Jamen Shively, who was corporate strategy manager at Microsoft for six years until 2009, said he has solicited investors for $10 million in funding to start the first U.S. national marijuana brand -- called "Diego Pellicer" to honor his great-grandfather who produced hemp in his day.
With legally imported cannabis from Mexico, Shively plans to acquire several medical marijuana dispensaries in three U.S. states to kick off his Seattle-based business, and eventually be the "leader" in both medical and recreational marijuana in the same way "Starbucks is the dominant name in coffee," to use Shively's terms.
"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."
Shively said Diego Pellicer has acquired the rights to the Northwest Patient Resource Center, a medical marijuana operation with two store fronts in Seattle, and is close to acquiring two marijuana dispensaries each in both California and Washington state, as well as one in Colorado.
"We've created the first risk-mitigated vehicles for investing directly in this business opportunity," Shively said.
Though the use, sale and possession of marijuana is still illegal in the U.S., two states voted to legalize recreational marijuana use last November (Washington and Colorado), and a Pew survey conducted in March found that for the first time, the majority of Americans favored the legalization of marijuana (52 percent). Clearly, Americans are warming up to the idea of marijuana legalization, but until that happens, Shively said he intends to comply with local and state laws when it comes to purchasing dispensaries for Diego Pellicer, even though his business plans clearly conflict with federal law.
"If they want to come talk to me, I'll be delighted to meet with them," Shively said of federal officials. "I'll tell them everything that we're doing and show them all our books."
Marijuana is growing popular among Americans for its recreational and medicinal applications, but lawmakers are considering legalization of the drug for its potential impact on the economy. The use of hemp could have a boon on U.S. manufacturing industries and American exports, but the global marijuana trade was valued at $142 billion in 2005 and it's presumed to have increased since that time. Shively believes an American marijuana brand could be a cash cow nationally and internationally -- but it would have to be decriminalized first.
"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 Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA and also Washington state's marijuana consultant.
Some local politicians -- like Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), who is also the chairman of the House Finance Committee in Washington state -- see hope in Shively's plan.
"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," Carlyle said. "That's in our DNA ... We could have predicted that as much as the rain."
Shively said his plan with Diego Pellicer is to create separate brands within the business for medical marijuana and recreational marijuana, as well as fund studies on the effectiveness on marijuana and cannabis oils in the treatment of cancer and other life-threatening diseases and illnesses.
At a Thursday press conference in Seattle, former Mexican President Vicente Fox joined Shively to vocalize support for his marijuana business but clarifying that he had no financial stake in Shively's company.
"What a difference it makes to have Jamen here sitting at my side instead of [Mexican drug kingpin] Chapo Guzman," Fox said, referring to how he'd prefer to see marijuana sold legally as opposed to illegally. "This is the story that has begun to be written here."