Updated Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 08:31 AM
How Mexican President Vicente Fox came to share tequila with would-be marijuana entrepreneur Jamen Shively is a bit baffling. In fact, it is to Shively, too.
"I keep asking myself, did that just happen?" said Shively.
Shively says he is positioning himself to be the Starbucks of marijuana, or, as he said at a news conference last Thursday, "We are Big Marijuana." With Fox at his side, Shively, a former Microsoft manager, announced plans to open an international marijuana brand, starting in Washington and Colorado. He claims he'll mint more millionaires than Bill Gates.
Say what you want about him, but his media skills are sharp. He got worldwide coverage for a brand that hadn't so much as sold its first joint.
But others are saying quite a bit about him. Mark Kleiman, the UCLA professor who is Washington's lead consultant on Initiative 502, called Shively "terminally stupid and self-destructive" on his blog.
Mr. Shively has now painted a target on his shirt-front. Should he actually engage in the business of growing or selling cannabis, or owning businesses that do so, he has a very good chance of a long, all-expenses-paid vacation at the expense of federal taxpayers. If, when he says that he’s been smoking cannabis for a year and a half, he means that he’s been stoned continuously over that period, it’s barely possible that he doesn’t understand the risks; in that case, he might be sincerely misguided.
But when Shively talks about “minting more millionaires than Microsoft,” I start to wonder whether he’s engaged in a racket much safer than pot-vending: to wit, stock promotion. If you were really going to sell cannabis, you wouldn’t toot your horn. But if you wanted to sell securities, a news conference with Vicente Fox sounds like just the thing.
It's a real question. As of March, Shively has raised $125,000 according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing for his brand, Diego Pellicer. He seems oblivious to the federal prohibition against marijuana and the IRS's targeting of marijuana-industry leaders like Steve DeAngelo. But Shively does have a business record, founding a series of Internet cafes in Mexico, and his team includes the director of floor trading for the New York Stock Exchange, a venture capitalist and white-shoe Seattle attorney.
"Jamen Shively delivers," said Jamen Shively. "This is not some dude with a crack pot plan."
When I asked about Kleiman's contention that he "painted a target on his shirt-front," Shively said that potential will be resolved within a month. How? "Obama will invite me, and I'll fly out." You heard it here first.
"We're pushing the envelope so far, so fast we're in uncharted waters. Are we going to sail off the end of the world? Are we going to sail off so far we're going to run into alien? We're so far off the map we may see sea monsters," said Shively.
His plan, as I understand it, is that his company, Diego Pellicer, is going to enter into intellectual property agreements with franchisees in individual states. Marijuana, either in medical dispensaries or in recreational stores in Washington and Colorado, won't cross state lines. But the money undoubtedly will. And now the DEA certainly knows it.
When I asked about Fox, Shively said he met the Mexican president while running the Internet cafes in Sinaloa in the early 2000s. They hadn't talked at all in a dozen years, but Fox, on one week notice, flew up to Seattle at Shively's invitation. They had adjoining rooms at the Olympic Fairmont, flew to Roche Harbor last weekend for a medical marijuana conference and knocked back tequila shots.
In some ways, it's not surprising: Fox has his own issues with the drug war, having watched Mexico bled by narco-cartels. He is a longtime advocate of drug legalization, telling Time Magazine in 2011, "Prohibition didn't work in the Garden of Eden. Adam ate the apple."
But I can't shake the impression that Shively is a performance artist acting like a marijuana mogul. When I interviewed him last December, he hadn't read Initiative 502, and didn't know the Liquor Control Board would be setting rules. Others familiar with Shively's venture insist it's legitimate and professional, but conceded Shively needs to tone down his shtick.
When I asked Shively why he felt so confident, he conceded to some risk.
"If I end up in prison, just buy me some cartons of smokes, and we'll do an interview," said Shively.