With the sale of marijuana legal in Washington State, one former Microsoft manager hopes to turn his budding pot business into the Coca Cola of cannabis.
Former Microsoft Corporate Strategy Manager Jamen Shively hadn't even smoked pot 18 months ago, but he now hopes to launch the first retail brand of marijuana to sell in outlets throughout the Evergreen state. Named after Shively's great-grandfather and former vice governor of the Island of Cebu in the Philippines, Diego Pellicer, Inc. is poised to become the first name brand marijuana sold in the U.S.
But first Shively, who says he's now a casual marijuana smoker, and the company have to get past some touchy legal hurdles.
"What we're all about is making it extremely professional and having the highest quality and efficiencies," Shively told the Seattle Times.
Shively has purchased a number of pot dispensaries in both Washington and Colorado, has plans to sell in both the medical and adult-recreational pot markets and announced plans to partner with Mexican growers to import marijuana for sale in the U.S.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has joined Shively's bandwagon and the two unveiled a plan to open up the "legal" pot trade between the two nations.
There is still the hazy issue of skirting international law that prohibits the marijuana trade – legal or otherwise – between nations, and Shively is the first to admit that he unsure how to handle that.
"I don't know how exactly that would be done, but I know it's been done in other industries," he said.
Besides international regulations, Diego Pellicer, Inc. also faces issues with the federal government, which has been at odds with several states over the regulation and prohibition of marijuana. With both Washington and Colorado legalizing marijuana and a slew of other states having either decriminalized the drug or permitted medical marijuana use, federal authorities and local governments have butted heads on the enforcement of national laws.
While the Obama administration has been more lax than previous administrations in its policy toward marijuana, it has still maintained a firm anti-legalization message.
"The administration steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana and other drugs because legalization would increase the availability and use of illicit drugs, and pose significant health and safety risks to all Americans, particularly young people," the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy said.
For his part, Shively has compared the federal prohibition to the slow collapse of the Soviet Union and said that there are fewer defenders of the law every day.
The company has also set up a number of yet-to-be-named safeguards for investigators against the federal regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission, but some observers claim that Shively seems likely to run into trouble.
The so-called Cole memorandum from the U.S. Department of Justice explicitly mentions "a concern with operations involving thousands of plants and millions of dollars" and is evidence of the federal concern with big pot businesses, said Alison Holcomb, drug-policy director for the ACLU of Washington, according to the Seattle Times.
The Justice Department hasn't said how it plans to respond to the votes in Washington and Colorado, but it could sue to block the states from issuing licenses to marijuana growers, processors and retail stores on the grounds that doing so would conflict with federal drug law.
Shively seems undeterred by the opposition to turn Diego Pellicer, Inc. into the Budweiser of, well, bud.
"I've just fallen in love with the plant," he said. "Especially in the medical realm I've gone from entrepreneur to advocate to activist, seriously."