If one newly converted pot-smoking visionary has his way, the Washington-based company he created will become the Starbucks or Coca Cola of the cannabis industry. He even has plans to import marijuana from south of the border–currently illegal according to international law—and he’s apparently got the former president of Mexico on board.
Jamen Shively is probably not the kind of person you’d picture selling pot. He used to be a manager at Microsoft, and wears a suit and tie, a short preppy haircut, and nerdy glasses. He talks like a nerd too. When asked by the Seattle Times if he was worried about the federal government cracking down on his planned retail cannabis operations, Shively quoted the famous words of Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars“: “He said ‘Darth, if you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.’”
Nonetheless, Shively says that cannabis is in his blood. He claims that his great grandfather, a government official in the Phillipines in the late 1890s when it was a Spanish colony, was the world’s largest grower of hemp at the time. Shively’s planned chain of retail marijuana stores is named after this great cannabis cultivator: Diego Pellicer (pronounced “Payee-Sayr”).
At a press conference in Seattle on Thursday, Shively announced plans for Diego Pellicer to become the first national retail brand focused on selling medical-use and adult-use (recreational) cannabis alike. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a unique moment in history,” Shively said. “The Berlin Wall of the prohibition cannabis is weak, and it is crumbling as we speak.”
Despite the fact that “the silence from our nation’s capital has been deafening,” and tons of uncertainties concerning the legality of his planned operations, Shively said that the acquisition of several professional cannabis dispensaries are in the works for Diego Pellicer, and that soon it will be a well-known retail brand along the West Coast.
The biggest controversy is that there are also international plans for the brand. Mexico’s former President Vicente Fox appeared next to Shively on Thursday, explaining that because the black market for drugs has caused violence and crime throughout Latin America, he was in favor of strictly regulated legal marijuana in the U.S.
“In Mexico, we welcome this initiative, because the cost of the war [on drugs] is becoming unbearable,” Fox said. He noted how the illegal drug market has hurt tourism and other Mexican businesses, and caused the deaths of thousands of people. “All this because our neighbor to the north represents such a gigantic consumer market” for marijuana. While he voiced many concerns about how marijuana laws and regulations would be enforced, and he stressed that all sorts of details would have to be negotiated to ensure safety and compliance, Fox’s appearance alone at the press conference was basically an endorsement of some kind of marijuana trade agreement between Mexico and the U.S.
Critics point out that Shively’s bold vision has an extremely long way to go before he’s able to create a viable business, let alone until his stores start producing millions in theoretical profits. “He needs to attract backers, to intimidate competitors, and to accustom people to the idea of mass marketing in the marijuana industry,” one member of the Seattle Times editorial board pointed out. “National branded marijuana has to go from being a farfetched idea to an ordinary idea, which means people have to think about it for a while.” The international trade aspect only makes Shively’s plans more complicated.
If his dream does become reality, though, Shively will have created something along the lines of a Starbucks for weed. The company prefers another parallel: “We will offer a premium-quality, hand-crafted product,” the Diego Pellicer website states. “Think of us as the ‘Davidoff of marijuana,’ with great attention given from genetics to the finished product.” (For those, like me, who’d never heard of Davidoff, it’s a brand of high-end tobacco products.) Taiwan-based Next Media Animation referred to Shively himself as the “Bill Gates of bud” in a goofy “news” video.
Shively sees Diego Pellicer’s core customers not as young pot smokers, but as older, wealthier enthusiasts who’ll pay top dollar for a premium product. “We’re focused on Baby Boomers — basically wealthy Baby Boomers,” Shively told a Seattle TV station. “It’s a $100 billion industry in search of a brand. Never in the history of capitalism — forget America, in the world — has such a giant vacuum existed.”
Despite Shively’s supposed longstanding family ties to marijuana, smoking pot is fairly new to the budding entrepreneur. He explained to the Puget Sound Business Journal that, coming of age in the 1980s of “Just say no,” and “This is your brain on drugs,” he steered clear of the drug. About a year and a half ago, however, a colleague at Microsoft (and frequent pot smoker) convinced Shively to give it a try. Here’s how Shively described the experience:
“I tried it and I absolutely loved it. It’s like I was having the most amazing creative brainstorms. And (I was) seeing life and situations and possibilities in just a whole new light. It was like living in a whole new dimension. So I started consuming it about once a month, and I started sharing with people the experiences I was having, so I sort of became an amateur evangelist of cannabis.”
Shively’s enthusiasm for marijuana didn’t stop there. As more states passed laws approving the use of medicinal cannabis, and as Washington and Colorado voters gave the OK to legislation for recreational marijuana, Shiveley saw tremendous business opportunities. He’s regularly quoted saying that his retail pot operation will “mint more millions than Microsoft.”
What’s more, Shiveley isn’t satisfied simply with the idea that cannabis should be legal because it’s harmless. He believes pot is genuinely good for you: “I’m convinced that within five years, marijuana will come to be regarded as a health food,” he said.
In which case, Shiveley is hoping to run the world’s biggest chain of an all-new breed of very special health food stores.