft executive plans to create the first U.S. national marijuana brand, with cannabis he hopes to eventually import legally from Mexico, and said he was kicking off his business by acquiring medical pot dispensaries in three U.S. states.
Jamen Shively, a former Microsoft corporate strategy manager, said he envisions his Seattle-based enterprise becoming the leader in both recreational and medical cannabis - much like Starbucks is the dominant name in coffee, he said.
Shively, 45, whose six years at Microsoft ended in 2009, said he was soliciting investors for $10 million in start-up money.
The use, sale and possession of marijuana remains illegal in the United States under federal law. Two U.S. states have, however, legalized recreational marijuana use and are among 18 states that allow it for medical use.
"It's a giant market in search of a brand," Shively said of the marijuana industry. "We would be happy if we get 40 percent of it worldwide."
A 2005 United Nations report estimated the global marijuana trade to be valued at $142 billion. http://www.unodc.org/pdf/WDR_2005/volume_1_web.pdf
Washington state and Colorado became the first two U.S. states to legalize recreational marijuana when voters approved legalization in November.
Shively laid out his plans, along with his vision for a future in which marijuana will be imported from Mexico, at a Thursday news conference in downtown Seattle.
Joining him was former Mexican President Vicente Fox, a longtime Shively acquaintance who has been an advocate of decriminalizing marijuana. Fox said he was there to show his support for Shively's company but has no financial stake in it.
"What a difference it makes to have Jamen here sitting at my side instead of Chapo Guzman," said Fox, referring to the fact he would rather see Shively selling marijuana legally than the Mexican drug kingpin selling it illegally. "This is the story that has begun to be written here."
Shively told Reuters he hoped Fox would serve an advisory role in his enterprise, dubbed Diego Pellicer after Shively's hemp-producing great grandfather.
The sale of cannabis or marijuana remains illegal in much of the world although countries mainly in Europe and the Americas have decriminalized the possession of small quantities of it. A larger number of countries have decriminalized or legalized cannabis for medical use.
Shively acknowledges that his business plans conflict with U.S. federal law and are complicated by regulations in both Washington state and Colorado. He said he is interested in buying dispensaries that comply with local and state rules and are less likely to attract the scrutiny of authorities.
"If they want to come talk to me, I'll be delighted to meet with them," he said of federal officials. "I'll tell them everything that we're doing and show them all our books."
Washington state's marijuana consultant, Mark Kleiman, said he was skeptical of Shively's plans, and feared that the businessman is seeking to profit off others' addiction.
"It's very hard for me to understand why anybody seriously interested in being in the marijuana business, which after all is against the federal law, would so publicly announce his conspiracy to break that law," said Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, referred questions to the Department of Justice headquarters. Department officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Washington state Representative Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, sees promise in Shively's initiative. Any industry emerging from the shadows will inevitably undergo consolidation - and thereby simplify the task of regulators, he said.
"The fact that an entrepreneur is publicly pushing the envelope around a branding and value-based pricing opportunity, I would say that's in the water in Seattle," said Carlyle, chairman of the House Finance Committee. "That's in our DNA ... We could have predicted that as much as the rain."
Shively said he has already acquired the rights to the Northwest Patient Resource Center, a medical marijuana operation that includes two Seattle store fronts. He added that he was close to acquiring another dispensary in Colorado, as well as two more each in Washington state and California, with the owners given the option to retain a stake in their businesses.
"We've created the first risk-mitigated vehicles for investing directly in this business opportunity," he said.
Shively said he ultimately plans to create separate medical and recreational-use marijuana brands. Shively said he also plans to launch a study of the effectiveness of concentrated cannabis oil in the treatment of cancer and other illnesses.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Andrew Hay)
Earlier on HuffPost:
The conservative former Fox News host is known for going on rants, but who would have predicted <a href="http://marijuanamajority.com/?id=210" target="_hplink">this tirade</a> against the failure of marijuana prohibition? “I think it's about time we legalize marijuana... We either put people who are smoking marijuana behind bars or we legalize it, but this little game we are playing in the middle is not helping us, it is not helping Mexico and it is causing massive violence on our southern border... Fifty percent of the money going to these cartels is coming just from marijuana coming across our border.”
The notoriously cautious former White House chief of staff, who urged President Obama to stay away from polarizing issues and take a middle-of-the-road approach, <a href="http://marijuanamajority.com/?id=176" target="_hplink">pushed through</a> a money-saving marijuana decriminalization law after becoming mayor of Chicago. “We have police officers...arresting people for 10 grams, 11 grams, 12 grams. A huge amount of time dedicated to that. Then, they go to court. That means they're not on the street fighting gangs, fighting gun violence... I think [the decriminalization proposal is] a smart change because I want our police officers focused on serious violent crime.”
The Republican governor of Texas and former presidential candidate doesn't fancy himself a fan of marijuana, but does <a href="http://marijuanamajority.com/?id=71" target="_hplink">support</a> consistently applying the principles of federalism and states' rights, even when it comes to medical marijuana laws. “[If] you want to go somewhere where you can smoke medicinal weed, then you ought to be able to do that.”
The Majority of Americans
You wouldn't know it from the way so many national politicians act like talking about the marijuana issue is some kind of dangerous "third rail" of politics, but polls from respected firms Gallup and Rasmussen both <a href="http://marijuanamajority.com/about.php" target="_hplink">show</a> majority support for legalizing marijuana. Gallup has been polling the marijuana legalization question for 40 years but found majority support for the first time in 2011, with 50 percent of voters in favor and just 46 percent opposed. Rasmussen reports that 56 percent support legalization.
While not a supporter of legalization per se, the Fox News host <a href="http://marijuanamajority.com/?id=199" target="_hplink">says</a> he simply doesn't care whether people use marijuana in the privacy of their own homes. This puts some distance between his vision and current law, which allows for police to enter the homes of peaceful marijuana users who don't bother anyone else. These raids, which are sometimes conducted on the wrong houses due to misinformation, often lead to death for people and dogs shot by police. “My philosophy is if you want to smoke marijuana in your basement, I don't care. I'm not going to get a search warrant and kick your door in. I think that's foolish... But...if you get behind the wheel of a car, if you sell the dope to my kid, if my kid sees you smoking...I then will demand that the authorities protect me and my family from you, the marijuana smoker in public. Am I wrong?”
Juan Manuel Santos
The president of Colombia, a country that is one of the U.S.'s most important allies in the "war on drugs," is probably one of the last people you would expect to call the entire global approach to drug control a failure and to support having a conversation about legalization, but that's exactly what he's <a href="http://marijuanamajority.com/?id=60" target="_hplink">doing</a>. “A new approach should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking... If that means legalising, and the world thinks that's the solution, I will welcome it.”
The Republican former governor of Alaska and vice presidential candidate is known for speaking her mind, but did you know that she <a href="http://marijuanamajority.com/?id=55" target="_hplink">thinks</a> cops have better things to do than bust people for marijuana? “We need to prioritize our law enforcement efforts, and if somebody's gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody else any harm, then perhaps there are other things that our cops should be looking at to engage in and try to clean up some of the other problems that we have in society that are appropriate for law enforcement to do.”
Who could be more mainstream than this legendary Grammy Award-winning singer? Following the tragic death of Whitney Houston, Bennett <a href="http://marijuanamajority.com/?id=74" target="_hplink">urged</a> the legalization of all drugs -- not just marijuana -- to better protect the health and safety of drug users. “I'd like to have every gentleman and lady in this room commit themselves to get our government to legalize drugs -- so they'll have to get it through a doctor, not just some gangsters that just sell it under the table.”
While many HuffPost readers may disagree vehemently with Koch's politics overall, particularly his support for the Tea Party, you may be surprised to learn that he is a funder of the criminal justice reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums and that he <a href="http://marijuanamajority.com/?id=89" target="_hplink">supports</a> decriminalizing marijuana. “I have friends who smoke pot... It's ridiculous to treat them as criminals.”
Over the years, the Christian televangelist has said some things that many HuffPost readers may find wacky, but his position in <a href="http://marijuanamajority.com/?id=47" target="_hplink">support</a> of marijuana legalization is completely sane. “I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol. I've never used marijuana and I don't intend to, but it's just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn't succeeded.”