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May 29, 2013 at 12:32 PM

Jamen Shively’s marijuana showmanship: a political plus?

 

Marijuana packaged for sale at Seattle dispensary: time for a national brand? AP Photo / Ted S. Warren

Marijuana packaged for sale at Seattle dispensary: time for a national brand?
AP Photo / Ted S. Warren

“Former Microsoft manager Jamen Shively wants to create the first national brand of retail marijuana and to open pot trade with Mexico.”

So begins a story in Wednesday’s Local News section. What to make of a story like this?

Jamen Shively, 45, is talking big. He was a manager at Microsoft, which suggests money and connections. He promises to bring Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico. The proposal is to lawfully import marijuana from Mexico to establish “the first national brand of retail marijuana.”

The story quotes attorney Alison Holcomb, primary author of last fall’s Initiative 502, reminding us that recreational marijuana regimes are being set up in Colorado and Washington only, under the promise to federal authority that they will be tightly regulated and confined to those states.

Two different approaches, the first bold, the second cautious. The difference is, she has won a political battle and he hasn’t. She has a law on the books and the support of a state government and its regulatory arm, the Liquor Control Board, and he hasn’t. She wants to protect the victory she’s won, and make sure it goes ahead as planned, which means giving the Obama administration the smallest possible reason to step into the Evergreen State and wreck things. A year ago, when I-502 was a mere proposal, she needed a high profile to get voters to pass it. Now a low profile makes more sense. The marijuana legalizers need to get the state regulations through, permits issued, stores set up, people earning a living, etc. Fait accompli.

Shively hasn’t achieved any of that. He needs to attract backers, to intimidate competitors, and to accustom people to the idea of mass marketing in the marijuana industry. 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.

If I were Holcomb, or Gov. Jay Inslee, I might be worried that Shively is increasing the risk of federal intervention—that he will mess up what they have achieved, and knock everyone back to zero.

But I am not them. I am an observer, in favor of more thorough legalization, and I think: from a longer-term perspective, maybe Shively’s grandstanding is a good thing. It raises the political heat on Obama. Our president is a respecter of Microsoft money. He comes here and fills up on it often enough. Modern Democrats respect tech entrepreneurs. So, when Shively says the world is changing, and he’s not afraid to stick his neck out (rhetorically, at least), and announce that he wants the federal law against marijuana swept aside, and marijuana trade opened up with Mexico, maybe he’s speaking words that will be heard.

All of which may have little to do with the question of national brands, big corporations, etc., in the cannabis trade. Most likely, the shape of a legalized industry will be decided in the market, as with beer, bread, ice cream or anything else. And recall the starting point: medical marijuana is raised indoors under lights in temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms. It is sold by the gram to people who use small quantities at a time and demand high quality.  This may not be so easy a market for one big guy to control.

Comments | Topics: 502, alison holcomb, colorado

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